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Protests in Toronto against bike lane removal (and why you should care)

Posted by on November 12th, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Screen grab from The Star.

Right now in Toronto, Canada, protesters are sitting down in front of advancing city trucks to prevent them from removing bike lanes on a major city street . This story has captivated me all morning.

We have mentioned a few times here on BikePortland that the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, is so anti-bike that he planned to remove some recently installed bike lanes (and to add insult to injury he’s using the bike lane budget to do it). Today he is making good on that promise; but a few brave souls are making a last ditch attempt to stop him. The Star newspaper has this update:

A 33-year-old Toronto man is staging a sit-in on Jarvis Street where work to remove bike lanes began this morning… [Steve] Fisher says he is prepared to be removed by police if necessary.

“I know you’re doing your job but I’m not going to move,” he said. “I don’t believe the Jarvis bike lanes should be removed,” he said. “Before the lanes were involved I was hit twice by cars.”

Ford told the Toronto Sun that he “applauds” the removal and says he’s just doing what voters elected him to do.

Since the lanes went in in 2010 (the same year Ford was elected), usage of them has skyrocketed. As IBikeTO reported at the end of last month, just 148 people a day used the bike lanes that first year. This year that number has jumped to 431.

I share this story not just because I find it fascinating; but because Ford’s anti-bike stance has gotten a lot of notice from politicians south of the Canadian border. Even Portland Mayor Sam Adams has been influenced by the Jarvis St. controversy. Adams brought up their removal when I interviewed him last year.

I asked Adams when/if we’d ever see a big ribbon-cutting event for a major bikeway corridor project (similar to the events we’ve seen for streetcar projects of late). He used that question to bring up the potential of “community-wide push-back” against a “big, expensive.. bike extravaganza project.” Here’s more from his response:

“I was in Toronto during that election. That is a liberal city and they elected Ford overwhelmingly. He talked about taking streetcars out of downtown and ‘quit spending so much money on bikes’ and, you know, the light rail to the suburbs was ‘ridiculous’ and they should have spent it on freeways.”

To which I replied:

So, do you see that election of Ford as being the result of push-back because Toronto did big, flashy bike projects that the public wasn’t ready for?

“I think like any enthusiast, you know, you can send the wrong signals. And honestly, I’m going to prioritize life and safety over your sense of spectacular ribbon-cuttings any day. And so, you know, if the 50s Bikeway project isn’t sexy enough for you, too bad Jonathan Maus, I’m going to focus on the non-sexy life-saving stuff as I always have. We’ll continue to do the innovations, but they’re going to be innovations that make sense.”

I was surprised at the tone and substance of Adams’ answer. The fact that the “bicycling mayor” of Portland brought up someone like Rob Ford to explain why we haven’t seen more high-profile bike projects in Portland was very telling.

What lesson will politicians take away from Ford’s actions? What lessons should they take away?

I think we should all be watching what happens on Jarvis Street very closely.

— See more images of today’s protests here, and follow #SaveJarvis on Twitter.

UPDATE, 2:09 pm: Looks like protesters won the day; but crews will be back out tomorrow morning. Latest from The Star: Jarvis St. bike lane removal called off for the day after sit-in protest

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  • Dave November 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Mayor Ford is an obvious Al Qaeda sympathizer who wants to steer more Canadian money to Arab oil producers. Ottawa should be investigating.

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  • Ken Southerland November 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Why is no one helping this poor man with his sit-in?!

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  • Easy November 12, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    I think one lesson is be careful growing your city to include the suburbs:
    Once the electorate is made up from folks used to living car-dominated lives, they are more likely to elect politicians that oppose transit, biking, and walking.

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    • NF November 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm

      I’ve often thought about where we’d be if Portland had not annexed the area east of 205. But we have, and 35% of our population lives in a part of town where bicycling and walking is dangerous and disrespected.

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  • Zach November 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    I think you overestimate the amount of public support in Porttland for high-profile bike projects. We have a sort of project fatigue when it comes to bike and transit ideas. Although transit and bikes continue to have strong support here, I think a lot of people are simply tired of hearing about them as some panacea for all of our ills. Portland’s pioneering success in urban and transit planning have made our politicians addicted to promoting Big New Ideas seemingly around the clock. There’s only so much voters will take.

