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

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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