Photo of the bike lane on Jarvis being removed by Charlie Randall
Should the Jarvis bike lanes be re-installed?
Story by Amanda Lewis, Photos by Jenna Campbell
The surface of Jarvis Street has eroded to the point where the white markers of the formerly designated bike lanes have begun to emerge. The spectre of the Jarvis bike lanes is also arising in the media leading up to the municipal election in October 2014. Here’s why Jarvis still matters.
The removal of the Jarvis bike lanes in November 2012 was costly and disregarded the wishes of the residents and cyclists who protested the removal and demanded public consultation. The removal of these lanes damaged Toronto’s reputation on a national and international scale at a time when other cities were forging ahead with more bike lanes. In removing ours, we weakened the image of Toronto.
The timely “resurfacing” of the lane markings presents an opportunity to consider once again what’s at stake, before the road is repaved. Are the markers merely a reminder of a battle that cyclists lost with City Council almost two years ago? Or can a call for re-installation make the Jarvis bike lanes an official part of mayoral candidates’ bike plans?
With the installation of the bike lanes in 2010, Jarvis legitimized bike travel without losing space for cars: there were four designated lanes for motorized vehicles and two for bikes. During the two years the Jarvis lanes were in use, cycling on the street increased 300%, collisions decreased by 23% and commuting times for cars and trucks increased by approximately two minutes during rush hour.
What did the Jarvis bike lanes mean for cycling in Toronto?
In July 2011 City Council voted 24 – 19 to remove the lanes on Jarvis once the physically separated lanes on Sherbourne street were completed. Following the vote, cyclists and those who live and work in Ward 27 wrote to Mayor Rob Ford and councillors to object to the impending action.
Hundreds of cyclists rode along Jarvis to City Hall in July 2012 as part of the Save Jarvis protest. There was also a candlelight vigil for the bike lanes, held on Jarvis and Wellesley streets on November 12, 2012. That was the day the physical removal of the bike lanes began, even as it was being blocked by members of the Jarvis Emergency Taskforce.
What cyclists more generally mourned was the demise of Toronto’s 2001 bike plan calling for 1,000 kilometers of bike lanes, including 495 km of on-street bike lanes. At the end of 2012, the city was down 3 km of bike lanes — a considerable figure when it comes to relieving downtown congestion. The lanes, which cost $86,000 to install and approximately $331,500 to remove (I contacted the City several times for an updated figure but did not hear back before the publication date), are emblematic of the ways in which we approach public infrastructure that promotes healthy, safe and sustainable transportation. The process of protesting Council’s decision defined what we want for our city and what actions we would not tolerate of our mayor and our Council.
Since that time there have been numerous “wins” for cycling in the city. Pilot bike lanes have been installed on Adelaide, Richmond, Peter and Simcoe streets. Permanent contraflow lanes have been installed on Richmond, Shaw, Phoebe and Stephanie streets. Money has been allocated in the budget for clearing snow routes for cyclists beginning in winter 2015. The Harbord - Hoskin bike lane corridor will be improved and re-developed in parts, including the filling of the gap between Spadina and Borden street. Council also recently passed recommendations for Eglinton along the new LRT corridor to include protected bike lanes. The city is even moving toward an environmental assessment process that could see bike lanes installed on Bloor.
The Jarvis bike lanes were not an experiment in city planning, they were a necessary element of a bike network — part of a Complete Streets approach. Every street should be a biking street, whether there are bike lanes or not, but the lanes on Jarvis were a visible indicator that the City recognized the presence of cyclists on this busy thoroughfare. The lanes provided some buffer (or at the very least, a reminder) to drivers that cyclists belong here as well. Every individual — whether on foot, on a bus, in a car, or on a bike — should be able to move from point A to point B without taking their life into their hands.
In June 2014, the Toronto Sun asked the primary mayoral candidates if they supported the installation of bike lanes on University Avenue and if they would re-install the lanes on Jarvis. None was in favour of bringing back the Jarvis bike lanes. Olivia Chow’s spokesperson said there was no need to bring back the Jarvis lanes as the separated lanes on Sherbourne fulfill the need for a north-south bike corridor in the city. (Note that Olivia Chow is in favour of creating 200 km of physically separated bike lanes and bike boulevards in Toronto by 2018.)
The installation of physically separated bike lanes on Sherbourne has long been touted as a solution to the “Jarvis problem,” but they are insufficient, lying three blocks east of Jarvis on the fringe of the downtown corridor. Why should cyclists have to ride three blocks out of their way (and three blocks back for anyone working in the financial district) to feel safe? The only other option is to ride in the shoulder of a five-lane thoroughfare without a painted lane or physical buffer — which drivers don’t relish either. Though the posted speed limit on Jarvis ranges from 40 to 50 km/h, cars frequently travel at a faster clip. A cyclist hugging the curb in the right lane still causes speeding cars to swerve around them or slow to a crawl while they consider the conundrum of a cyclist sharing the same lane.
According to Share the Road Cycling Coalition, 73% of Torontonians would cycle if improved infrastructure were in place. To that end, Cycle Toronto and others are asking all candidates in the upcoming municipal election to commit to creating a Minimum Grid of 100 km of protected bike lanes and 100 km of bicycle boulevards during the 2014 – 2018 term of council.
For the Rob Ford administration, the Jarvis bike lanes represented an attack on cars and a waste of taxpayers’ money. For cyclists they represented a clear, safe, north-south path in the heart of downtown — and a marker of respect. Ironically, as more traffic frequents Jarvis and wears away the asphalt, the more these bike lanes rise to the surface and the more we are reminded that traffic, for both drivers and cyclists, was better with them in place.
Amanda Lewis lives in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood and rides a touring bike named Bill Marmaduke. Follow her on Twitter at @aemlewis.
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