    It sounds like Sam Adams understands this.

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  • 9watts November 12, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    We’re winning!
    If bike lanes are the enemy then we represent a threat. Ha.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson November 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Note that bike lanes are not actually for bicyclists, rather for motorists.
    What? Yes, they get bicyclists out of the motorized vehicle travel lane.
    When there is no bike lane, the only safe option is to Take the Lane! and that might be an idea for folks in Toronto…thousands of bikers just “taking the lane!” on that multilane street. By sheer force of numbers you make the right hand lane a “bike lane.”
    re Big Ideas in Portland…sad to say, but the most recent one is the CRC! re transit and bike projects, we are just building out the big ideas of the last century.

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  • Lynne F November 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    “big expensive bike projects”. When they are unveiled, even better when they are being planned, the cost should be put into context up front. “we are planning to spend this honking huge amount of money on roads/potholes/construction/repair this year and this teensy weensy amount for cycling”

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  • Paul November 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    So, what will go in the place of the bike lane?

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    • Tammi Nh November 12, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      It’s quite mind-boggling to be honest. What was removed was one lane that reverses direction depending on the day of the week. And that’s what is going to go back. So… not really anything useful.

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  • Retrogrouch November 12, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    I think the mayor is playing with fire. A riled up bike community could cause all kinds of trouble, from political pressure to less than legal actions like removing car lanes by spilling diesel oil on Toronto’s asphalt streets.

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  • spare_wheel November 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    “I’m going to prioritize life and safety over your sense of spectacular ribbon-cuttings any day.”

    I agree 100%.

    To paraphrase Ernesto Guevara: the life of a single cyclist is worth a million times more than all of the “bike culture” on all of our gentrifying bike streets.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 12, 2012 at 3:13 pm


      I’m afraid you’re playing right into the Mayor’s hands. I didn’t say anything about “spectacular” ribbon-cuttings. I was asking about a major bikeway project on par with the type of projects he’s attended ribbon-cuttings for for streetcar.

      And what does “bike culture on all our gentrifying bike streets” even mean anyways?

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      • spare_wheel November 12, 2012 at 7:30 pm

        i was referring to williams, inner NE, and inner SE. i strongly object to the argument that limited transportation funding should be targeted to an area because there is a concentration of bike-centric businesses (and wealthier cyclists). if a neighborhood (or the city) want to promote business development they should generate new revenue for this specific purpose.

        imo, this blog and many transportation advocates are almost exclusively focused on the needs of the urban core. i could care less about increasing cycling mode share in buckman from 20% to 40%. in fact, i would love see a MORATORIUM on spending in inner pdx and a concentrated effort to bring new infrastructure and safe commuting corridors to outer pdx.

        To quote Sam:
        “The fact that a lot of our work over the next 2-3 years is going to be in East Portland…Those greenways are just as important to meeting our goal of 25% as cycle-tracks on Broadway, in fact more so.”

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        • gutterbunny November 12, 2012 at 10:49 pm

          Right on, tell it brother!

          As one that lives in the west of 82nd and east 39th in SE I gotta admit that the current system out here is at best half-assed.

          All the sharrows are all poorly maintained side streets adding at least an extra 1/2 mile to your ride to get anywhere, Or you can take on Tabor (fun, but not the best option for commuting). The main streets Powell, Division, Burnside, Holgate, Stark. All fast and nowhere safe enough to ride on currently. But of course once you get to 82nd and eastward there are paths a plenty on the main roads. Granted the traffic is faster and less predictable, but you can at least choose lane or sidewalk out east of the 205 on most the main roads.

          Now granted the extra mileage isn’t that big of a deal for me. I easily do 20+ miles on an old Raleigh 3 speed. But if I’m in a hurry (I know save the laughter till I’m passing some of you weight weenies), it’d be nice to have more direct routes to use.

          But then what do we get in the outer parts of the inner eastside?….A bike “highway” down 50th??? Is there really that much bike traffic North/South from Woodstock to Hollywood? No there isn’t. Most the traffic in this area runs East/West not North/South. Most of the North/South traffic is people looking to get back on to the not straight sharrows that run East/West.

          So again the ones living on the edges of the innner eastside are getting screwed.

