An Open Letter to Rob Ford

Take the Tooker  > Uncategorized >  An Open Letter to Rob Ford

Dear Councillor Ford

Thanks for being at the Levee, and for a few words with me about biking issues. I’ve put a lot of time into promoting better biking over the last 15/20 years, and we still have far to go.

I was very pleased to have a few words with your brother about climate change and hear that it is something real to him, and that he doesn’t deny its existence.

Transport emissions are salient problems – and while bikes don’t work for everyone all the time – they are exceptionally viable for urban environments and have a lot of co-benefits. This includes not burning money for fuel, and some personal fitness and a high degree of mobility control.

But there are real dangers at times, and not just from the cars, but from the roads, which are sufficiently rough at times that we need to either swerve or get our butts and bikes abused by bad problems, one eg. being here – – and it has not been patched up c. before Christmas!

You indicated that you were keen on spending millions for bikes and doing more for bikes than the previous Council, and I countered with ensuring in the right places, but I also have quality concerns about facilities.

In particular, we need connectivity, and a good network where more cyclists are. This means a focus on the core to some extent, and not to put costly facilities in more suburban regions to the exclusion of core areas, and as there’s a clear set of harms to cyclists on the main streets of the core, yes, we need safer cycling on main streets.

This doesn’t have to be exclusively bike lanes, but greater width in the curb lane, which is sometimes harder to do.

Putting in bike lanes doesn’t cost a lot of money. It’s only $25,000 a km to actually do this work, so if you wanted to spend millions on better biking, we could get a LOT more bike lanes, and sometimes, given certain conditions and constraints, spending bigger money is necessary.

One major cause for me has been promoting a Bloor/Danforth bikeway as it’s a very logical, direct, flat, track-less road, often with greater width for easier adjustments. Most importantly, it has the subway adjacent to it.

Sadly, we didn’t get too far with this issue through the last Council – and while I know things are busy for core councillors, I was and remain disappointed with many of the alleged “progressives” as there’s a gap between what is said and done, and we need less study, and more application and patchings and pavings. The Yorkvile rebuilding was especially tragic: it was the best spot in 1992 for an east-west bike lane, and now it is narrower by 1 metre than we need for easy bike lanes (the BIA there has agreed to remove all the on-street parking), and that 1 metre was wasted between new planters and new curbs. So I would like to have the curbs rebuilt .5M back on either side – and that would likely cost at least $1m – and I’d love to be able to reallocate Mr. Kyle Rae’s pension towards it and have him help with the actual doing of the work, since he did promise Bloor bike lanes in 2006 election.

Now, the only way we can get an adequate level of bike safety with bike lanes is to squeeze the car traffic down to one lane in each direction, but with 24-hour parking in all likelihood, to help fill up the streets. But to be clear; I don’t think we cyclists have pushed that option preferring to use the 1992 model of two car lanes each way and a bike lane, which the City ignored.

The City also ignored portions of two provincial laws in that project: the EA Act and the Places to Grow Act. There was a legal squabble about an aspect of the EA Act – somehow the City put the entire project into a Class A (scant public input process) category though the tipping point for a streetscaping project into that A was $2.2M, and this was a $25/30M project.

The Places to Grow Act, passed ahead of this particular project, also required safety for cyclists, and the scant sharrrws and tight curb lane width do NOT provide adequate safety.

Regrettably, the province was not concerned particularly about the integrity of two provincial laws, and some of us feel strongly that there was an ongoing lack of integrity in another Bloor/Yorkville incident that brought the death of a cyclist to the fore. If one views the surveillance video of the initial spark of this ugliness, the video seems to show things at marked odds with what the words of the Special Prosecutor etc. said. and there wasn’t even a Failure to Remain charge against Mr .Bryant either.

But as with the legal challenge to the EA classifications, not everyone has $100,000-ish to help promote justice. (This also includes going after the City for their contributory neglect as the whole construction process was bad for bikes, with gross neglect and hazards to cycling in the curb areas where we are supposed to ride)

This, along with quite a few other instances, can make cyclists feel more vulnerable, even targetted, merely for being on the public highway on a mode of transport pre-dating the car.

Many cyclists also feel threatened by the tenor, if not the actual remarks of both your brother Mayor Ford, and of Mr. Cherry, and have some trepidation about what policies of cycling and placement of needed safe routes might occur.

I hope you will remember my insistence of putting things in the correct places, and I do have divergent-from-many opinions on two controversial biking items that may have prompted a “bikelash” eg. Jarvis St. and University Ave.

I was not in favour of Jarvis St. bike lanes but rather a wider curb lane as if – a big if!! – Sherbourne St. with its bike lanes nearby were made smoother, we had a facility nearby, and the true demands tend to be east-west eg. Bloor St. etc. Sherbourne will be repaved soon it seems, but I would NOT support the return of Jarvis St. to the unsafe and dangerous 5-lane facility as the curb lanes were far too tight for comfortable cycling.

