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.

Jun 11

Mammoliti on Jarvis Lanes: “Everybody has the right to use the road”

During the 2009 debate over the removal of the reversible fifth lane on Jarvis Street — which, of course, led to the Jarvis Street Bike Lanes — Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti stood on the floor of City Council and gave an impassioned — if slightly confusing at times — speech supporting the narrowing of Jarvis Street. Specifically, he said that lower speeds will be good for businesses along the stretch. He praised Councillor Kyle Rae for his work bringing the project forward, and scolded councillors who were critical of the plan. “Get off your rear ends,” he told opposition councillors. “When someone goes down to party on [a narrowed and revitalized] Jarvis Street, they’re going to say what a wonderful street Jarvis is.”

He calls for the end of the oft-fiery debate between “the rights of drivers and cyclists,” telling council that “he doesn’t like that argument because I think everybody has the right to use the road.”

YouTube user HOOFandCYCLE was kind enough to post video of Mammoliti’s remarks. I’ve also transcribed the speech below. Any errors are my own.

Madame Speaker, I want to give some examples of what I would consider human nature, I guess. And that is… — when many of us go to restaurants we tend to look into the restaurant and tend to wonder how busy it might be and how popular it might be. And we tend to go into the restaurants — if we don’t know them quite well — that are loaded with people. The ones that seem to be busy. The ones that seem to be a little crazy.

The ones that are empty we usually say, “Well, the food might not be very good here. And I don’t think I’m going to take the chance.”

When we go to shows and concerts, we usually go to concerts that are the busiest with the most people — blah blah blah blah blah

Night clubs? Lineups out the door? Those are the ones we choose to go in because there must be something special with respect to this nightclub and the amount of people that must be going through.

(Another Councillor asks “What’s the point?”)

My point is — that I’m trying to make — is, that for some reason, the busier the street, the more popular it becomes. The slower a street, with respect with how people move through, the more popular it becomes.

In fact, I believe that if traffic is at a standstill, then businesses actually thrive on those streets. A prime example of that — you remember Yonge Street? Years ago? How congested it was? How you could not move on Yonge Street? The store owners on Yonge Street absolutely loved it. They didn’t want the traffic to go through quickly. They felt that that contributed to their success.

And around the world, that is the case. That, in fact, if you attempt to slow down traffic — in whatever manner — it becomes more popular for the pedestrian who does a lot of shopping. And it becomes a lot more popular for cyclists — yes, it does.

And why don’t we want to take a page from some of the successful cities that have learned from their experiences? That’s all that some of us are saying here. I’m saying it because I believe in that model. I think it actually does create business.

Jarvis, if you drive down, is very fast. Somebody has mentioned — I think it was Councillor McConnell who mentioned it in her speech — that traffic is actually very fast, at times, on Jarvis. And it’s time to slow it down.

So you slow it down by proposing to remove a lane, and, yes, you slow it down as well for people to pay attention to others that are using that street and sidewalks. Whether it’s pedestrians or the cyclists that now will be using Jarvis.

When we all go for our license, and the privilege of having a vehicle license — whether that’s car, or a bicycle license — one of the first things you’re taught about is cyclists. Use your rearview mirrors, watch our for cyclists, be careful. You’re at fault even if the cyclist does something wrong. You’re at fault.

And so, now the debate becomes the debate between the difference in rights between someone who is driving a vehicle and the cyclists. That’s what I’ve been hearing. And I don’t like that argument because I think everybody has the right to use the road.

And I said it it earlier when I stood that cyclists don’t have any other options. They can only use the road. They can’t use the sidewalks. So what is the debate about today — seriously? Some have pointed out that it costs money, and saying that perhaps we should be fixing other roads before this one. Is that the argument today?

Or is the argument about a fundamental logic that you don’t like cyclists on the road? Why don’t we be honest about that if it is?

Now Councillor Rae has worked this into his equation and he must be patted on the back for doing that. And it takes work to put this into any equation. To try and get lanes — cycle lanes — in your communities is a hard task. So might it be that some other councillors don’t want to work as hard, and when they find somebody doing [something] they want to hide behind policy and say, “It’s because of the policy. We shouldn’t be straying from it. How dare we do that?”

Get up off your rear ends and do the same thing.

And if it isn’t about bike lanes, do something else. Take on your own pet project. And don’t just sit at City Hall and try to change people’s minds and create scenarios in the back rooms. Spend some time in your communities and change the flavour of your communities. Councillor Rae is suggesting to change the flavour on Jarvis — and it will.

