Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is walking down Queen St. en route to a local coffee shop when a passing cyclist does a double-take.
“Leave our bike lanes alone!” the man hisses.
Without missing a beat, Minnan-Wong yells after him: “Jarvis is coming out!”
Such is the state of the cycling discussion in Toronto — mutual hostility between the cycling community and the man who wants to build them more lanes. If not for this one big controversial issue, they might have been friends.
The Battle for Jarvis Street has dragged on for more than three years, but the final showdown is about a month away. In mid-November, city crews are scheduled to reinstall the fifth car lane wiring. Once that work begins, both sides say, the debate will be dead. This leaves opposition councillors two council meetings, Oct. 2 or Oct. 30, to make their move.
The left does have a plan, but it’s a longshot. It will require tricky procedural dancing to get the item back at council and then intense lobbying to bring centrists and some right-wingers onside.
Their argument will lean heavily on the cost. The Jarvis bike lanes were installed two years ago for $59,000. It’s going to cost the city $272,000 to remove them and reinstall the centre car lane. That money is going come out of the $8.15 million cycling infrastructure expansion budget.
Local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said it’s a slap in the face to her constituents, and to cyclists.
“That money is supposed to expand cycling infrastructure, not shrink it,” she said.
Wong-Tam is “optimistic” the Jarvis lanes can be saved.
Those opposed to removing the bike lanes will also point to city research that shows collisions between motorists, pedestrians and cycling are down since the lanes were installed. And the impact on travel times has been minimal.
Meanwhile, CycleToronto is working to mobilize the 10,000 riders on its database to pressure their local councillors to support the opposition motion, similar to what happened to fend off Doug Ford’s attempted Port Lands takeover last fall.
“Removing bike lanes sends the wrong signal. Councillor Minnan-Wong is leading some great work with the separated lanes, but he’s doing himself a great disservice by promoting lane removal too,” said Jared Kolb, director of campaigns and membership with Cycle Toronto.
Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee, is a true-believing conservative who has arguably been a driving force for cycling infrastructure expansion. He brought the Ford administration around to the idea of separate lanes, something city staff had long pushed for.
But to get the mayor on-side, Minnan-Wong had to offer up Jarvis, which was a political sore point left over from the Miller years.
Speaking at a photo-op on Sherbourne St. Tuesday, where the city’s first separate lanes are being built, the councillor said he’s eager to build more.
“I really want to see Richmond and Adelaide done this term of council and, you know, this just makes me want that to happen even quicker,” he said.
Minnan-Wong said he wishes the left would let go of Jarvis.
“It’s a dangerous game to try and ever predict what council will do, but I’m hoping when they see this they’ll understand that there is a great option for cycling on the east part of the downtown that’s better than Jarivs St.”
Sherbourne construction from Bloor to King Sts. will be done by mid-November. Around that time, the Jarvis wiring work will begin.
Opponents may try to delay that work with a procedural argument. The motion that council passed last summer, on a 26-19 vote, intended for Sherbourne to be finished before the Jarvis lanes were removed.
But due to unrelated development issues, a portion of the Sherbourne route won’t be finished until 2014.
Daniel Egan, who manages cycling infrastructure in Toronto, said staff is currently operating on a mid-November timeline, regardless of whether all of Sherbourne is finished by then.