Aug 11

Listening to Toronto: On bikes, roads & sidewalks

In part two of my look at the raw data from the City’s Core Service Review survey — since dismissed as irrelevant by members of Rob Ford’s executive committee — I take a look at issues relating to the city’s thoroughfares, which includes bikes, roads and sidewalks. Before you read this, you may want to go back and read the previous instalment on transit.

Respondent 2-505 is a 65-year-old cycling advocate who “who couldn’t ride a bike to save my life.” Responding to the City of Toronto survey which served as the opening salvo in the still-continuing Core Service Review process, the senior writes, “from what I can see out my window every day, bikes make sense and cars don’t.”

“Cyclists know the routes and the neighbourhoods they traverse,” the response continues. “But people in cars just can’t WAIT to get somewhere.The more encouragement Toronto gives to cycling — the better.”

“Bike Lanes — this will make everything better.”

Our 65-year-old cycling-advocate-who-does-not-cycle serves as a good indication of the overwhelming message behind the raw data report, which was put together using a crude keyword search by City staff: the people who responded to this survey are passionate about the need for better cycling infrastructure in this city. Of the 154 pages included in this specific report — which primarily deals with “roads, sidewalks & traffic services” and not specifically cycling –, a call for more bike lanes appears on approximately 108 of them.

Most responses are short. 1-520 writes that the “City is too car-centric and doesn’t have enough bike lanes or pedestrian areas.” 1-28 says we “need to add bike lanes on major roads.” 2-47 writes, “Mr. Ford may hate cycling for some bizarre reason, but the fact is that gas prices are rising, more people are poor, and they still need to get around.”

2-314 is even more blunt. “Bike lanes,” they say. “This will make everything better.” Some are willing to shout about the issue, like 4-181, who tells us what we need: “BIKE LANES BIKE LANES BIKE LANES BIKE LANES!!!!! BIKE LANES! – you must implement them.”

“License bikes, or get rid of bike lanes.”

There is, of course, a minority voice that seems strongly opposed to cycling infrastructure. Respondent 2-450 implores the city to “please ban bicycle rides during rush hours, they are putting everyone in danger.” 2-405 believes that our problem is that we have “too many unused bike lanes, especially in winter — bike lanes should be seasonal.” 2-319 calls cyclists “psychotic” where 2-8 is a bit more reasonable, rationalizing that “we don’t need any more bike lanes in Etobicoke or Scarborough, just as much as we don’t need big box stores in the downtown core.”

There’s a small contingent voices in the responses beating the drum for a bicycle licensing system. 4-196 suggests that we “Have all cyclists pay registration fee and have a license so traffic violations can be enforced.”

On traffic: “This city is choking on itself.”

I’ll make two observations on the overarching attitude toward traffic — and by that I mostly mean automobile — congestion in this city. The first is that damn near everyone feels like it is a major problem that needs to be addressed immediately. The second is that some are very reluctant to embrace the obvious solutions to the problem, which would include things like road pricing and infrastructure for alternative forms of transportation.

Respondent 1-47 calls for “more efficient roads.” 2-37 points out that “Our geography and climate demand the use of automobiles,” and so “we should be more tolerant and prepared for the increasing number of vehicles on the roads.” Some respondents are overly fixated on the traffic conditions on one specific roadway, with people naming congestion on the Don Valley Expressway, the Gardiner Expressway, Kingston Road and the Allen Expressway as their top priorities facing this city.

2-434 is a blunt as can be: “Keep traffic flowing — WITHOUT TOLLS.”

Making Jane Jacobs roll over a few times, more highways are actually proposed: 2-84 says there are a “lack of highways” in Toronto. 2-323 calls for a “second expressway” like the DVP on the west side of the city, connecting Highway 400 with downtown. 4-145 says extending the Allen Expressway to the Gardiner — that is, reviving the Spadina Expressway project — would “rejuvenate traffic movement.” 2-378 wants the City to explore either making all lanes flow in one direction on the DVP during rush hour. Either that, or “building UP, and having a two tiered roadway.”