And then when everyone wants to go down to party on Jarvis, they’re going to say what a wonderful street Jarvis is. It’s so wonderful. At that point, who’s going to be around to remind everyone that perhaps it was the local councillor that changed the way things are done. Perhaps it’s someone who actually stood up and actually cared for his community and cared for the voices — yes, the voices — that I hear everyday.

So when Councillor Holyday stands up and says he’s in Etobicoke and he never sees any cyclists, well — I do. And I think most of us do who are in the West district. And I don’t know where [Holday is] coming from.

Perhaps the cyclists that aren’t there get the feeling that the politicians don’t want them there. And that’s probably why they’re not using our streets. I say something different — I say let’s make sure that we try to get them out there as well.

It’s not just about the Humber River [trail], as someone pointed out, it’s also about encouraging people to use the roads. Encouraging them and wanting them to do it, and not saying they’re excluded because [other councillors] believe some policy needs to be changed or [that] maybe we should be fixing another road somewhere in Scarborough before we do something like this.


Less than a year after making these remarks and voting to approve installation of the bike lanes, Mammoliti reversed course. As part of his abortive campaign for mayor, he told The Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle “When I’m the mayor of the City of Toronto, if they succeed with these bike lanes, I will take them down — and that will be the first thing that I do.”

Mammoliti, now one of the most loyal Ford supporters on Council, will undoubtedly vote to remove the Jarvis Street bike lanes when the item comes before council at next month’s meeting.

He has yet to offer a credible explanation for why he changed his mind.

Jun 11

What we talk about when we talk about Jarvis

At yesterday’s meeting of the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee, while discussing Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s new bike plan, Councillor John Parker moved an amendment to kill the bike lanes on Jarvis Street.

Here’s the text of Parker’s amendment:

City Council rescind its decision related to the bicycle lanes on Jarvis Street.

via Agenda Item History – 2011.PW5.1.

Council will debate the item at the July council meeting. If approved by a majority of council, the lanes will be removed.

No Justifiable Reason

I’m going to have lots to say about this over the coming weeks, but let’s get some stuff out of the way. First, the big one: as far as city planning, traffic engineering and economics go, there is seemingly no justifiable reason for removing the bike lanes on Jarvis.

The city’s own numbers tell the story. Since the lanes were installed, traffic levels for cars has remained at the same level as previous. Travel times increased by about two minutes in the morning, and three to five minutes in the afternoon. If that latter figure seems a tad high, staff agree, and are taking steps to correct it:

Much of the increased travel time could be attributed to the delays and queues experienced at the Jarvis Street/Gerrard Street East intersection, particularly in the northbound direction during the p.m. peak period.

The introduction of an advanced left turn phase in the northbound direction at this intersection, scheduled this summer, will reduce the delays at this intersection and the overall travel times between Queen Street East and Charles Street East.

via Bikeway network — 2011 Update. (pg 17)

Most notable, however, is that the total number of vehicles (cars + bikes) using the road in both directions during daily peak eight hour periods increased from approximately 13,290 to 14,180 after the installation of the lanes. 100% of this increase comes from bikes.

In other words: a $63,000 one-time investment in infrastructure increased the daily utility of a Toronto roadway by about 7%. That’s an incredible value-to-dollar ratio.

This isn’t some hippie pinko gut-based opinion. This is black-and-white fact. The Jarvis Street bike lanes aren’t preventing people from moving through the city. They’re enabling people to move through the city.

Let’s ignore cyclists in this debate

But, on this issue, we might be best to ignore cyclists. I have a very real concern that if we let this debate spiral into the same tired car-versus-bike war we’ve seen a dozen times before, bikes will lose. And lose bad.

Rob Ford car-friendliness isn’t just a part of his character. It turns out it’s also what drives some of his most bedrock support. In a post at OpenFile yesterday, John Michael McGrath took a look at an academic paper by doctoral candidate Zack Taylor at UofT, which laid out the strong correlation between people who commute by automobile to work and those that supported the mayor:

The other strong predictor in Taylor’s paper was car ownership and use. No surprise, the man who ran against “the war on the car” picked up the support of Toronto’s most car-dependent areas. “Toronto isn’t the only place you’re seeing this happen. Once you own a car, once you experience the street as a car—a car driver—you experience anything that impedes you as an annoyance,” says Taylor.

via Why suburban motorists voted for Ford, and why this is news | OpenFile.

