Why ripping up bike lanes in Toronto will hurt students and cost lives

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Bike lanes on Jarvis. (Photo: Sweet One / flickr)

Just when I think this city's government is finally turning a corner and making some halfway reasonable decisions I find they're not looking, drifting toward the curb and crushing the nearest cyclist with a five-ton truck. Oh well, what's some blood on the road if it means that Rosedale’s drivers get home two minutes faster?

That's right, the estimated time that drivers will be saving by City Council's decision to eliminate the bike lanes on Jarvis Street is two minutes. A shorter wait than the average line at Tim Hortons is what your city council thinks is more important than the safety of the 1,000 cyclists that ride on Jarvis Street every day. How many of those cyclists are riding to and from George Brown College's St. James campus, which sits only 150 meters from Jarvis St.?

It's no secret that students at George Brown are more likely to bike to school than drive, with the limited budget of your average student it's much more affordable to lock your bike up, assuming you can find a spot, than forking over $10 – $20 a day for parking.

While the construction of separated bike lanes on Sherbourne Street -- which won't be ready until 2014 and so far are little more than glorified speed bumps -- are a good addition to the piss-poor cycling infrastructure in this city it makes no sense to be removing bike lanes from Jarvis.

If anything, Toronto needs to be building an extensive network of bike lanes and paths throughout the city, focusing first on the downtown where tens of thousands of people bike every day because it's faster, cheaper, and more reliable than driving or taking the TTC.

Sure, I could rip on the fact that it's going to cost the city an estimated $250,000 to remove the bike lanes as a waste of taxpayer money, but this is so much more than a dollar and cents issue. It's about the type of city we want to live in.

Right now biking in the smog-filled downtown has a Mad-Max feel too it, with cyclists having to swerve around potholes and sewer grates as they hug the curb, hoping that the dump truck beside them isn't about to rub them out if they make the slightest of false moves while keeping a look out for the BMW driver who doesn't check their mirror before cutting a hard right-hand turn.

Compare that scene to what it could be if there was a well-designed network for cyclists to ride safely and securely without having to strap on a helmet for a battle of inches in the gutter. With a proper infrastructure built around the needs of the downtown, including bikes, public transit, pedestrians and cars, we could reduce both the congestion and pollution and make Toronto a more livable city.

The catch is, if we want to get more people moving we have to have a safe and convenient way for them to do it. We don't just want daredevil couriers braving the mean streets downtown, we want a city where our grandparents can feel safe hopping on their bikes down to George Brown to see their grandkids graduate. For that matter bike couriers shouldn't have to risk their lives to eek out a living either.

However, with the destruction of the Jarvis bike lanes I fear that a trip to a downtown hospital is a more likely destination for partners, parents and friends when a GBC student suffers a terrible accident that could have been prevented by leaving Jarvis' bike lanes alone.

This is not the city we want to live in, but it can be if our political leaders would stop playing partisan games from the suburbs and govern it with the welfare and safety of all residents of the city in mind.

I hate to say it, but city councilor Mike Layton is right when he said that cyclists are going to die on Jarvis because of this decision. When, not if, a cyclist is injured on Jarvis Street, their blood will be on the Fordists' hands.

As important members of this community, George Brown students are directly affected by this decision and if you, or someone you know, end up being injured (or worse) after the bike lanes are removed then speak up and let me know.

Ford and his cronies will have no excuse and won't be able to claim they didn't know they were literally throwing students under the express bus on Jarvis.


Mick Sweetman is the managing editor of The Dialog and a former news intern at rabble.ca. 

This article was originally published in The Dialog and is reprinted here with permission. 

Photo: Sweet One / flickr

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