Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Woe, Canada

First a prelude (rather lengthy and disproportionate, sorry) for today's post, which is actually about Toronto:

I suppose we in North America shouldn't be surprised. After the past few years of watching increased urban bicycling - and in particular the idea of citizen cycling, previously almost unheard of here - the pendulum swings. Or at least there are plenty of people trying to give the pendulum a shove.

New York City is a well-known case, notable both for its exponential blossoming of bike lanes and the degree of pushback from some quarters. Yet somehow amid the characteristic rancor, you have the feeling that over the long haul the city's commitment is there and the disgruntled will come around.

So much depends on that top-down commitment. Here in Washington DC, nerves have been somewhat frayed among cyclists since the ouster of pro-bike Mayor Adrian Fenty and his even more pro-bike transportation head Gabe Klein. DC at least has Capital Bikeshare and lots of nice new bike goodies to remember them by, and the new mayor, Vincent Gray, has paid lip service to supporting continued improvements. Yet recent backtracking on one major downtown bike project (see previous post), long in the works, has twanged people's gut fears:  that the Gray administration doesn't mind improved biking, you know... as long as it doesn't infringe on parking. Or driving. Or the budget. Or someone who doesn't like it.

What the Dynamic Duo of Fenty-Klein showed us is that it takes vision and relentless advocacy for real progress, not just passive acceptance that can go wobbly when presented with any number of conventional (usually discredited) arguments. I expect that under Gray, DC may eventually see at least a slight net loss of bike amenities, at least if you count amenities promised and/or planned. Though I don't expect him to start taking out existing lanes.

Theeennn there's Toronto. Moving aggressively backwards now under the new mayor, Rob Ford. Hoo-boy. This guy does not like bikes and doesn't care who knows it. His lips are paying another kind of service. Some bike lanes are about to be removed, including from Jarvis Street. Here's a roundup of coverage, starting with James over on the esteemed Urban Country blog, who put it in his usual good perspective:

Copenhagenize today has an informal video poll of cyclists and drivers on Jarvis Street, where Ford and the city council (which includes Ford's brother - see the charming photo at the end of the post - who apparently jokes about hitting bikers with his SUV; click here and scroll down about halfway) will apparently be successful in drawing first blood. Metaphorically and likely literally, as cyclists are cast back in among the cars. Another recent post has a very interesting email exchange between a citizen and Ford's office on the matter.

Streetsblog also has a good recent item on the Toronto situation.

As I said, we shouldn't be surprised. Or complacent. Usually the debate is whether the bike gods (i.e. your local government) will giveth or withhold(eth) the means for bikes to coexist on the roads with relative safety. To give to not to give. Now the precedent has been established for trying to take it away.

[A final aside for DC readers - If you want to get the M and L Street cycletracks built, one good way to help is to USE the 15th Street cycletrack. Please go out of your way to use it if necessary. You think they won't look at those numbers when making the final arguments for the downtown lanes?]

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