Toronto cycling advocates came to City Hall to discuss plans for a new bike network and left proclaiming that the “war on the bike” had begun.
Members of the city’s public works committee voted Thursday to rip up the Jarvis Street bike lanes, backing a last-minute motion by Don Valley West Councillor John Parker to get rid of the controversial cycling route installed by the previous council.
The motion was introduced just hours after Mayor Rob Ford declared to reporters that the Jarvis Street bike lanes had to go.
“I get a lot of people calling me. They want to get rid of them,” the mayor said. “I do what the taxpayers want me to do. They want them gone, so we are going to try to get rid of them.”
The decision to scrap the lanes, which will go to city council next month for a vote, came at the end of a day-long debate on a proposed bike network, which the committee recommended go forward.
That network includes plans for a system of separated bike lanes in the downtown that drew praise from many of the more than two dozen speakers that appeared before the committee.
By the time the day ended, the committee also had voted to scrap eight kilometres of bike lanes, that include those on Pharmacy Avenue and Birchmount Road in Scarborough. The east-end routes sparked strong opposition from local residents and were a central issue in last fall’s election battle.
“Today is an extremely disappointing day for cycling advocacy and public safety in general in Toronto,” said Andrea Garcia of the Toronto Cyclists Union.
“This is the war on the bike,” she added later.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, the committee chair who pushed for separated lanes, had a different take on the day’s events. “We are moving forward for the first time with a dedicated, separated, connected network in the downtown core where most of the cyclists are riding, so I think it is a positive day for cyclists,” he said.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward includes Jarvis Street, argued local residents should have been consulted and suggested Thursday’s motion was a direct order from the mayor.
“Someone gave him orders from higher above,” she said, noting Mr. Parker told her, “I’m going to kill Jarvis bike lanes,” minutes before he introduced his motion.
“He got his marching orders from somewhere. I take my marching orders from the residents,” she said.
Mr. Parker denied he acted on the mayor’s instructions, saying he thought of his motion during the bike plan debate.
“To tell you the truth, in the course of the discussion today it crossed my mind that this was unfinished business from the last council so I brought it forward,” he said.