A day in court for bicycle advocates

A group of bicycling advocates called the Safe Cycling Coalition is going to be allowed to make their argument for Bloor Street bicycle lanes in Ontario court. They were granted the right to "intervene" in a court case initiated by a china shop against the city.

Could this be the start of a new trend for cyclists in Toronto? Will a lawsuit against the city be the next step?

The Safe Cycling Coalition issued a press release with details on the project and their motivations. The press release follows.

TORONTO: In what is likely the first intervention of its kind in Ontario legal history, a coalition of cycling advocates, the Safe Cycling Coalition, has sought and (yesterday) been granted the right to intervene in an Ontario court case.

The case, first brought to the Ontario Superior Court in August by certain downtown merchants, alleges that the City of Toronto violated the province's Environmental Assessment Act when it proceeded with the Bloor St. Transformation Project --- along Yorkville's so-called Mink Mile --- and failed to properly consult the public or to study alternatives.

"This is about one of Toronto's most valuable public spaces -- a $25 million 'transformation' of that space warrants public consultation," explains Margaret Hastings-James, a Bloor Street bike-commuter who began to advocate for bike lanes when hit, and nearly crushed, by a truck in 2002. "The huge volume of pedestrian and cyclist traffic in this area demands an allotment of dedicated and safe space."

The intervening citizen advocate group asserts that proper classification of the project would have allowed cyclists the opportunity to highlight provincial laws that direct municipalities to ensure the safety of all roadway. Cycling advocates have long pushed city politicians for a bike lane on Bloor St. -- one of the city's most heavily used, and most dangerous, cycling routes.

"The Bloor St. Transformation Project does have some positive features for pedestrian traffic," said Angela Bischoff, lead contact for the Coalition. "Unfortunately the City has again forgotten cyclists. Motor vehicles will get about 15 meters in width of the public roadway, and cyclists will get zero. That's not fair, and it's certainly not safe."
According to a 2007 Toronto Public Health report, 440 people die in Toronto each year from the effects of traffic pollution. The same report indicated that the death toll could be reduced dramatically by investing in cleaner options such as mass transit and better cycling infrastructure.

"The battle for safer cycling conditions in Toronto has now reached a new phase," said Albert Koehl, a lawyer representing the group. "The urgency of problems like global warming and air pollution means we can no longer tolerate old-school approaches to fixing our inefficient and dirty transportation system. Bicycles are zero-emission vehicles that deserve a safe space on our roads."

In August 2008 William Ashley China Ltd. filed an action in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Divisional Court) for a declaration that the city's decision to proceed with the Bloor St. Transformation Project was illegal. On Sept. 9, 2008 the Safe Cycling Coalition applied to the Court for an order allowing it to intervene. The application was granted on Sept. 15.

The members of the Coalition include cycling advocates with over five decades of combined cycling advocacy experience. They include Angela Bischoff, Margaret Hastings-James, Hamish Wilson, Martin Reis, and Kristen Courtney.

The hearing of the case (William Ashley China Ltd. v. City of Toronto) is scheduled for Oct. 9, 2008.


I had no idea one of the merchants on Bloor was against the re-development. Nice to hear. I avoid Bloor whenever I can right now because it's super dangerous with all the construction and really irritated vehicles, even though it means I cycle a less direct route.

Maybe this will stop all the city councillors' talk of "sharrows" which I completely don't understand--how is that different from what we already have? Who is going to teach cars what sharing means?

There was something "carrupt" happening, too many people were very quiet in allowing this backroom private deal on public space to proceed.
Each of the cycling advocates quoted have expressed rational arguments, I can't see how we can be ignored by the court.
Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

Until this last revision promises of bicycling infrastructure were promised to be in the plan.
Kyle Rae had been adament bike lanes would line Bloor through his riding.

This is great news! If the city has a legal responsibility to consider cyclist safety, then much more will be done to ensure it. Does anyone know how I could help with this project...? I would love to be involved.

