Down at City Hall, they chase gravy trains and fight a war on (or for) the car—and show respect for certain areas of the city by promising their residents underground transit. At some point, it seems that politics in Toronto passed into the realm of almost pure symbolism. This is especially true in the case of the Jarvis Street bike lanes.
At a time when the world’s other major cities—New York, Chicago, Copenhagen, London—are rapidly installing pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and discouraging car travel, Rob Ford’s Toronto is instead removing a major bike route before the painted lines on the road have even had a chance to dry.
The lanes on Jarvis, after all, were added just two years ago, built at the very end of former mayor David Miller’s term, which seems to be part of the reason to get rid of them. Undoing the work of Miller appears to be the highest priority of Ford’s administration, regardless of whether or not it makes economic or logistical sense to do so. Past examples include attempting to cancel LRT lines and new taxes, ending the fee for plastic bags, and renaming “priority neighbourhoods.” And now: removing cycling infrastructure.
Studies show that it takes about two minutes longer for a car to travel along Jarvis with bike lanes during rush hour than it did before the lanes were installed. So they have to go—the speed and safety of the cyclists who use them be damned. The total amount spent on Jarvis to install and then remove the lanes in the past two years is reported to total $1.3 million—an amount that buys us, in the end, a return to the exact same situation in which we began. There’s a symbol for you.
But Ford’s opponents use symbols, too. On Monday, with the parking meters and reversible-lane traffic lights installed and ready to serve the city’s motorists, the lane removal machine was making its way south, power-washing the bike stripe off the road. Just north of Wellesley, a man named Steve Fisher said, “Well, let’s make this interesting,” and sat in the road in front of the truck.
The driver and road crew got out, had a smoke, made some calls, and then calmly drove around him and down the block, where the truck began erasing the lane again. Another protester sat down in front of the truck. Same deal: break, smoke, phone, then they drove around him and on to another block. This time three protesters blocked their path, along with the huge crowd of TV cameras and reporters who’d been following the cat-and-mouse game. After a much longer break, and a chat with the cops, the crew called it a day. The Jarvis bike lanes would remain for at least one more evening and one more morning rush hour.
These efforts won’t prevent their eventual removal, of course, but as symbols go, the sight of five individual citizens slowing the Ford administration’s march into the past had some small resonance. You can still fight City Hall. Or at least hold it off for a while.
The lane-scrubbing was scheduled to begin again on Tuesday at 10 a.m.—coincidentally, the same moment Ford was due to appear at a civil hearing where he’s named in a libel suit, and where Miller himself was slated to appear as a witness against him. They were both expected to address decisions Miller’s administration made two years ago, and controversial things Ford said in response to them. Once again, the city’s current business is taking a back seat to revisit the Miller years. There’s a symbol that just about sums up where we’re at.