“Driving is a privilege, not a right — treat it as such.”

By my estimation, there is a strong support for road pricing throughout the responses. 4-65 says it’s time for “Toll Roads! Toll Roads! Toll Roads!” 1-1218 suggests that “to help alleviate the problems … consider bringing in tolls on DVP and other major roads.” 1-441 also links the solution to traffic congestion with toll roads, asking if it’s “time for some sort of user pays fee?”

If there’s a strong ideological divide within the document, it’s not presented as a battle between those who support road pricing and those who absolutely oppose it. The latter is a fringe minority. What would seem to divide people instead is whether we should institute road pricing for all users or just for drivers who don’t live and pay taxes in Toronto.

2-418 sums up that view: “905 citizens are not contributing to the city even though they use our roads, GO, etc. They should be paying road tolls to help the city maintain good quality roads.”

“A parking ticket should not be $30 – this is too high.”

Issues relating to parking — and the lack of it, and how expensive it is — were the only thing to give me pause when I first reviewed this report. People are passionate about their parking. While some advocate rising parking fees, putting a tax on all parking spots, or selling the Toronto Parking Authority, many are convinced the city has a major parking problem.

Respondent 1-1375 names “expensive parking costs” as one of the most important issues facing our city. 1-1447 says we need “more publicly funding parking spaces” and “less privately owned ones.” 1-1506 says we must “decrease fees for public parking!” Respondent 2-304 calls the city’s current parking enforcement nothing but “legalized theft”, saying that the, “parking authority is out of control. This has nothing to do with parking and everything to do with legally looting people.”

“You talk of roads. What about the pedestrians?”

Pedestrians are the often overlooked and underrepresented user of Toronto’s roadways, but they do chime in here. 3-90 says we must “be friendly to pedestrians, make their lives better!”

In addition, there is widespread agreement that the city must get its act together when it comes to the coordination of road work. 1-237 says that one of the biggest challenges the city is facing is a “shabby public realm with no coordination of utility work and sidewalk/street repair.” Hundreds of other responses echo that sentiment.

But some, of course, have more specific concerns. States 1-520: “There is way too much dog shit on Toronto sidewalks.”

I think we can all agree with that sentiment too.

Aug 11

It’s always Sunny in Toronto: three questionable ideas to “improve” our city

The venerable Toronto Sun — now sadly down a relatively sensible voice — has been going full bore all week, writing article after article on their three ideas that they say will improve Toronto. Reporter Don Peat kicked things off with an article published on Sunday:

But despite the looming budget, Ford could tackle three things in the last four months of his first year that would make Toronto a better place.

Pushing city council to ban panhandling on city streets, moving forward on a cyclist licensing system and scrapping the bag tax are improvements many would welcome.

While the budget is still the big beast facing city council, there are other issues that stick in the craw of many Torontonians.

It’s time for Ford to deal with them.

via How Rob Ford could improve T.O. | Toronto Sun.

So there you have it — city building as envisioned by the Toronto Sun: free plastic bags, a bike licensing bureaucracy and making poverty less visible. Let’s take these one-by-one.

The five-cent plastic bag fee is a proven success. It’s resulted in a reported 70% to 89% drop in the number of plastic bags distributed by grocery stores in Toronto. Even if you discount the environmental benefits of fewer bags littering our parks and assorted bodies of water, this policy still remains a significant money-saver for the city, as over the course of the year the solid waste department is undoubtedly now processing far fewer plastic bags at recycling centres and landfills.

And here’s the secret, which should be spoken about only in a whisper as it might be spoiled if too many small-scale retailers catch on: no one has been charged for distributing free plastic bags since the bylaw came into effect in 2009. If the city were to further reduce their level of enforcement — from the minimal level it seems to be at now to, well, none — we’d continue to derive the economic and environmental benefits that come from reduced plastic bag use while not spending money on administrative and enforcement overhead. It would appear to be a win-win policy for the city.

