Toronto Still in the Thrall of the Late Rob Ford

Public Domain. City of Toronto

It is still a city where cars rule and dead walkers and cyclists are a cost of doing business.

The late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford once said about bikes and cyclists: "I can't support bike lanes. Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it's their own fault at the end of the day."

His replacement as Mayor is John Tory, who won the election after beating Rob's thuggier brother Doug by being Rob Ford without the penchant for grabbing bums or smoking crack. But he never lost sight of where the votes are -- the suburban drivers.

Yonge Street from the air

City of Toronto/ Yonge Street/via

Up in the North part of the city, in the former North York that was amalgamated into Toronto to drown the downtown progressive vote with car-driving conservatives, Yonge Street is now what Charles Marohn of Strong Towns calls a Stroad- "a street/road hybrid and, besides being a very dangerous environment (yes, it is ridiculously dangerous to mix high speed highway geometric design with pedestrians, bikers and turning traffic), they are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive."

It's dangerous up there: 78 collisions involving pedestrians, five cyclists, eight dead or seriously injured in recent years. The local city councillor describes it to Alex Bozikovic of the Globe and Mail:

"North York Centre is one of the main urban hubs in the city, and it's been completely neglected," he said. "It's a sea of high-rises with a six-lane road down the middle." And, he added, the people who live there deserve better. "They deserve a main street with some atmosphere and some culture," he said. "They deserve sidewalks wide enough to sit down for a glass of wine and lunch with a friend."

Bozikovic notes that Yonge Street is "deeply unpleasant because of the road design, which hasn't been reconstructed since 1975. The sidewalks are narrow and raggedy, lined by a motley mix of retail and parking lots. Six wide lanes of car traffic are crammed during rush hour, roaring fast at other times."

two plans for street

City of Toronto vision /Public Domain

The city has come up with a plan to rebuild it as a safer street complete with bike lanes, wider sidewalks, spaces for restaurant patios. But to do it, the road would be reduced from six lanes to four. There is another plan to keep it at six lanes and move the bike lanes to the next street called Beecroft, which is a long way west. it is also well known that cyclists, like anyone else, prefer a direct route and circuitous distant routes don't work very well. This plan also costs $20 million more because two streets are now being rebuilt. But Mayor John Tory doesn't like the idea of removing two lanes, and wants to do the Beecroft Plan. He tells the Star:

It is my job as the mayor of the entire city to achieve a balance between all the different competing uses for space, competing groups that have different opinions, and so on. And that includes in this case cyclists, pedestrians, local businesses, local residents, pedestrians — did I mention them? — (and) car drivers.

In fact, most of the drivers are commuting from out of the city, the numbers are small, and they will be delayed by about a minute.

The fact is, six lanes of traffic feel like a highway. It is almost impossible to make it safe for people. As Jess Spieker of Friends and Families for Safe Streets told the Star's David Rider:

Pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths are “the inevitable outcome of a six lane highway running down the middle of a neighbourhood. . . ,” Spieker said, addressing her remarks to politicians. “Road safety is your job. Lives depend on your decisions,” she said. “By ignoring city staff and supporting the Beecroft option, which would sustain the intense danger on Yonge St., Mayor Tory is showing us zero vision instead of following through on his express commitment to Vision Zero.”

But we have all known what Mayor Tory really thinks about Vision Zero; it's just talk. But a lot of progressives voted for John Tory in the last election because he was not Rob Ford's brother Doug, who says he is not running again. Those progressives will not be fooled again. I will give the last word to Cycle Toronto:

Toronto is growing, and Yonge Street will experience unprecedented growth as a result. Local businesses would only stand to benefit from the increased number of pedestrians and cyclists bike lanes would bring to their doors. We must act now and design Yonge Street so that it is safe, accessible, and allows road users to move predictably and efficiently along the corridor. Failing to do so will endanger the lives of our most vulnerable road users: cyclists and pedestrians.

Billions are being spent on this city to make cars move. It's time we spent it on people instead.