Monday, July 11, 2011

Toronto Pedaling Backwards: A Letter to Mayor Ford

My letter to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford regarding the Jarvis Street bike lanes. Please consider writing one of your own and/or calling the Mayor's office at: 416-397-3673. The Jarvis bike lanes will be discussed at City Council on Wednesday, July 13th. Please plan to attend if possible. Council runs from 09:30-18:00 (or later). There is also a Facebook group at:

July 11, 2011.

His Worship Rob Ford
Mayor, City of Toronto
100 Queen St. W.
City Hall, Second floor, West
Toronto ON M5H 2N2

Dear Mr. Ford:

I live in the city of Toronto and love the city of Toronto. For this reason, I felt compelled to urgently write your office regarding the matter of the possible removal of the Jarvis Street bike lanes. For the record, yes, I’m an avid cyclist, but I also drive multiple times per week and even have a part-time delivery job where one night a week I deliver a local periodical. I also follow local issues very closely, both in Toronto and abroad and I’m extremely concerned about the competitiveness of our city and region vis-á-vis other comparative metropolises. As our region stumbles into having the worst traffic congestion in North America, which all studies suggest cost our local economy billions per year, I feel we share a similar concern. However, I’m very saddened, frustrated and confused by your office’s response to those advocating for the retention of the Jarvis Street bike-lanes.

First off, pretty-much every single study ever written dealing with traffic congestion always suggests a broad multi-faceted approach that involves a shifting of the modal-split away for single-occupancy vehicles. This generally includes massive investments in transit, road-pricing mechanisms and providing as many safe and realistic alternatives to the car as possible. In a city that grows by 50,000 people per year, this is even more important as the traffic is going to get worse regardless of what is done. Without investing billions, the best scenario is preventing it from getting so bad that it grinds everything to a halt. One of the most glaringly easy, popular, healthy and financially-realistic ways of doing this is by providing better cycling infrastructure. In a city where cycling-use is growing steadily by the year, this is a no-brainer. Therefore, it’s very mind-boggling as to why your office is spouting the line that these bike lanes must be removed in order to help congestion. Since the Jarvis lanes were installed, cycling use went up 300% on this corridor. That’s a lot of cars off the road!

For the record, I’d agree to what I think is your office’s assertion that a bike lane can (and often does) slow down vehicular traffic, at least at first. There’s certainly an adjustment period, but studies always show that any negligible slow-down in vehicular traffic (which is what we are talking about on Jarvis) is manageable as the longer-term modal-split changes will help those who continue to drive. Moreover, a Staff Report from your very own bureaucracy suggests that this minor slowing-down of vehicular traffic on Jarvis can be easily remedied with an advanced green at Gerrard Street and the minor adjustment of some other stop lights.

The Jarvis bike lanes were approved by City Council after a long-term process that involved engaging the community in devising ways to improve the street for residents, while still being realistic to the fact that it is a very important vehicular corridor. Various suggestions were contemplated – all involving the removal of the centre bi-directional lane – and eventually the cycling lane was decided-upon as the preferred solution. This was never an “experiment” as your office is suggesting and simply removing the bike lanes leave this long-suffering neighbourhood without any of the promised improvements.

Providing bike lanes means less injuries and a smarter street so that everyone can get to where they are going faster, smoother and in a more sensible way. In fact, cyclists and motorists (who are often one and the same by the way), have very similar interests and really just want to get where they are going. There’s no us versus them and inflaming those beliefs is not building a transportation city, but a hornet’s nest of resentment and gridlock. Building a transportation city means studying lots of admittedly boring transportation studies and following closely what has worked and avoiding what has not in other cities. If your office had done this, I’m quite convinced there would be little talk of removing such a vital piece of infrastructure. In fact, I think the discussion would be around how to make the Jarvis bike lanes even better.

There really is no example anywhere in the Western world right now of a city removing important biking infrastructure. Far bigger cities like London and New York, both with conservative Mayors, have embraced cycling big-time and continue to build on their already impressive infrastructure. Why? Not only because it’s a pleasant and sensible way to get around a big city, but also because it’s a sensible and very legitimate way to combat traffic congestion. David Cameron, the current UK Prime Minister, was regularly photographed riding his bike to Westminster as Opposition Leader and was always quick to state that he did so to help alleviate traffic congestion, stay in shape and because it was the quickest way for him to get to work. In fact, I have no doubt that if the Jarvis Street lanes get removed that you’ll find articles about Toronto in international publications questioning why on earth our Mayor would advocate against cycling infrastructure in a city with mind-numbing congestion. It’s non-sensical and will have this city standing alone. While I hate to see Toronto embarrassed in international circles, it would be fully justified in this case.

Toronto is a highly educated, financial power-house that is weathering this great recession fairly well. People and companies choose Toronto for a variety of reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with how fast vehicular traffic moves on Jarvis Street. For example, I can see 27 condominium cranes from my bedroom window (yes, I counted one day) and a steady stream of commercial properties coming onto the market (including phase three of the Richmond-Adelaide Centre that was just announced last week). The reasons why people and companies choose downtown Toronto when other areas are clearly cheaper (and often less congested) is because of a whole number of intangibles that big urban centres can offer, that other areas can’t. In one of the mayoralty debates last year you were asked to say in one word how you viewed Toronto in ten years time. Your response was “vital.” A good response no doubt! However, the vitality of Toronto is not attained or maintained by separating land-uses and looking at transportation merely through the eyes of a car driver. It is by embracing, understanding, celebrating and encouraging diversity in planning and transportation.

