Star Editorial Defends Urban Expressway

By Ben Bull
Published May 25, 2009

I attended the Toronto City Council debate on the Jarvis Street bike plan proposal this morning (unfortunatly I had to leave early and miss the vote). By all accounts the vote is expected to be close. Now why would this be?

The cyclists' cause was not helped by the city's local newspaper's oppostion to the plan, published - conveviently - today:

Jarvis St. is a major north-south thoroughfare, with five lanes accommodating an estimated 28,000 cars daily. The route is made especially efficient by a reversible centre lane that changes to accommodate morning and evening rush hours.

This would no longer be the case under an ill-thought-out $6 million "streetscape improvement" plan to be considered by Toronto City Council as it meets today and tomorrow.


There is a very real risk that these largely cosmetic changes would add to gridlock in the downtown core.

This editorial, published to coincide with City Council's vote on the Jarvis Street bike lane proposal, made me drop my morning toast. Is this the Star I'm reading...?

The editorial cartoon - a highway sign with five lanes for bikes and one for cars - didn't improve my appetite either. What city am I living in? I wondered.

I recently moved to Toronto from Hamilton - a town, as we know, which has a virtual hard-on for the car. I thought Toronto was supposed to be different. I thought Toronto was a town committed to improving accessibility and transit options for all its residents.

Why would the local newspaper get so upset about the loss of a single lane on a five lane street? Could it have something to do with the sensitivities of their car and homebuilder advertisers?

And why do we have a downtown freeway anyway? I thought our passion for downtown racetracks died with the cancelling of the Spadina Expressway?

Jarvis is a neighbourhood street, with three schools and numerous dwellings. The fact that it is no longer the grand boulevard it used to be is no reason to let it languish. Can we not reclaim what we once had?

The Jarvis Street redesign is a litmus test for Toronto. It asks us to consider, and answer, the question: What kind of city do we want?

You cannot make significant improvements to pedestrian and cycling accessibility without a reduction is car lanes. I have a knot in my stomach, a feeling that I am spiralling back into the regressive city building universe I recently left behind.

I want Toronto to show Hamilton, and other cities, the way. I'll be holding my breath for the vote.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By DC (anonymous) | Posted May 25, 2009 at 13:43:05

When I lived in Toronto, I lived @ Isabella & Jarvis (just south of Bloor).

Jarvis was, and still is, as bad as Main Street Hamilton especially during rush hour. It's used as an expressway to/from Mount Pleasant Rd (also considered an inner-city expressway). Of course the drivers who are trying to reach their Rosedale or Davisville homes are going to be upset as their speedways will no longer exist. They'll have to spend that extra 3mins commuting up the street. Cry me a river about it.

If I were to move back to Toronto, this neighbourhood would once again be my first choice. There are several smaller, residential streets that have already been made more pedestrian friendly (Charles Pl comes to mind, where they cut the street in half blocking thru traffic from Jarvis to Sherbourne).

Toronto is a progressive-thinking City for the most part, so I can bet the City (and neighbours around Jarvis) will help pass this plan. That schizophrenic centre lane is confusing, and makes it very difficult to cross at non-signalized crossings. Once this plan is implemented, watch out Church St... you're going to have a new (more upscale) buyway to compete with!!

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 25, 2009 at 15:38:08

people have always told me that the Spec and Star have the same owners....For one of the first times that I can recall, it's beginning to show in the actual content.

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By skoot (anonymous) | Posted May 25, 2009 at 15:44:08

If toronto had an adequate public transit system, instead of the pathetic U-shape subway system, and ancient street cars that is painsakenally slow and that does not add to gridlock traffic as it does right now, your comments are justified.

However, given our climate/weather, biking is secondary to the crucial problem -that our transit system is one of the worst in North America. Why is council focusing a bike lanes, something that for the most part is only used 8 months of the year? They should focus on underground systems that will transport people. Look at Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Vienna - they all have amazing subway/tram systems, and have now in the past few years focused on increasing/promoting biking. We are no where near looking at the power of the peddle, when people cant even get to their point of desitnation with the lousy system we have to depend on right now.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted May 25, 2009 at 16:52:02

Ask a Toronto bike courier how they make money for those other 4 months.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted May 25, 2009 at 16:53:32

Toronto has a transit plan ('Trancit City') which includes the addition of new streetcars (already procured, and funded supposedly...), light rail lines and new subway route to York U. I agree that this is probably still inadequate, but the bike routes are part of an overall transit initiative.

It amazes me sometimes that this is the city that built a subway 50 years ago. If only we had such forward thinking majority councils these days...

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 25, 2009 at 20:26:20

Rusty >> It amazes me sometimes that this is the city that built a subway 50 years ago.

Fifty years ago the health care system wasn't run by the government.

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By g. (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2009 at 00:29:37

agreed, A Smith. and 50 years ago pop tasted better. and the I Ching was "more real" and 50 years ago it was exactly 50 years till today. think about that!

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By hunter (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2009 at 08:59:14

Actually pop did taste better 50 years ago because it came in glass and used cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup :)

Toronto city council has passed the changes to Jarvis. Critics vow revenge:

Raise the hammer.

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted May 26, 2009 at 10:49:15

Revenge? What are they gonna do, have a car critical mass down the street to protest? Oh wait, that's every day at rush hour.

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By Mathias (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2009 at 12:41:17

Listening to CFRB 1010 is a riot. Nearly every announcer on there seems to have some kind of personal vendetta against urban bicycling and their associated bike lanes.

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By See Eff ARbie (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2009 at 12:58:54

^They know their listener market, all right, drivers sitting in traffic day after day. (The definition of insanity comes to mind...)

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By Mike (registered) | Posted May 26, 2009 at 14:09:56

Normally I default against paranoia in the absence of information to the contrary. It's all about logic for me. This is starting to look like a media agenda. But some of the comments posted to the star/sun today make me worry someone's going to get hurt. Drivers are being whipped up into a frenzy to the point where I worry someone with psychological instability is going to start running over cyclists on purpose. I hope that is an unfounded concern.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted May 29, 2009 at 11:18:35

If CFRB 1010 is based in the Rogers Head Office (Jarvis & Mt Pleasant), then think of how much LONGER their commute is going to be sarcasm alert. No WONDER their b*tchin' about the change.

People do speed up and down this street currently, yes. So safety will be a concern for cyclists (much how it is for both cyclists AND peds) at the beginning. But you gotta start somewhere, and people will eventually get used to it and/or find an alternate route. Human's, though stubborn, are quite adaptive!

In 5 years when Jarvis is lined with trees and people again, Torontonians wont even acknowldge there was a debate in the first place!

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