With University Ave., I support bike lanes there, but did not support the proposed design. Something that I’d suggested a decade ago still makes sense: simply repainting the road to narrow the travel lanes a bit and create a good bike lane space beside 24-hour parking, but ensure that bike travel is highlighted with a blue painted bike lane – coloured paint of bike lanes being common in many world cities, but apparently unattainable here – and as an added feature, add door opening markings. All of this could be done with cheap paint, and it would be a bold statement of your commitment to bikes. There’s also a subway under it.

And this brings me back to Bloor/Danforth and the really great benefit to the public and taxpayers from having a B/D bikeway – it could expand the crowded subway for the price of paint!

The current crowding on the B/D subway is apparently extreme, and it would be very costly to add more cars, or tracks, etc.

But if biking were made safe in a parallel direction right beside the subway, I’m quite sure a number of currently captive passengers would choose to bike rather than take transit for a variety of reasons. So cheap paint could expand the subway by 2 or 3%; we don’t have to worry so much about finding parking spaces to stop and shop; current transit riders would have a better transit trip from less crowding and thus likely more reliability; and when parking needs to be removed from the on-street portions of Bloor and/or the Danforth for better biking, not only are there often more parking spaces atop the subway, the subway itself provides such an excellent mobility option for car owners, and that will become more obvious as gas prices go higher courtesy of more drivers in China and India. (which is terrible climate news though….)

The former Cycling Advisory Committee, another brief topic of conversation between us, did finally take a supportive position on the Bloor/Danforth bike lane proposal and there is a 5,800 name petition already in place at City Hall supporting this idea.

For many reasons, the TCAC did not actually review either the University Ave. nor Jarvis St. proposals, and how it was shrunk by Mr. Miller etc. and a desire for more control meant a very reduced committee, including no important sub-committees, especially the network one, which was a useful forum in my decade of time on it.

So I would really urge the reconstituting of the TCAC, and its expansion up to 12 members with an automatic inclusion of a rep from the Toronto Cyclists Union. I am wary of proposals being introduced and promoted by some individuals and groups that do not have a more detailed set of schematics that get reviewed, and I also do not trust the City to provide adequate designs either for some facilities, as distinct goofs have been made, and easy improvements undone. We also might want to provide nuance in the review of plans and sub-committees, by perhaps introducing sub-committees corresponding to the Districts of the City – and many of us are in the core, though bike travellers are everywhere in the City, and at times, the main carterials in the suburbs are even more dangerous than core roads, and we need improvements there quickly and in large strokes.

Please contrast the last TCAC with the Pedestrian Committee – the Ped Committee was larger, and the pedestrians tend to have sidewalks throughout the City. And yes, in the older suburbs which you represent a part of, these side walks are the bike lanes. And sometimes that’s basic self-preservation to break laws and ride on sidewalks – and an example of how unsafe the roads are for the non-cartillery. We also need a Pedestrian Committee, and it is best if we actually are able to have cross-membership as at times pedestrians are frightened and harmed by quick and quiet bikes.

And some of us are “passholes” – but that applies to four-wheelers too.

As for your interest in getting one of the bike riding pinko buttons, I regret that I’d given so many others away, and that the one I was wearing was special to me, and I didn’t feel like giving it away. Perhaps Councillor Layton may have an extra, but there are many outlets in the core that are selling them, and over 10,000 have apparently been sold.

These high sales are a sadder indicator of how poorly received Mr. Cherry’s comments were by many of us, and they do mark a new low in the overall decorum in that clamshell, and reflect some poor judgement somewhere. Cyclists are taxpayers too: and I think more than a few of us have a greater ability to afford both houses and taxes in the city because we bike, not drive.

Yes, it’s a lot easier to bike in the core, yes, some of we cyclists aren’t Gaia’s gift to the world and other road and sidewalk users – but I also see safe travel on public roads as a basic human right at times, and carist, and carrupt Caronto must change its ways in reasonable and appropriate ways for both public safety and our broader environmental concerns eg. costly climate change.

I hope you can take seriously this follow-up from a few quick words, and start off with setting up of both Pedestrian and Cycling Committees, to refine and propose needed changes to our city. We are becoming world-last by the way, and failing to keep pace in some ways with Oakville, Ottawa, Burlington etc.

Top of the world city is likely Copenhagen – this is a good exposition – Copenhagen: City of Cyclists here

You may note that I’ve copied quite a few councillors as well as a legal rep within the City. Despite many of your stated policies etc., you don’t necessarily have the votes for things, and there are still legal requirements ie. the roads are unsafe for cyclists, and this includes bad to very bad and dangerous riding conditions that will cost money to fix.


Hamish Wilson