We're quite lucky that some area merchants, catalyzed by Ashley China, have been sufficiently disgruntled with the project that they are seeking a judicial review of the City's easy-going self-classification in the A+ EA category. Cyclists don't have the resources, and sometimes the will, to get to this level of assertiveness.
Maybe we should say, sure Robb, send some $ for a few court costs, but it's also really useful to have different names saying close to the same thing to both politicians and media. So drop a stern email/note or letter to your local city councillor and Mayor Miller, and if you live in the general area of the BY BTP project eg. The Hon. Mr. Smitherman, ask him why he's not sticking up for good EA processes andcycling safety? Another target would be Peter Tabuns in the Riverdale area, as a lot of his constituents bike through this area, or would if it were safer, and as the NDP Enviro critic, he should be perturbed about how the City is kinda abusing the EA process and the intent.
If there hadn't been the discovery in late March of the 1992 study that concluded this wide part of Bloor was the best of the east-west streets in the older core for bike lanes, then we might not be fussing quite so much. But Bloor was #1, and it's still the most logical being long, flat, direct and without streetcar tracks, and with the subway providing non-car access.
If not along Bloor, then where?
(see also takethetooker.ca and bellsonbloor.ca)

Its my recollection, from the early days of the Bloor St. proposal by the BIA, more than a decade ago, that the BIA orginally proposed, reducing the number of travel (car lanes) on Bloor to 2, but keeping parking.

It was City transportation staff that were in opposition to this scheme and told the BIA if they wanted more sidewalk space then they had to give up the parking.

The BIA's scheme, as originally envisioned didn't specifically call for bike lanes, but would have likely provided enough room for 1 or both, depending in part on how the parking was designed.

I'm very unclear why Bloor here is maintained at 2 lanes, when Danforth east of Broadview effectively operates as 1-lane each way from Pape to Broadview.

I'm not a huge fan of the initial court action, do not hold your breath on William Ashley being pro-bike lane. Their reasons for holding up the project seem curiously short-sighted, and perhaps a bit cheap.

They're more interested in saving money, the construction schedule and the missing parking.

But to the extent the cycling community can take advantage of this, and leverage some pressure on the City or BIA, that can't be a bad thing.

But we have to remember the new pedestrian lay out does not preclude bike lanes.

Its just a pretty new sidewalk.

More walkers, also generally means fewer drivers, which tends to be a bike-friendly thing.

What precludes bike lanes are the 4 total car lanes being preserved.

Perhaps everyone could be made happy (except certain transportation engineers) by agreeing that Bloor goes to 2 lanes. The sidewalks are redone as proposed. Bike lanes are added, and in select blocks parking could be restored on 1 side of the road only.

How about 3 lanes, with the 3rd lane heading in one direction in the morning rush hour, and the opposite direction at the end of the day, depending on which direction has the greatest need? No parking - PLEASE!

hi James - thanks for the historical details - I tried to follow it a bit, with some vexing about it, but there was this road folly called the Front St. Extension, and the local part hasn't yet died contrary to earlier headlines...
I had heard that the original Brown and Storey submission to the City did have bike lanes, but that would be hard to prove as it's likely an FOI, or a private document, and much of this is private.
Yes, it's quite curious have Ashley's wondering about Environmental Assessments.
I've submitted (as an individual's suggestion) to the TCAC and it's agenda #8 this Monday pm a design for the approved curb-to-curb width that does have good bike lanes, a small painted median, one lane of car traffic either direction and yes, some parking on one side of the street, and I think the south side is better. To minimize the door conflicts, we need to paint these lanes like Paris where the door zone is marked, and to truly highlight it, let's paint them all blue, and keep the sharrows going through intersections too. Yes, it may seem as if I've gone over to the park side....
But maybe we will be nudged towards a fuller EA - which could bring us some excellent bike-friendly options and egg on the City's face. But we'll see what the judge says...