A splashy political fight over repealing the fee would — assuming the item passes — assuredly lead to more plastic bag use, especially at convenience stores as some consumers would again feel entitled to free plastic bags. Any spotlight given to this issue will have immediate negative environmental impacts. And for what? For a nickel?

Bicycling licensing is a complete non-starter. The City of Toronto actually maintains a page on its website documenting the three past occasions the City has explored — and rejected — the idea of a system for licensing bikes and riders. The cost of the bureaucracy needed to manage such a program would mean an annual fee daunting enough that a percentage of cyclists would simply opt not to bother. They’d put the idea of a bike out of their minds and return to their cars or public transit.

But ultimately that seems to be what this is about: despite the fact that every person commuting via a bicycle results in a net savings for the city, some would rather there were fewer bikes on the road.

Lastly, banning panhandling. It’s hard to understand how some people can spend hours attacking the efficacy and competence of governments and then turn around and propose that those same governments could be limitlessly effective at eliminating something they don’t like. If we’re going to pretend like we can, with simple law and order policy, ban a symptom of poverty, why not just go whole hog and ban poverty itself? Let’s ban not having money and a job. Let’s outlaw being poor.

What any so-called plan to ban panhandling would really do is result in a wave of antagonistic police behaviour toward the homeless and the destitute downtown, which would serve to push these people away from Bay Street and into already marginalized neighbourhoods. If you’re not working to eliminate poverty, you’re just working to move it.

Jul 11

Councillor Josh Colle misled constituents in lead-up to Jarvis vote

In the frantic lead-up to last week’s vote on the Jarvis Street bike lanes, Councillor Josh Colle told at least two Toronto residents via email that he would not support spending money to remove the lanes. “The City of Toronto currently faces a projected deficit of over $700 million dollars and will have many tough decisions to make in the coming year,” wrote the councillor. “In light of this, I do not believe it would be an appropriate use of limited City resources to eliminate bike lanes on Jarvis Street.”

Colle later reversed from this position, voting with Public Works Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong and the right-wing of Council against an amendment moved by local Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam that would have saved the lanes. He also supported the 2011 Bike Plan as a whole, even once it was clear that his support would mean approving spending limited City resources to eliminate bike lanes on Jarvis Street.

Councillor Josh Matlow, who had previously made a commitment to saving the lanes, also voted against Wong-Tam’s motion to preserve them. He later clarified that this was a mis-vote, and his intention had been to vote “Yes” on the item. Fair enough.

Worrying that perhaps Colle too had made a mistake, I emailed the councillor for clarification. His response read, in part: “In response to resident concerns to secure a north-south passageway in the city centre, I felt that separated bike lanes on Sherbourne Street with better connectivity north of Bloor was the best alternative. I made it a priority to ensure that nothing would happen to the Jarvis Street bicycle lanes until separated bike lanes were fully installed and operational on Sherbourne.”

This is disappointing behaviour from a councillor and works only to diminish valuable and critical trust between residents and elected officials. I would cheerfully suggest to Councillor Colle that any advantage he or his family gets from being seen as a “team player” with the Ford administration could very well be erased if the electorate starts to perceive him as lax with his convictions.

Jul 11

Searching for Council’s conservatives

Yesterday, Toronto City Council endorsed spending approximately $400,000 removing cycling infrastructure downtown and in Scarborough, despite staff reports that indicated the bike lanes had no substantive impact on traffic flow. They followed this up hours later by voting to uphold an earlier decision by the Executive Committee that, due to concerns that maybe someday the funding might be removed, Council not accept provincial money that would add two new public health nurse positions to the City’s payroll.

Let’s phrase that another way: over the course of one summer afternoon, councillors decided both to recklessly spend $400,000 for no clear reason and to play it safe, eschewing needed resources at public health because they might, one day — but probably not –, get stuck with a $200,000 per year bill for their trouble.

