Over the objections of the mayor's critics who claim he is waging a "war on the car," Toronto city council approved a controversial plan to narrow Jarvis Street, a five-lane downtown artery, in order to install bike lanes and plant trees.
Council voted 28-16 on Monday to officially file with the provincial government an environmental study on narrowing Jarvis, after Mayor David Miller came out swinging in favour of the plan.
The mayor used his powers to put the $6-million plan first on city council's agenda as the session got under way Monday morning. His opening speech earned applause from about 100 cyclists in the council chamber - many wearing their bike helmets - who were at city hall this morning for the launch of the city's bike month.
The plan would reduce Jarvis from five lanes to four from Queen to Bloor Streets, eliminating the street's unique reversible middle lane, which currently alternates, allowing southbound cars an extra lane in morning rush hour and northbound cars one in the evening.
The project is not in the city's budget, although city staff said the lane could be removed and the bike lanes painted before going ahead with the rest of the improvements meant to beautify the street.
The narrowing is opposed by residents associations in North Rosedale and Moore Park, affluent neighbourhoods to the north where many use Jarvis to commute downtown. A handful of opponents were watching the debate, wearing bright yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Don't Jam Jarvis."
Mr. Miller said the move, championed by local councillor Kyle Rae, a key supporter, would help restore drab Jarvis as a "grand boulevard" as it was in the 19th century, and make a dangerous cycling route safe for cyclists, helping to meet the city's environmental goals.
"Frankly I am amazed that anyone, looking at Toronto ... can possibly say that taking one lane of traffic to create two lanes of safe cycling for cyclists, on a street that intersects with three east-west bike paths, could possibly be the wrong thing to do," Mr. Miller said, pointing to similar moves in New York and other cities.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a right-leaning critic on council who accuses the mayor of waging a "war on the car," is among those linking the Jarvis plan to other recently announced proposals, such as experimenting with a ban on right turns on red lights at 10 new intersections as suggested in a new city pedestrian strategy.
The mayor has also endorsed the proposal to tear down the eastern section of the elevated Gardiner Expressway at Jarvis, to make way for waterfront development.
The mayor's critics argued that drivers, especially those in the suburbs who use Jarvis, were not properly consulted on plans to narrow the street. Others pointed out that Jarvis was not included in the city's overall bike plan.
Some argued the city should shut the lane down temporarily as a test, an idea rejected by the mayor's supporters.
A computer-modelled traffic study by external consultants on the narrowing concluded that at peak times, the eight-minute trip down the affected stretch of Jarvis would take an extra two minutes, although at other times the added delay would be less. About 300 cars would seek other routes, on Church and Sherbourne streets, in the peak hour of the morning rush, according to the study. The street handles about 28,000 cars a day.
Yvonne Bambrick of the Toronto Cyclists Union said the city was falling behind other places in accommodating cyclists.
"This whole framing of the whole war on cars is a mistake and it is more rhetoric we don't need," Ms. Bambrick said. "It is about the reallocation of public space to include active transportation and we are just starting to catch up."
With a report from Jennifer LewingtonReport Typo/Error