It was a bit of a shocker to find out that Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is getting cold feet on separated bike lanes for Sherbourne, thus potentially putting Toronto's first opportunity for better separation into jeopardy. It has come to my attention that Councillor Wong-Tam has filed a request for Sherbourne's separated bike lanes to be installed only in the North as a pilot for study and further community consultation.
It appears as if the Councillor is trying to stall the project with claims of "needs more community consultation" despite the fact that it has already gone through a completely open process with the community. Most of the residents and businesses who provided comments had said that they supported the bike lanes. There is such a thing as studying a thing to death.
By requesting it only be installed on the North end of Sherbourne, it appears Councillor Wong-Tam, is willing to give up on the improvements for the lower part which were to be coordinated with road repaving. Has Councillor Wong-Tam consulted with Councillor Pam McConnell whose ward covers the other half of Sherbourne? Given that Councillor McConnell supported the separated bike lanes I'd say she hasn't.
In the Winter issue of Dandyhorse, she was asked "How do you feel about having the first separated bike lane in Toronto installed in your ward?"
As excited as I am about having Toronto’s first separated bike lane, I also think that we need to proceed with caution. There are political forces that don’t support biking infrastructure and a planning misstep just gives them a new excuse to declare another fictitious “war on the car.”
At current, there are many new projects coming to Sherbourne that have not been properly addressed (or consulted) in the separated bike lane proposals yet: namely, the many new condo developments, the existing schools, churches and senior home drop-off and delivery areas. The residential community is also wondering what will happen to their local streets when those 159 street parking spaces are removed from Sherbourne. We should study Sherbourne more closely, create a measurable pilot project, invest in a high-quality street design and a comprehensive greening strategy before finalizing a capital infrastructure decision that will be costly to fix if we don’t get it right.
Why would Councillor Wong-Tam want a trial period? Perhaps she wants to defeat it? Either asking for a trial or for yet more consultation is a great way to get rid of a pesky project that you don't agree with. And what's this about a "comprehensive greening strategy"? We're talking about improving the bike lanes not about rebuilding the whole streetscape.
The current unseparated bike lanes have been in place for 16 years. What could we possibly learn with a trial period that we don't already know from all these years of already having bike lanes and from studying similar conversions in Ottawa or Vancouver? A trial period gives those opposed to it a second chance to oppose the separated lanes.
Councillor Wong-Tam feels there needs to be more consultation yet the idea for the lanes first arose at a Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee in January 2010 and has been at public meetings of PWIC over the last 2 years. The concept was reviewed and approved by Council in 2010. There was a public meeting in June 2011 at PWIC where permanent installation of the lanes was approved. Not one person appeared at that meeting and spoke in opposition to separated bicycle lanes on Sherbourne. Prior to the last election Councillor Pam McConnell announced her support of the Sherbourne separated bike lanes and she was re-elected.
The cost of putting in temporary measures would make the project’s final installation much more expensive. And it would make it more difficult to find the money to separate any more bicycle lanes such as Wellesley, about which Councillor Wong-Tam has also been less than supportive.
A few years ago Waterfront Toronto spent a millions dollars on a pilot project of separated bike lanes on Queens Quay. There is still nothing permanent (thought hopefully starting soon). If separated bikes lanes are considered such risky ideas, even on a street with 16 years of on street unseparated bicycle lanes that it needs a test period what are the chances to install any separated lanes in the city on streets that don’t currently have unseparated bicycle lanes like Richmond/Adelaide?
Furthermore the timing is such that the next election would interfere. If the pilot project was done in 2012 the decision to install and installation of the lanes permanently would be made in 2013 just before the next municipal election. And a politician doesn't want to make waves before an election.
Councillor Wong-Tam hasn't been all that enthusiastic about the Jarvis bike lanes for that matter. Although Councillor Wong-Tam is opposed to the reinstallation of the 5th car lane on Jarvis, she seems less interested in maintaining the Jarvis bicycle lanes. She has been quoted as saying that the Jarvis bike lanes were installed with inadequate "consultation".
I ask that the Bike Union take Councillor Wong-Tam to task. She seems to be more interested in what people will think when they will have to park on side streets instead of Sherbourne than about providing safer cycling for the rest of us.