          Of course I’m aware that they have now they’ve started talking about redoing Division from 60th to 80th (but why not to the new bike highway?). Though still being “discussed” it looks like they want to change it to three auto lanes and adding bike lanes. But one can’t wonder how long this will take considering they’ve just re-painted Division and done some work on most of the lights in the last month or two. And what do I do once I get to 60 traveling west – is it just going to route me back to Woodward? or am I going to have to ride on narrow 60th to turn left on the next sharrow.

          Not to mention our new mayor promising to focus on auto traffic/road improvement over more bikes. Now that’s not such a bad thing considering the state of SE Woodward from 52nd to 82nd, and the many potholes and unimproved roads in this area. But it’s looking more and more like everything is just staying the same.

          Improve the 39th to 82nd area of the east side and watch bike ridership skyrocket in Portland . Many of us brave the crappy conditions out here now. and unlike other parts of town I can ride to Division, Hawthorne, Montavillia, Foster,Woodstock, Gateway/205, Lents, and Clinton Districts all in 5-15 minutes. Lets not forget better and safer access to the Max greenline. In many ways my area has many more options that most parts of this town and access to way more businesses than people in Loyd/ Miss/Alberta/ or Sellwood have.

          And though I don’t get north of Glisan much, I’m guessing most the outer parts of inner NE are about the same. We’re almost as neglected as St. Johns and that just ain’t right.

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          • Jonathan Gordon November 13, 2012 at 11:13 am

            You make plenty of good points but please don’t dismiss the 50s Bikeway. It’s been a dream for many people for over 15 years (!) and I’m one of the patient masses who can’t wait to see it completed.

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  • scaryseth November 12, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    What a shame!

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  • Andrew Seger November 13, 2012 at 12:29 am

    We should ignore Toronto and Rob Ford. It’s the Houston of Canada and has the car culture to match. Look to Montreal if you want to see what happens when someone with imagination and political savvy takes office. Or for that matter look at how much better light rail has been implemented in Calgary versus the divisive implementations we get here (not a strict bike thing but related, I think).

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  • Scott November 13, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Regardless of how mean spirited and flat out wrong it is, I can’t help but admire a politician following his voter mandate.

    I admit fully that I don’t know all the facts in his election, the current political climate in Toronto, or if he has made good on other campaign promises, but if he is doing what he said he would, that is to be respected. I would protest too, but with respect to the mayor for keeping a campaign promise.

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  • EngineerScotty November 13, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    One other important point about Rob Ford. In addition to being the mayor of an amalgamated city (imagine if Sam Adams or mayor-elect Hales had to answer to residents in Oak Grove, Troutdale, or Tualatin), he won office with a plurality (not a majority) in a three-way race, where the progressive vote was split between two candidates.

    Come to think of it, many obnoxious conservatives in the US (Florida governor Rick Scott comes to mind) came to office under similar circumstances.

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  • Cawa Acwa November 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Rob Ford would not have been elected if it was only Toronto. It was the suburbs who elected him. He’s also some other bad things besides being anti-cycling, he’s homophobic and drives while drunk.

    His voters are/were like the U.S. Tea Party. Blindly believing the lies on right wing news media and not having enough sophistication about how media works and manipulates to see how they are being manipulated.

    But you know, now the suburbs of Toronto are starting to regret voting him in. I see his days numbered.

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  • jd November 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    The 50s bikeway project is super sexy. That is all.

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  • Lisa Marie November 14, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    I’ve encouraged a letter writing campaign to the mayor. Take part and help support the protests:

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  • DK November 15, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Not a fan of Adams but he seems very shrewd and insightful on the topic.

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  • Peter November 28, 2012 at 9:45 am

    From Canada: Mr. Ford’s attitudes are a symptom of his education and his culture and do not properly represent the proud city of Toronto. That he was elected says little of the people of Toronto and more about the electoral process. My proud southern neighbours elected a man who prior to his election lied about his use of marijuana and then were aghast when their president lied about his behaviour in the honourable Oval office. That said, the ignorance of his decision and the failure to put the safety of the individual ahead of the convenience of a steel structure is never comprehensible. As I write this a grade two class in Toronto and a family of neighbours, co-workers, parents and children is grieving the loss of a human being who happened to be on a bicycle t the wrong time and in the wrong place. The message to Mr. Ford and to politicians everywhere must come from each of us, make it SAFE. No excuses.

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