Toronto city councillors have voted to turn back the clock on Jarvis Street, endorsing a plan to rip out bike lanes and put back the fifth lane of traffic traditionally used by commuters as a quick route in and out of the downtown core.
The move – which will take effect in a year's time when new separated bike lanes are ready on nearby Sherbourne Street – came at the end of a acrimonious debate that stretched over two days and often pitted cyclists against drivers. Mayor Rob Ford had long vowed to get rid of the controversial cycling route that had become a symbol of what critics of the former administration regarded as a "war on the car."
During the debate at council, the same battle lines were drawn.
The gridlock created by the Jarvis bike lanes, said north Toronto councillor Karen Stintz, was preventing a mother of four who lives in her ward from having dinner with her children.
Scarborough Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker asked council to send flowers to the funerals of the cyclists who would be killed because of the lane removals.
On day two of the debate, it appeared that a compromise was in the works with local Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam's proposal to keep the Jarvis lanes until Sherbourne was ready. But that brief detente ended with an amendment by the chair of public works and infrastructure committee, Denzil Minnan-Wong, to "revert Jarvis Street to its pre-existing operation."
With that, the battle lines were up again. Councillors voted for the one-year delay and the return of the fifth lane while a public gallery dominated by cyclists looked on.
Ms. Wong-Tam characterized the restoration of the fifth lane of traffic to Jarvis street as "1950s planning" and a move that undoes two years of effort to revitalize the street "No one in the community has talked about reinstalling the fifth lane," she said. "They never once said, 'Councillor we need a highway going through our neighbourhood.' "
Andrea Garcia, a director with the Toronto Cyclists Union vowed to keep fighting for the bike route, which she said is used by almost 1,000 cyclists every day.
"This isn't over," she told reporters. The delay in implementation, she said, "gives us a year to organize around it and get even better data and show that the street really is working."
Her group, she said, will work to get pedestrians and drivers as well as cyclists involved in fighting the bike lane removal.
The elimination of the cycling route was just one part of a larger bike plan approved Wednesday by council that will see the installation of a system of separated bike lanes and the elimination of two suburban cycling routes on Pharmacy Avenue and Birchmount Road.
"I am quite excited about cycling infrastructure and I am going to be a strong advocate of it," Mr. Minnan-Wong said. "What we have done today is a massive step forward in terms of cycling infrastructure. I am going to continue on with that."
Several councillors who are opponents of the mayor walked out of the council chamber before the final vote on the bike plan in protest when they were not allowed to vote separately on its various components.
Later, about 30 cyclists gathered in Nathan Phillips Square for a group ride in protest of the cuts. At 6:30 p.m. the group rang their bells in unison and began to make their way to Jarvis Street.
Rodolfo Novak said he was riding because he is "tired of being shoved to the side."
He said the plan to close the Jarvis lane next year and other bike lanes compromised his safety. Now, he said, "I'm just going to take up the whole right lane."