The same Council then had the relative gall to pass a motion calling for the province to step in and fund a greater percentage of the operating and capital budgets for the TTC. And so Council both rejected provincial money and asked for more of it on the same day.

Meanwhile, outside Council chambers, consulting group KPMG has spent the week releasing delightfully concise Core Service Review reports that all follow a similar template. First, they point out that the department they’ve examined has very little waste. Then, they drop a bundle of ‘considerations’ — not recommendations — that range from things like eliminating water fluoridation to selling the city’s stable of barnyard animals.

The consultants — who already have a checkered history with this kind of thing, having once produced a report arguing amalgamation would save the Toronto municipalities a significant amount of money — are clear that they aren’t even really looking at efficiencies as much as they’re laying out a list of things that could legally be cut from the city’s portfolio of public services. That this stands contrary to an election promise made by the mayor seems to have been tossed to the curb.

Also on that curb? The results of the city’s exhaustive consultation sessions regarding the Core Service Review. A full 60% of people who attended indicated they would accept increased taxes to pay for existing service levels. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who’s had a fun week, said Monday that that group was irrelevant. “Self-selecting,” he said. Okay.

For the record, Toronto — you know, the city that we continue to hear is suffering from near-fatal fiscal wounds that can only be treated by deep government cuts — has some of the lowest property taxes in the GTA and recently voluntarily reduced its annual revenues by $60 million.

I’m not sure what you call the ideology that drives these decisions, but it can’t be conservatism, can it? Certainly not principled conservatism. A conservative would demand to see a business case before spending public money modifying infrastructure. In the case of Jarvis, Birchmount and Pharmacy, there wasn’t one. A conservative wouldn’t turn away provincial money — which the city has said it needs –, especially if there was a guarantee in place that the new positions could be eliminated should the funding ever be removed. (Which was the case.)  A conservative wouldn’t call on the provincial government for funding only months removed from electing to decrease the city’s own revenues, and hours removed from opting out of committed, ongoing provincial money for public health.

Our Conservative Mayor

Early in the day on Tuesday — before Council had really started rolling with the big items of the week — Mayor Rob Ford rose and asked to be recorded in the negative on four items relating to grant funding for community groups, including Etobicoke Services for Seniors, the Crime Prevention Association of Toronto and Variety Village. (The latter is interesting, as it comes only a couple of months after Ford made a rare media appearance announcing a new bus stop implemented to serve visitors to the organization, which supports disabled children.) The Mayor also stated his intention to vote against grants for heritage buildings. Late in the day on Wednesday, the Mayor added to this bizarre tally, lodging a vote against the 2011 AIDs Prevention Community Investment Program. This vote marked a milestone for the councillor-turned-mayor: he’s now voted against AIDS funding five years in a row.

The bottom line: If the Mayor of Toronto could have his way, it would appear that the city would cease most community grants, end some of its heritage protection programs and drastically cut back on public health funding.

My kingdom for a conservative

I don’t lean even slightly to the right politically, but I would like to think I understand the merits of conservative thinking. It’s about mitigating government risk, off-loading ambition to the private sector and, in times of economic hardship, turning to austerity as opposed to reinvestment. That’s fine. As much as I disagree with that line of thinking on an ideological level, I respect it. I can hold it in my hands and argue against it. It feels firm.

But what we’re seeing at Council these days isn’t that. It’s a weird mishmash of spite-based decision making and conservatism-when-convenient, held up by the enthusiastic wishes of a “silent majority” that only communicate through the cellphones of the mayor and his brother. It’s all glazed over with a slapdash of pseudo-libertarianism, the kind that exists in the minds of high school students who are like halfway through reading Atlas Shrugged.

