What the bitter end of the Jarvis bike lanes means for Toronto bicyclists.

In short, yesterday’s vote at city council, on the phasing in of the completed Sherbourne bike track coinciding with the return of the convertible fifth wheel lane on Jarvis for cars, comes down to five practical things:

  1. As a cyclist-commuter, you won’t be getting a completed Sherbourne bike track until 2014. It will be under stages of construction until then.
  2. As a cyclist-commuter, you won’t be getting Jarvis bike lanes after about November of this year. That’s when the heavy equipment to burn off the bike lanes will roll out, and when the cherry pickers will be re-installing the wiring for the convertible lane’s LED signage. If the logical rationale of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is followed, it means bicyclists will magically want to use the same Sherbourne Street which car commuters have long disliked using in favour of Jarvis (small wonder, that). According to Minnan-Wong’s reasoning, bicyclists should detest Jarvis as much as drivers hate Sherbourne.
  3. As a cyclist-commuter, you’re going to prefer — according to Minnan-Wong — the increased quantity (length) of the completed Sherbourne bike track over Jarvis because, well, there’s just more of it planned than the Jarvis bike lane now. The Jarvis bike lanes reach from Bloor to Queen; the completed Sherbourne bike track is to reach from Bloor to Front — four more blocks in a lesser-travelled stretch. But, but, but … more is better! In Minnan-Wong’s world, he rationalized this promise of quantity over quality (location, location, location of Jarvis) as a selling point which bicycle commuters are going to just love. So he believes.
  4. As a cyclist-commuter, you are about to be able to occupy the entire right lane, in each direction, along all of Jarvis’s five-lane corridor. This is because the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, Section 147, allows for a bicyclist to occupy the use of an entire (slower) lane as a legal safety measure. This same section also applies to horse carriages and other slower wheeled vehicles. What this means is that if you, a bicycle commuter, feel that Jarvis is the best way to get around, then you get the entire outer lane. Not everyone on two wheels will feel comfortable about this, but it does give bicyclists a wider berth than the existing Jarvis bike lanes do.
  5. Because of #4, as a motorist using Jarvis, you are going to be dealing with longer lines of traffic at traffic lights as bicyclists occupy and ride on the outer lanes of Jarvis throughout the day. Five car lanes will often be more like three. This will slow your commute times when using a car, particularly during business hours and evenings when bicyclists are moving about the most. Just like you. And dinner won’t always be getting served promptly.

Perhaps the only thing which made yesterday’s sting at city council feel slightly less so was, ironically, in a motion from Councillor Minnan-Wong. On its face, it looked like a bartered concession. It was more a backhanded slap to what seems like a(n imagined) political grudge match between him and those councillors he perceives as his council antitheses — be it Kristyn Wong-Tam, Mike Layton, Josh Matlow, or Gord Perks.

That “concession”: the $300,000 to revert the Jarvis street system to its pre-2010 splendour is no longer coming out of the bicycling infrastructure line budget, but instead from the general transportation budget. The motion passed.

Some may consider yesterday an exercise in total exasperation, but it was part of something much greater, something which is only going to continue snowballing. There will be a critical mass, literally, of how we ambulate around the city to a point in which multi-modal transportation solutions will not only be inevitable, but also prioritized. Champions of single-mode transportation solutions know this, and they are holding on to it by their teeth. Their time is running out. They are not amused by this.

It is, nevertheless, worthwhile to mention that Cycle Toronto, the Toronto Cyclists Union, had Denzil Minnan-Wong as a card-carrying member. It was during his union membership period (which evidently expired over this past summer) when Minnan-Wong derailed the Jarvis bike lanes into the present oblivion.

What is extremely troubling is Cycle Toronto’s vacillation and even muteness on not taking action, per their by-law, which allows for the termination of a member when that member “does not support the mission, vision, and guiding principles” of the union. Minnan-Wong’s membership was a pivotal test case for the young (quasi-)union to show it had the political teeth to clamp on behalf of Toronto’s bicyclists.

Cycle Toronto blinked. Minnan-Wong smirked.

Remedially speaking, Cycle Toronto still have the means to publicly censure and permanently bar Minnan-Wong from re-applying as a member, even if he never intends to do so again. While hardly the bite which was badly needed during July 2011, this would demonstrate sincere good faith by Cycle Toronto that they’re no longer willing to roll over and play dead when the most crucial decisions on Toronto’s multi-modal culture is being hammered at council.

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