April 19, 2020

RANT - Toronto's Carservative Resistance

All right, folks! I need to rant.

During the seven years I have been advocating for safer streets for people who bike in Toronto, it seems no other city in North America has done more to resist improving cycling (or reducing space for cars) than right here. This kind of frustration has been felt by many including by those who have been advocating a lot longer than I have. One such advocate – Hamish – even had a term for this kind of culture which is “carservative”. To be fair, the recent push to create health corridors in Toronto is just the latest in a long tradition of carservative resistance.
The Gardiner Expressway has been a source of contention in recent years

We are all too familiar with the Rob Ford administration’s removal of bike lanes on Birchmount, Pharmacy, and Jarvis Streets, the scrapping of the vehicle registration tax, and the scrapping of most of David Miller’s Transit City which would have included bike lanes along light rail routes. While Miller was seen as progressive and pro-environment, most of the ten year 2001 Bike Plan was during his tenure (2003 – 2010) and the on-street bikeway network grew from only 35 (centreline) kilometres in 2001 to 115 kilometres in 2014 (or average 5.7 kilometres per year).

Under the current mayor John Tory, we can give him credit for supporting bike lanes on Bloor Street from Shaw Street to Avenue Road after almost four decades, while the King Street transit priority corridor he supported has been widely praised as a cheap and effective way to improve streetcar service. However, there are several decisions which make his administration (and council) more pro-car than we would like.

Gardiner East – In 2015, city staff recommended tearing down the aging Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis Street in favour of a wider boulevard. This was based on the low percentage of commuters (3%) getting to downtown using that highway, reconstruction costs exceeding $1 billion, and minimal delays from tearing it down. Unfortunately, Mayor Tory and most suburban councillors voted in favour of rebuilding the highway under the so-called “hybrid” option. The 2020 budget was heavily criticized for having almost half of the transportation budget dedicated to the Gardiner Expressway alone.
A die in was held at Toronto City Hall in March 2018
Vision Zero – When Toronto first unveiled their road safety plan in 2016, it called for a 20% reduction in traffic deaths over ten years and was swiftly panned by pedestrian and cycling advocates. While the City then changed the goal to eliminating traffic deaths, the funding boost of $8 million per year over five years was a joke compared to New York City’s Vision Zero program which was worth $1.2 billion when announced in 2014. Toronto’s pedestrian and cycling fatalities remained stubbornly high despite this “Vision Zero” (or zero vision) and prompted a revised “Vision Zero 2.0” in 2019.

REimagining Yonge – In 2018, city staff recommended bike lanes on Yonge Street in from Sheppard to Finch Streets in North York Centre and reducing the number of car lanes from six to four. This “Transform Yonge” solution would have been much cheaper than installing bike lanes on a parallel road such as Beecroft Road given Yonge was due for reconstruction anyway. Even though most of the drivers on that part of Yonge Street live outside of Toronto and Yonge was one of the few candidates for a continuous north-south bike route, Mayor Tory preferred to move the bike lanes to Beecroft. The decision ended up being deferred and is expected to return to council this year (depending on the status of COVID-19), but the Mayor has so far not indicated any change in preference.
Map of Toronto's bike lane installations from 2016 to 2019
Slow Bike Lane Progress – From 2016 to 2019, Toronto has installed less than 30 kilometres of on-street bike lanes or less than 10% of the 335 kilometres called for in the current bike plan. When the plan was first approved in 2016, then Public Works chair Jaye Robinson put most of the major corridor studies on hold which effectively gutted a large part of the plan. While the bike plan was updated in 2019 with a focus on short term goals and the Mayor supported studies on extending the Bloor bike lanes to Runnymede Road, there remain serious questions on how Toronto is to accelerate progress.
This viral video by Daniel Rotsztain shows how it's impossible to practice physical distancing in Toronto
#streets4peopleTO – Of course, the most recent issue is creating health corridors to help people who walk or bike to practice physical distancing. While the six other Canadian NHL cities – Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Montréal – have implemented them as have London (ON) and Brampton, Toronto has become the outlier. Sure, we can’t place all the blame on the Mayor and councillors given they have been taking the advice of Dr. Eileen De Villa – Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health – during the pandemic, but this unfairly makes her and Toronto Public Health (TPH) the target for criticism. While we can thank Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam for promoting the idea for Yonge Street, advocacy during COVID-19 presents a frustrating dilemma. How can we keep the pressure on Toronto to create streets for people while still respecting the tireless work done by experts at Toronto Public Health? Especially when TPH has been supportive of active transportation in other capacities.

One thing we can all agree on is the way the health corridor idea has been communicated has been terrible, including when Mayor Tory said he was open to the ridiculous idea of making sidewalks one way. The combination of refusing health corridors, heavy handed ticketing in parks and trails, taping off of benches when they could have been limited to one person at a time, and suspending photo radar enforcement reinforces the perception Toronto prioritizes the car above all else.

As the COVID-19 curve continues to flatten and Toronto prepares to eventually ease restrictions, they need to prioritize the reallocation of space in favour of active transportation. After all, going back to the car dominated business as usual is no longer an option.

If you haven't already, please sign & share this petition calling on Mayor Tory to support #streets4peopleTO.

Rob Z (e-mail)

1 comment:

  1. oh it's an option alright. I am generally an optimist but a realist too. Going back to car dominated life will happen just as soon as it possibly can. There is no political will to do otherwise and we humans do not maintain life lessons for very long periods of times.