Rob Ford is Rob Ford. I can’t fault him for that. He’s maddeningly consistent in his anti-government views and has been for years. What disappoints me — and continuously surprises me — is that he has commanded the support of a cabal of once-sensible Liberals and conservatives on Council, and has driven them to this point where Toronto is now governed by a Council with no consistent guiding ideology, principles, or direction.

Jul 11

The Jarvis vote: What the hell happened?

After a long and contentious debate that spanned across two days, Council voted today to remove the bike lanes on Jarvis Street and return the  street to its original five-lane configuration. The move will cost the city at least $200,000. The debate was marked by a series of (mostly) cogent arguments by councillors opposing the elimination of infrastructure that has, by all accounts, had no significant impact on traffic flow and increased the number of cyclists in the city. Those who supported the elimination responded by generally just wandering around the council chamber and not listening.  The hundreds of taxpayers who came to City Hall to support maintaining the lanes were dismissed by some councillors — notably Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday — as “bike people.”

The media narrative spinning out of today’s vote will be that the cyclists won a “concession” after Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee and architect of the 2011 Bike Plan, supported an amendment that will see the Jarvis lanes removed sometime in 2012, simultaneously with the installation of new, repaved, separated bike lanes on Sherbourne Street. This is a too-simplistic interpretation that ignores the damage Council has now done to ongoing neighbourhood revitalization efforts across the downtown east-side.

What Council really did today was move to reclassify Jarvis Street — a place where people live and work and go to school — as a kind of downtown highway with a reversible fifth lane. In doing so they’ve thrown out a 2009 Environmental Assessment, a series of exhaustive community consultations and the objections of the local ward councillor, who was in the midst of ongoing neighbourhood beautification efforts in concert with local residents and business.

The vote on Jarvis came down with 18 in favour of keeping the lanes and 27 opposed. Or maybe it was 26-19. Or 28-9. No one is really sure.

Political Gamesmanship

Late on Tuesday afternoon, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam — the local councillor for Jarvis Street — moved three individual-but-connected motions. Together they worked to protect her efforts to continue to improve Jarvis Street, a recognized “cultural corridor” in the City of Toronto. You can read the motions in full in the Decision Document, but here’s a quick summary:

  1. Council not eliminate the Jarvis bike lanes
  2. Council not eliminate the Jarvis bike lanes before the proposed separated bike lanes on Sherbourne are implemented
  3. Council not eliminate the Jarvis bike lanes before extensive community consultation

Her third item, calling for the involvement of a variety of community groups in an extensive consultation, showed signs of support from a few right-leaning councillors. And why wouldn’t it? Most would acknowledge that it seems cold-hearted to make significant changes to a street over the objections of a local councillor without so much as a public meeting.

Minnan-Wong, as the last speaker on the item, had an ace up his sleeve, however, as he moved an amendment to Wong-Tam’s second motion, explicitly calling for a return of Jarvis to its “pre-existing operation.” This stood as the first significant reference to Jarvis’ former five-lane configuration, and came after several of Minnan-Wong’s right-leaning colleagues had made arguments seemingly in support of a 2009 Environmental Assessment that called for wider sidewalks — instead of bike lanes — and the elimination of the fifth lane. His amendment also employed softer language, calling for more limited coordination between the removal of the Jarvis lanes and the installation of the Sherbourne lanes, as opposed to the original implication that one not happen without the other.

Wong-Tam challenged the amendment, which was ruled to be in order by Chair Frances Nunziata. A vote on whether to uphold Nunziata’s decision saw councillors support their Chair 27-18.

From here, things quickly broke down into procedural chaos. After the vote to retain the Jarvis lanes failed 18-27, the vote on Minnan-Wong’s amendment passed 26-19. Wong-Tam’s amended motion then passed 31-14 in the confusion, which had the probably unintentional effect of making her third motion — the one that would have allowed for public consultation — redundant. Minnan-Wong’s efforts thus had the dual impact of explicitly calling for the return of the fifth lane on Jarvis Street and ensuring that no consultations would ever be held on this issue.

