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A group of cyclists ride their bikes on Jarvis St. in Toronto to protest the decision made by city councillors to eliminate the bike lanes on Jarvis.

City Hall has inched closer to building separated downtown bike lanes in a move that challenges the anti-bike image of City Hall under Mayor Rob Ford.

Committee members voted Thursday unanimously in favour of an environmental assessment that would pave the way for construction of permanent bike-only tracks along Adelaide and Richmond streets by 2013.

"I think this is a day to celebrate," said committee chair Denzil Minnan-Wong, who has headed the recent push for separated lanes on the two streets even while he has led efforts to remove bike lanes elsewhere in the city. "There is no east-west route in the south downtown. It's been planned for 10 years and nothing has been done."

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City staff have recommended placing either a bi-directional lane on one of the downtown streets for at least $1.2-million, or building single unidirectional lanes on both streets for $400,000.

A previous committee decision had asked city staff to consider a pilot project for separated lanes along Richmond Street. But staff reported back saying that a series of major construction projects along the route would interfere with any pilot. The decision to launch an environmental assessment on Thursday essentially forgoes the pilot project and fast-tracks the arrival of permanent bike-dedicated lanes.

Andrea Garcia, director of advocacy for the Toronto Cyclists Union, applauded the move, saying it would make downtown streets safer for bikers.

Cyclists who spoke at the meeting echoed those sentiments but also expressed reservations about the direction of city bike infrastructure since Mayor Rob Ford took power.

In the last several months, Mr. Minnan Wong, a close ally of Mr. Ford, has played a prominent role in killing a study into bike lanes on Bloor Street and removing popular bike lanes on Jarvis. Other bike lanes on Pharmacy and Birchmount roads were simply removed.

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