If the Jarvis lanes are simply held up as a key battleground in the ever-ongoing war between cars and bikes in the city, Rob Ford likely still has enough clout on council and enough popular support to kill the lanes. It’s as simple as that.

You bike guys had your way with the previous council, they’ll say, but things are different now. We have to give the people what they want.

What Jarvis Street means

Jarvis Street was, for much of Toronto’s history, a place for Toronto’s well-off. One of the richest thoroughfares in the city, it was lined with trees and huge mansion homes setback from the roadway. To illustrate, BlogTO’s Derek Flack compiled a beautiful-then-sad series of images that sets the scene.

Spacing’s Shawn Micallef described the old Jarvis in an Eye Weekly column as “once the most beautiful street in Toronto” that “has been reverse-gentrified and turned into a fat arterial traffic pipe between North Toronto and downtown.”

The widening of Jarvis street and the installation of a reversible centre lane — one that flowed south in the morning and north in the evening — immediately changed the character of the roadway.

During the first debate over what to do with Jarvis, a local resident told the National Post’s Allison Haines that “many consider Jarvis Street to be a freeway and it’s not – it’s a downtown city street.”

Yes, Jarvis is a downtown city street. It’s a street with numerous homes — and more coming, with a recent condo proposal for the once-thought-uninhabitale Dundas intersection — businesses and institutions. The National Ballet School calls the northern part of Jarvis Street home, as does a public high school and a large downtown Toronto park and conservatory.

The Jarvis bike lanes were not part of the original plan to revitalize Jarvis Street. The thought was to instead improve the pedestrian realm with wide sidewalks and landscaping. The idea was that the street would look like this:


via Jarvis Street Streetscape Improvements Class Environmental Assessment Study (2009) pg 13

That may have been a better option in the long-term than what we got — further improvements to the streetscape on Jarvis seem to have stalled out after the bike lanes were installed — but the two approaches carry one thing in common: both called for the removal of the reversible fifth lane.

Removing that lane under any context was a huge win for Jarvis Street.

It’s unclear at this point whether Parker’s motion means that the fifth lane will be reinstalled if council approves his amendment, but it is important that councillors understand that Jarvis Street about far more than just travel times. It is a downtown city street with all that entails: a place for people to live, learn and work.

Any further discussion about what to do with Jarvis must take that into account. It is not and should never be again thought of as a mere urban arterial, where speed is king, and nothing else matters. Not only does that sort of argument shortchange the growing number of people who call the area home, it also ignores the huge economic impact a revitalized Jarvis could have.

Mar 11

City sued for alleged “war on cars”

The latest chapter in the St. Clair Right-of-Way saga isn’t exactly thrilling, as it seems most along that stretch have moved on and accepted a new reality. (Councillor Joe Mihevc, while admitting the process kind of sucked, has pointed out several positive outcomes now that the ROW is in place.) There’s still the small matter, however, of a class-action lawsuit, led by lawyer (and author) Stephen Edell. They’re trying to get 100 million dollars from the city, an outcome that would almost double the cost of the project.

This article by the Post’s Natalie Alcoba points out that Edell is using some of the mayor’s campaign talking points as part of his case against the city:

Beyond allegations of negligence, the suit also accuses the former council of engaging in a “war on cars” that “is not a proper exercise of authority of a government in a public works program,” said Mr. Edell.

He alleges the city “turned a blind eye” to the businesses in peril in what he described as a “negative twist on the concept of gentrification.”

City officials “may not have started intending to destroy St. Clair West, west of Bathurst, but as the project started to drag on, and businesses failed, it dawned on them that this was a good opportunity to turn St. Clair around, to improve the tax base,” said Mr. Edell.

He expressed surprise that city litigators are seeking to throw out the case, given that Mayor Rob Ford has often referred to the St. Clair “fiasco” on the campaign trail.

via $100M St. Clair right-of-way case heads to court | Posted Toronto | National Post.

It should be noted that this is a lawsuit partially in response to delayed construction. Construction that was itself delayed by another lawsuit.

Jan 11

Now you downtowners can afford to drive!


via Ford ends personal vehicle tax – 680News.

Just in case you missed it: Ford held a press conference at a downtown Chrysler dealership early on New Year’s Day to promote the end of the vehicle registration fee.