The rest was noise. Some councillors lobbied Nunziata with the sensible suggestion that council vote on the individual items contained in the 2011 Bike Plan one at a time, as this would allow them to express support for elements of the plan while opposing others. Nunziata, as is her way, was obstinate and opted to instead hold only one vote. That prompted nearly all left-leaning councillors to leave the chamber before the results of the vote were read, with eight of them opting not to register a vote at all.

Not About Bikes

The most disappointing thing about today’s outcome is that it cements Jarvis as little more than a strategic battleground in a spite-driven war between cars and bikes. Bike lanes on Jarvis were never the entire issue. A reasonable compromise would have been to see a return to the original staff recommendations made as part of the 2009 EA: removal of the bike lanes in favour of wider pedestrian thoroughfares, and perhaps the installation of a few key left-turn lanes for automobile traffic. Instead, some councillors were disingenuous enough to pretend that this was their favoured option while ultimately placing their support behind a reversible fifth lane.

Today’s decision does little except increase the speed of automobile traffic, foster a substandard pedestrian realm and prop up Jarvis Street’s mid-century-to-now legacy as the tragic story of a once-great street in perpetual decline.


Jul 11

On bike lanes, put up or shut up

At the Toronto Standard, Matthew Kupfer — who is doing some very good work on the City Hall beat — takes a look at the brief alliance between activist Dave Meslin and Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, which ended so spectacularly when Minnan-Wong endorsed a decision to remove the Jarvis bike lanes as part of his new bike plan.

Well worth reading. I wanted to note this part specifically, as it’s a line Minnan-Wong has been pushing to reporters repeatedly:

Minnan-Wong stands by the bike plan that is going to be voted on this week. He said it represents an investment in cycling infrastructure of nearly $43 million in five years—nearly double what Mayor Miller invested in his final term. As for the so-called war on the bike, he said those charges are trumped up.

via Tandem Troubles | Toronto Standard | News, Media, Art, Business, Technology, Fashion, Events.

I don’t think any cyclist in this city thinks the previous council did a great job installing bike lanes, but it should be noted the the previously adopted city-wide bike plan, written way back in 2001, actually called for $68.3 million in spending. Minnan-Wong should remember that. He voted for it.

I say this not because I’m happy about how the previous bike plan was — or, more accurately, wasn’t — implemented, but instead to point out that there’s a gigantic difference between money that’s been committed as part of a plan and money that’s actually been spent. In other words: put up or shut up.

Jul 11

Who to call & email to save the Jarvis bike lanes

With some information that’s rolled in over the past week, I’ve been able to update my projected City Council Scorecard for the vote on keeping or killing the Jarvis Street bike lanes that will take place at next week’s Council meeting.

Councillor Josh Matlow made us wait, but confirmed last night that he would not support removing the lanes. The other Josh — Councillor Colle — has also indicated in responses to email that he does not believe that the City should spend money to remove the existing bike lanes.

I’ve moved some 100% Ford-supporting councillors like Giorgio Mammoliti and Frances Nunziata into the kill-it category, despite that they both voted to implement the lanes two years ago. There was never really a chance that they would vote against the mayor.

That leaves a scorecard that looks like this:

This leaves us with 19 in favour of keeping the lanes, 18 opposed, with eight undecideds or uncommitted councillors. Of the undecideds, six lean toward the Ford Nation side of Council, with middle-skewing Ron Moeser joining them more often than not. My suspicious is that Councillor Ana Bailão is likely to vote in favour of keeping the lanes.

The Toronto Cyclists Union reported yesterday via their twitter account that Mayor Rob Ford has claimed that 70% of the calls he has received regarding Jarvis Street support his view to eliminate the lanes. This is despite numerous reports via Twitter and social media channels from those who have called the Mayor’s famous phone number — 416-397-FORD – who say they were not asked for their name nor was their position seemingly recorded.

