Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

One year later, still worth fighting for the Jarvis bike lanes

By: Metro Canada Published on Tue Jul 10 2012

This Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of Toronto City Council's wasteful and impulsive decision to ignore all recommendations from staff and direct $275,000 in public funds toward the removal of the Jarvis Street bike lanes.

A year later, the move to eliminate the bike lanes and return the street to its previous configuration still stands as one of the dumbest things the Ford administration has done, violating a handful of the mayor's key principles—openness, consultation, not wasting taxpayer money on dumb stuff—and going directly against his own election-era comments that he wouldn't move to scrap the lanes. It was a decision rooted in the worst kind of spiteful and divisive politics.

Because things move slowly at City Hall, the lanes are still there. Cyclists use them every day and claims of traffic chaos continue to be entirely made-up and unfounded. Beyond that, there's no indication from the people who actually live and work on Jarvis Street that they want to see the infrastructure removed and their street returned to a five-lane mini-highway.

And, oh yeah, it'll cost four times as much to remove the lanes as it did to install them in the first place.

This is not an issue that should be buried under a big pile of other issues. It deserves attention. There's still time to save Jarvis, but that time could be running short.

After this week's meeting, council won't sit again until October. That leaves a gap of about three months in which crews can head out and start preliminary work on converting the street back to its five-lane setup. While many are under the belief that the lanes on Jarvis can't be removed until new separated bike lanes are installed on Sherbourne Street, the language approved by council last year says only that work on the two streets be “co-ordinated.” It's vague enough to be dangerous.

With a little work, the votes are almost definitely there to reverse last year's decision to remove the lanes. The specific amendment that led to a vote on the future of the lanes came down 27-18, with 27 siding with the mayor. But a hell of a lot has changed since then: nowadays, Ford has virtually no hope of getting 27 votes to side with him on anything even remotely contentious.

Of the 27 who voted to eliminate the lanes, at least two councillors have expressly changed their tune, with Coun. Josh Matlow—whose vote last year was a mistake—and Coun. Michelle Berardinetti voicing support for maintaining the status quo on Jarvis. With them, the gap narrows to 25-20.

Only three votes are needed beyond that, and they shouldn't be hard to find amongst the reeds of spurned mayoral allies or the mighty middle. Councillors like Jaye Robinson, Josh Colle or Chin Lee are all potential pick-ups. A Toronto Star report from Robyn Doolittle last month even raised the possibility of getting supportive votes from Gary Crawford and Frank Di Giorgio.

Even Karen Stintz, who stood up during the Jarvis debate and gave a jaw-droppingly terrible speech in support of lane removal, has said she has concerns about the cost of the decision. As all self-professed fiscal conservatives should.

It's a winnable vote. And it's one worth winning, both to affirm support for making Jarvis Street a cultural corridor—a great place to live and work—and to let the voters know that this isn't a council that wildly tosses around taxpayer money with ill-advised decisions that help no one. This council is better than that.

This post was originally published at on 2012-07-10T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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