June 15, 2015

Politically Infused Road Rage

This past week has been one of complete road rage for Toronto’s cycling community. On Thursday, city council voted 24-21 to waste an additional $458 million to save 3% of commuters an average of 52 seconds by rebuilding the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway.[1] This is in spite of overwhelming evidence supporting the cheaper boulevard (remove) option, which was supported by the following:

When the casino debate occurred in 2013, No Casino Toronto was organized for months before the final vote in May 2013, which saw plans for a casino in downtown Toronto successfully stopped. While there were four public meetings on Gardiner East and #CodeBlueTO focused on that matter for at least a year, there was not any significant organizing done until Mayor John Tory publicly announced his support for the modified maintain option on May 12. That was the day before the special Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting which saw deputations from a large number of residents. While the boulevard option saw a significant rally in support in the 1 – 2 weeks before the council vote, it was too little too late and was concentrated in the downtown core. In the amalgamated City of Toronto, canvassing in suburban areas is essential; something No Jets TO has done when they established chapters in Scarborough and Etobicoke.
Gardiner Expressway East from Lake Shore bike path
Does that mean all hope is lost for the boulevard option? Not so fast! During the recent city council debate, there were also motions to study tunnelling, tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, and selling or leasing the highways; which could lead to yet another debate in September. There are potential developer lawsuits to contend with and Queen’s Park must approve the environmental assessment before construction can begin in 2019. Still, the mayor’s actions underscore the need for smarter organizing, especially if this shock doctrine of withholding unpopular views until it is too late to effectively organize continues.

To add more fuel to Toronto’s ongoing transportation debate, three people riding bicycles were killed in motor vehicle collisions within the past two weeks with Bike Month in full swing. The names of the deceased were Roger du Toit (a notable urban planner), Zhi Yong Kang, and Adam Excell. The hit and run killing Kang was caused by 22 year old Darya Selinevich who was not only driving without a license, but had the sick nerve to promote drinking and driving on social media per the tweet below![2] This is beyond stupid and should not only lead to her permanent driving ban, but also imprisonment. How many more cycling and pedestrian deaths must there be until city council gets the message that we need to spend less on drivers and more on pedestrian, cycling, and transit infrastructure in order to achieve Vision Zero?
There is one place Toronto could look to for inspiration which faced this dilemma in the 1970’s. On October 5, 2014, Angela van der Kloof of Mobycon came from the Netherlands to make a presentation at a Complete Streets Forum in Toronto. During her presentation (available online), she discussed her observations of Toronto compared to the Netherlands (e.g. more signs, higher speed limits, street ownership) and showed a chart of how bicycle usage declined across Europe from almost 90% in Amsterdam in the 1940’s to 30% in the 1970’s before rebounding to almost 40% today. In comparison, Toronto has a 2.2% cycle modal share[3] with the share being higher than 8% in Wards 19 and 20.[4]
Angela van der Kloof of Mobycon at Toronto's Complete Streets Forum
As with North American cities after World War 2, the Netherlands experienced an increase in motor vehicle use in the 1950's and 1960's. Several factors such as increased motor vehicle fatalities (especially those involving children), the oil crisis, the high costs of expanding motor vehicle infrastructure, and citizen action lead to the Netherlands rethinking their transportation strategy and started a series of cycling pilot projects in the late 1970’s. Van der Kloof ended her presentation with lessons focused on accessibility for all, different networks for motor vehicles and slower bicycles, continuous design improvements, and co-operation.

Can Toronto reach the kind of reckoning the Netherlands experienced, or will the endless transportation debating without meaningful action continue? It is up to us Toronto citizens to compel our elected officials to get our city moving!

Rob Z (e-mail)


[1] Matt Elliott. MetroNews. "Mayor John Tory trades credibility for concrete with Gardiner decision." June 12, 2015. http://metronews.ca/voices/torys-toronto/1394488/mayor-john-tory-trades-credibility-for-concrete-with-gardiner-decision/ [2] CityNews. “Woman, 22, faces several charges in North York hit-and-run.” June 11, 2015. http://www.citynews.ca/2015/06/11/woman-22-faces-several-charges-north-york-hit-run/
[3] City of Toronto. “2011 National Household Survey.” June 26, 2013. https://www1.toronto.ca/city_of_toronto/social_development_finance__administration/files/pdf/nhs-backgrounder-labour-education-work-commuting.pdf
[4] Tammy Thorne. UofT Magazine. “Where People Pedal.” Spring 2014. http://www.magazine.utoronto.ca/leading-edge/where-people-pedal-toronto-cycling-think-and-do-tank-trudy-ledsham/

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