Calling Ford is never necessarily a bad idea, but I think it is becoming increasingly clear that it is not an overly effective strategy on this issue. As far as I can tell, the phone calls the mayor talks about receiving have only ever hardened his stance on key issues. Dissenting voices are dismissed as a minority. Calling him is not going to make a significant difference on this issue.

For those who want to truly influence the vote — which is likely to take place this coming Wednesday — I’d urge you to contact the councillors who are still listed as uncommitted votes in the chart above. Particularly if you live in their ward. You can find their contact information on the City’s website.

And if anyone has received an email or message from any of the uncommitted councillors above that makes their intentions clear, please let me know.

Jun 11

Bike Plan to Nowhere: Three ways the new bike plan report falls short

Staff released their report (PDF) on Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s much-ballyhooed bike plan last week. It’ll be debated this Wednesday at the meeting of the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee, after which it will, if approved, go on to City Council for final consideration.

The Toronto Cyclists Union has served as a somewhat unlikely ally to Minnan-Wong as he’s talked up his plan for a network of four separated bike lanes across the downtown core. They’ve even visited with neighbourhood groups across the downtown to build support for the idea of protected bike lanes.

The release of the staff report appeared to throw cold water on that budding friendship, however.

The union’s response:

This report was released today and the Toronto Cyclists Union, representing over 1,100 members, is disappointed with the lack of progress in the report. It is not bold enough to address the needs of hundreds of thousands of Torontonians who ride bicycles. In fact, several of the recommendations outlined in the report set the City back on cycling progress.

via Statement on 2011 Bikeway Network Report | Toronto Cyclists Union.

To Minnan-Wong’s credit, he told the Toronto Star’s David Rider that he “wishes staff had taken a ‘bolder’ approach” in their report.

So why does the report — let’s just say it — kind of suck? Let’s count the ways.

Reason One: It’s a bike plan that eliminates bike lanes

First, it’s a bike plan that actually floats the idea of eliminating established bike lanes in Scarborough and previously approved — but not installed — lanes on Bloor West.

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, one of the Team Ford members that sometimes breaks ranks, pushed for removal of the two Scarborough lanes — one’s on Birchmount Road while the other is on Pharmacy Avenue — as part of her election platform (PDF).

Though staff report that the two lanes “do not have a significant adverse effect on the traffic operations and parking situation” on the two roadways, and advise that removal of the lanes will cost more than $200,000, Berardinetti told the Toronto Sun that she would continue to support their removal because “[this] is what the residents want.”

It’s populist thinking like that that make me wonder why we don’t just replace our elected officials with a series of online polls.

Here’s a nifty video showing a cyclist riding the Pharmacy Ave. lane during rush hour. While hardly the definitive word on this sort of thing, it does not, to me, resemble traffic chaos.

Reason Two: It’s a bike plan that barely recommends new bike lanes

The authors of the report essentially hedge their bets on every major recommendation. The only protected lane they recommend without further study is a small installation over the Bloor Viaduct. They’re also a little bullish on protected lanes on Sherbourne and Wellsley, recommending them for 2012.

The other proposed lanes in Minnan-Wong’s network, including a lane or Richmond or Adelaide — which the report notes “would have the greatest benefit for cyclists” –, are pushed off into the future, noting that more studies must be done.

I’m being critical of the report’s authors, but I should note that their timidness to recommend lanes is grounded in reality, considering the views the mayor and Minnan-Wong have expressed in the past.The report includes a lengthy section in the summary that serves as a kind of disclaimer for councillors who once fought hard against bike infrastructure:

It is important to understand, however, that the implementation of other separated bicycle lanes will, in most instances, result in a reduction of vehicle traffic or parking capacity. It is with this understanding that this report seeks authority to undertake further in-depth assessment, including a comprehensive consultation and design process, to evaluate the different design options for this separated bicycle lane network, and to identify impacts and recommend potential mitigating measures

In other words: We really don’t want to spend a zillion hours producing a bunch of reports for bike lanes on Richmond Street if you’re going to inevitably dismiss any bike lane that might impact the free movement of cars.