The reason downtown Toronto, in particular, flourishes in a way that so many other North American cores don’t is because we generally understand this. Trying to force a one-size fits all solution on a successful core is truly biting the hand that feeds. It’s frankly a failure in realizing what actually brings the best and brightest people and companies in the country, and often the world, to Toronto. Failing to understand the idiosyncrasies about urban life in Toronto would put our entire region at a huge disadvantage as many recent studies have shown that companies across North America are moving back to their cores as it is the only way they can retain the best and brightest employees. So while this letter may be about a simple bike lane, it does represent much more. If Toronto were a success because of ample traffic lanes, then you might have a point, but we all know Toronto’s success is based on something very different. The Gardiner and DVP were completed in the 1960s and no additional traffic arteries have been added since, yet the growth of our core has been unprecedented in North American terms since. Therefore, it can’t be argued that Toronto’s success is because of vehicular access to the core, but actually despite it. The people who keep moving to Toronto get this, as do businesses, retailers and arts and cultural agencies. So why doesn’t the Mayor’s office?

I suggest your office also take a close look at how the entire Jarvis Street corridor has changed over the last 10 years and continues to do so. With condominiums such as X, Radio City and many more on the books, it is becoming an increasingly mixed-used, residential neighbourhood. It’s also a sign that thousands more from across the GTA and beyond are choosing downtown Toronto as their home for the variety of aforesaid reasons. They aren’t moving here to drive everywhere and will provide Jarvis with many more cyclists, regardless if the lanes are there or not. The people on this corridor deserve better and their reasons for moving into the city and believing in their city should be considered.

Recent studies, one in particular out of Washington, DC, also suggest that those with higher incomes are actually those more likely to bike. Therefore, I’d suggest to you that while some of the complaints about these bike lanes may be coming from Rosedale-North Toronto residents, it’s also a good bet that many Rosedale-North Toronto residents are also using the Jarvis lanes as a quick, safe and healthy route into the core. As already stated, there clearly is no “us vs. them” on this issue and any reference to a "war" is beyond ridiculous. I’d also cite the recent popularity of Bixi that is now averaging 16,000 rides/month (closing-in on Montreal's numbers) and how popular it is with tourists in particular. I stood outside Union Station for 30 minutes one day in June and watched people from all over the world grab a Bixi with a smile and head-out into the vital streets of Toronto. We need safe, good, sensible biking corridors for residents, tourists and yes, also for drivers (who by the way are often residents and tourists too). Removing Jarvis' bike lanes puts lives at risk, hinders urban living, embarrasses Toronto internationally, doesn't address the realities of congestion and gives nothing back to a community that has long fought for improvement.

As I said at the beginning of this letter, I love Toronto dearly and care deeply about its ability to compete. For this reason, if not any other, please re-consider your stance on Jarvis.


Jason Paris

cc: Vincent Crisanti, Douglas Holyday, Peter Milczyn, Giorgio Mammoliti, Maria Augimeri, Frances Nunziata, Sarah Doucette, Doug Ford, Gloria Lindsay-Luby, Mark Grimes, Anthony Peruzza, James Pasternak, Frank Di Giorgio, Gord Perks, Josh Colle, Cesar Palacio, Mike Layton, Joe Mihevic, John Filion, Jaye Robinson, Kristyn Wong-Tam, Mary Fragedakis, Janet Davis, Karen Stintz, Ana Bailao, Adam Vaughan, Josh Matlow, David Shiner, John Parker, Pam McConnell, Paula Fletcher, Mary Margaret McMahon, Shelley Carroll, Michelle Beradinetti, Michael Thompson, Mike Del Grande, Chin Lee, Paul Ainslie, Denzil Minan-Wong, Gary Crawford, Glenn De Baeremaeker, Norm Kelly, Raymond Cho, Ron Moeser


  1. Despite addressing the very points in Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's robo-response to emails regarding Jarvis, I just got the exact same robo-response everyone else got...


    Mr. Paris:

    Thank you for your email regarding the bike lanes on Jarvis Street. I appreciate hearing from you.

    Toronto's economy loses billions of dollars every year from gridlock and traffic congestion. We need to make the situation better - not worse. The Jarvis Street bike lanes experiment has been a failure. Ninety-four percent of commuters now face longer commutes on Jarvis Street. Over 15,000 commuters each day are suffering from longer travel times, for the sake of 600 additional cyclists.

    The City should remove the bike lanes as soon as possible and improve travel times for thousands of daily commuters. City staff have been directed to develop a low-cost plan to do so. Bike lanes were never intended to be installed on Jarvis Street. The original Environmental Assessment recommended against installing bike lanes - but City Council amended the report to approve bike lanes anyway.

    As promised during the mayoral election, I am dedicated to delivering customer service excellence, creating a transparent and accountable government, reducing the size and cost of government and building a transportation city.

    Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts. Please feel free to contact my office again at any time.

    Yours truly,

    Mayor Rob Ford
    City of Toronto

  2. My response...


    Mayor Ford:

    I'm very disappointed by this response as it does not address address anything written in my letter. For the record, I challenged the very points you made below and would have appreciated a non robo-response on the matter.

    As I said twice in my letter, I'm just as concerned about congestion as you are. I truly hope for a better "customer service" experience next time I contact your office.


    Jason Paris
    +1-416-819-9809 |