“It’s a win-win for everyone—the motorists and the cyclists,” Rob Ford told AM640 in October 2012, right before council voted, for a second and final time, to remove the bike lanes on Jarvis Street that had been painted along the busy road just two years earlier. Drivers got their five lanes back, and cyclists got separated bike lanes a few blocks over on Sherbourne.
So…a win-win, right?
Not quite. According to five and a half years of data provided to The Grid by the City of Toronto—from June 1, 2008 to October 31, 2013—overall collisions went down along Jarvis Street once it had bike lanes, and up again after it lost them:
That trend held true for injuries, too: there were 42.0 per year before, 36.4 during, and 41.1 after.
But what about just bike accidents?
Though they made up a small percentage of the overall number of collisions, accidents involving cyclists more than doubled when bike riders had their own lanes.
But that doesn’t actually mean that they were any less safe. Why? No surprise—far more cyclists started taking Jarvis once bike lanes were added to it: The average number riding during the busiest eight hours of the weekday more than tripled, according to traffic data.
And there weren’t any fewer drivers, either, to account for the smaller overall number of average collisions. For instance, an average of 31,285 cars were counted going either northbound or southbound daily at Dundas over three days in 2007, and 33,883 over three days in 2012. (It took them just a little longer to make the trip—two to five minutes more on average, depending on the time of day, a delay that city staff found could be trimmed simply by adding an advanced left turn at Jarvis and Gerrard for cars going north.)
Could there have been more collisions that we don’t know about?
Sure, and there probably were. “We have a general conclusion or theory that not all of the collision events in the city are reported,” says Mike Brady, the City of Toronto’s manager of traffic safety. While Brady wouldn’t speculate on whether collisions of any one kind were under-reported, studies done elsewhere suggest that cyclists and pedestrians report collisions less often than drivers do. Over all the years that the city’s data covers, car collisions here accounted for 86.5 per cent of all that were reported.
Which all means what, exactly?
There’s a lot we don’t know: Could a greater proportion of collisions involving cyclists have gone unreported when the bikes lanes were there? Could Jarvis losing its reversible centre traffic lane have made things less confusing, and, as a result, less dangerous? Could it all just be a coincidence? It’s possible.
But from what we know now, Jarvis seems to have been a safer street with bike lanes on it than it was before, or has been since—and that goes for everyone who took it, were they pedestrians, cyclists, or drivers. In other words: it was a win-win, but not anymore.
THE JARVIS BIKE LANE SAGA
May 25, 2009: Under David Miller, city council votes 28–16 to install bike lanes and remove the reversible centre traffic lane.
July 2010: Bike lanes installed at a cost of $86,000.
July 13, 2011: Under Rob Ford, city council votes 28–9 to take the bike lanes out and put the reversible centre traffic lane back in.
Oct. 2, 2012: Council votes 24–19 against a motion that would have overturned the July 2011 decision to remove the bike lanes.
Nov. 2012: Bike lanes removed at a cost of $331,500.
GOT SOMETHING YOU WANT TO KNOW THE ANSWER TO? Even if it’s not about a bike lane that cost four times as much to get rid of as to put in, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll see what we can find out.