Reason Three: It’s a bike plan that works against, rather than with, the cycling community

In addition to floating the idea of removing lanes in Scarborough, the report also calls for the cancelling a previously-funded environmental assessment that would “develop an innovative design and implementation plan for developing a bikeway along the Bloor-Danforth corridor, and identify short and long-term design options, including evaluating the feasibility of physically separated bicycle lanes.”

Minnan-Wong justifies the cancellation by saying “we only have so much money and we only have so much staff” and pointing to better uses of the funds set aside from the EA. The cycling community, apparently, would disagree:

Hundreds of cyclists hit Bloor St. Saturday for the annual Bells on Bloor ride with the simple message ringing out — build bike lanes from one end of Toronto to the other across the major artery.

via Cyclists pedal hard for bike lane | Toronto Sun.

The disconnect between what the plan actually proposes and what the cycling community is asking for is disappointing. I guess it should be noted that another term for cycling community is taxpayer community.

For those playing along at home, the best way to rapidly expand cycling infrastructure in this city is to aggressively design and approve pilot projects, in the style of New York City’s Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Minnan-Wong’s stated desire to take a “bolder” approach is the one thing that gives me hope out of this disappointing report. Bold is what cyclists should get. Bold is what this city deserves.

May 11

Setting policy by imagined consensus

Speaking of Doug Ford, I thought his contribution to an article regarding the Jarvis Street bike lanes by Marcia Chen and Ashleigh Smollet of CityNews.ca was kind of interesting:

Not even a year after they were installed, the fate of the contentious Jarvis Street bike lanes is in question.

“We would like to eliminate them,” said councillor Doug Ford. “We have had more complaints about the bike lanes on Jarvis than any other road in Toronto. Hundreds and hundreds of people.”

But ward councillor Karyn Wong-Tam disagreed, noting the revitalization of the downtown’s east side depends on the lanes and other projects on Jarvis.

“Hundreds? No, definitely we haven’t received hundreds,” Wong-Tam said. “I don’t think we’ve had even one hundred.”

via Rob Ford may consider removing Jarvis bike lanes – CityNews.

It’s a neat encapsulation of Ford-brand politics. Both Doug and Rob consistently back up their pet issues with claims that they’ve received hundreds — sometimes thousands — of phone calls supporting them. It’s a tired, easily-mockable refrain. There’s no way to confirm the reality of their claims, nor is there a way to quantify, track and analyze this data. In real terms, their claims are worse than useless.

Even if Doug Ford were accurate, and they — leaving aside for now the issue of who they is, because people really shouldn’t be complaining to the councillor in Ward 2 about an issue with infrastructure in Ward 27 — had received hundreds of calls, is that enough reason to eliminate lanes that are, by the city’s own estimates, used by hundreds of cyclists every day?

May 11

Rob Ford’s next target: Jarvis Street bike lanes?

The Toronto Sun’s Don Peat reports that Public Works Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong is looking at removing the bike lanes on Jarvis Street:

Public works chairman Denzil Minnan-Wong said he thinks there is an appetite on council to revisit the controversial bike lanes.

“I’ve heard from many councillors that they would like to revisit this issue,” Minnan-Wong said.

He is proposing a separated bike lane plan in the downtown core but the network doesn’t call for such lanes on Jarvis St. because it is a primary north-south route.

via Jarvis St. bike lanes will be re-examined | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

For the record, the Jarvis street lanes were a low-cost item. Despite rapturous concerns that they would lead to traffic chaos, they’ve caused minimal delays. Aside from a lingering desire to give the finger to their political opponents, there is no reason for Minnan-Wong, Ford or any member of council to support this change.

And yet here we are.

The cycling community, including the Toronto Cyclists Union, has generally been supportive of Minnan-Wong’s plan for a network of four protected bike lanes downtown. This news should give them pause.