Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

On Jarvis Street, a million dollars got us nowhere

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Nov 14 2012

Work crews are out this week, slowly erasing the bike lanes on Jarvis Street and preparing to return the roadway to its original five-lane configuration. The work has been met with some good-natured protesters, who are kind of upset that Toronto is moving forward with a plan to remove cycling infrastructure in a city that doesn't really have much of it.

Even worse, the Jarvis lanes are being removed before the parallel route on Sherbourne Street is even complete. For cyclists, there won't be a good north-south route on the east side of the core for the immediate future. That's worth getting angry about.

So what did we learn from this whole senseless, frustrating episode, that ultimately ended exactly where it started? A few things.

For Toronto's cycling community, the big lesson should be to better respect the process. There was a strong, community-backed plan for Jarvis Street in 2010. It didn't include bike lanes, but, by virtue of the wider lanes and slower traffic, the two-wheeled experience would have been improved regardless. The cyclist community's decision to tack on bike lanes at the end of the process — without consultation or staff recommendation — was a mistake, and shouldn't be repeated. The move turned the revitalization of a historic street into a pawn in the ongoing car-versus-bike rhetorical war.

On the car-and-driver side of things, I guess we can conclude that studies and statistics that measure traffic are a total waste of time. There were exactly zero reports that justified the return of the fifth lane on Jarvis, but some Toronto drivers feel so frustrated and beaten down by the constant grind of gridlock across the city that they're willing to chalk this up as a victory, even at the cost of public money. That attitude only highlights the seriousness of Toronto's transportation problems.

And then there's the City Hall component. Let's be emphatic: cyclists and proponents of progressive transportation policy should not support the current plan for cycling, pushed primarily by Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong. From any angle, it's a bad plan that will do nothing but direct the scant resources available for cycling infrastructure toward overpriced and mostly useless separated curb lanes, which are set to be installed primarily on corridors that already have bike lanes. Meanwhile, any lanes that can be scapegoated as the cause of traffic congestion will be too easily offered up for sacrifice.

And, lastly, for the residents and businesses that call Jarvis Street home, I can say only this: I'm sorry. I wish you had simply received the wider sidewalks and improved streetscaping you were promised. I wish your street wasn't about to be reverted back to a de facto downtown highway all in the name of confused, spiteful and ham-fisted ideology.

This post was originally published at on 2012-11-14T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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