I am quite perplexed at Toronto City Council’s recent schizophrenic voting behaviour when it comes to embracing and enhancing bicycle riding in our fair metropolis. Here’s why:
On May 11th just passed, I was delighted to see that city council voted overwhelming (38-8) to support a plan that would see about 1,000 bicycles available for rental at 80 stations across Toronto. A start up loan of $4.8 million was guaranteed by Council as long as the Public Bike System Company generates a minimum of 1,000 subscribers and private sponsorship support of $600,000 by end of November, 2010.
Evidently a large number on council agreed with councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, an ardent supporter of the proposal. De Baeremaeker feels that the plan “is going to be very, very successful.” He and his other supportive council members have every right to be optimistic. The same Public Bike System Company has initiated a similar, highly successful operation in Montreal. At the end of its first year, 20,000 subscribers in that city made use of the rental operation. The company now makes available 3,000 bikes at over 300 sites. As in aforementioned Montreal and also Berlin and Paris, our urbanites and visitors could grab a bike, cycle and then drop it off at the nearest station to their destination.. The proposed fee structure is $78 annually, $28 per month or a fin for a day rental. The operation will hopefully become available by May 2011.
I was glad to see our city council giving the thumbs up to a progressive, much-needed plan such as this. Providing an opportunity for Torontonians and visitors to take a bike ride between destinations grants them another way to enjoy this great multicultural city of ours, adds a little healthy exercise to their lives and may help decrease some traffic congestion and pollution by potentially reducing some vehicle usage. A plus all round, I happily concluded.
My joy was to be short lived, only 24 hours to be exact. The very next evening, on May 12th, the same Toronto City Council turned down a motion to install two temporary bicycle lanes on University Avenue smack in the middle of the downtown core. Under the proposal, cyclists would have ridden in the two centre lanes on University Avenue, next to the pedestrian median that runs down the middle of the street. The bike lanes would have been separated from vehicles by posts. (Many other cities around the world have implemented these protection lanes.) By having the bikers use the centre lane, curb side parking would not have been affected. The lanes were to be set up from July to September this summer as a trial project.
I agreed with Yvonne Bambrick of the Toronto Cyclists’ Union who had stated earlier that she felt that with protected, bicycle-only lanes, ridership in our city would soar. “A lot of people want to get out of their cars and the number one thing we hear is, ‘I would do it if I felt safer. If there were bike lanes there I’d get on my bike more often, if I felt safer.’ So we need to be providing Torontonians with choices,” said Bambrick.
Well, Ms. Bambrick, sadly it is not to be. For some strange reason, close to half of the 44-member city council and Mayor David Miller were absent from that night’s vote. A close vote of 15-13 against was made even more exasperating when Councillor Paula Fletcher confessed she had accidentally pushed the red ‘opposing’ button instead of the green ‘in favour’ button thereby defeating the motion instead of resulting in a tie vote. (Note to Ms. Fletcher: Given your confusion regarding red and green lights, you’ll understand my trepidation at getting into a car with you behind the wheel. No wonder potential cyclists are scared.)
So how schizoid is that? One day, council gives thumbs up for an excellent proposal to increase bike use in the city and the very next night denies a pilot project that would grant safe, accessible bike routes to exactly those bikers the city wishes to attract. Don’t know about you, but I’m certainly scratching my head over that one. Surely, trying out this proposal for a mere three months was not asking too much. We’ve had road construction that paralyzed traffic on main city routes (such as on Bloor and St. Clair) that have lasted much longer than three months. The proposed University Avenue bicycle route never got a chance to be evaluated and not because it was a bad idea. Nope, it was defeated because not enough supporters on council (and also avid bicyclist David Miller) never bothered to show up to vote for its implementation, thereby allowing one councillor’s temporary colour blindness to sink the plan.
Concern now abounds if this proposal will be resurrected under the to-be-elected new mayor and council next October. If it does see the light of day again on council’s agenda, I suggest all supporting councillors arrive for that vote wearing eyeglasses with corrective lenses.