3 min

‘Ford Nation, say hello to Bike Nation’

Thousands protest city's decision to erase bike lanes

More than 1,000 took part in the Ride for Jarvis July 20. Credit: Andrea Houston

As more than 1,000 cyclists poured into Nathan Phillips Square July 20, the crowd began to chant, “We just want to share!”

Cyclists are protesting city council’s decision July 13 to remove the bike lanes on Jarvis St and two other city streets. Jarvis St is slated to return to its original five-lane configuration, a move that many are calling a political manoeuvre by rightwing councillors, pitting downtown cyclists against suburban drivers.

The ride started at Allan Gardens in the early evening. Hundreds of cyclists, many ringing bells and cheering, rode up to Wellesley St, across to Church St and back around to Jarvis St before finally ending the ride at city hall with a rally.

“Ford Nation, say hello to Bike Nation!” bellowed Toronto Cyclists’ Union’s Jared Kolb. “This is to send a message back to the [Mayor Rob] Ford administration.”

While the cyclists filled both lanes on Jarvis, many spectators lined the sidewalks waving, cheering and clapping. Many yelled “Thank you” as they rode by.

The cost to remove the Jarvis St bike lanes is estimated at $200,000. That’s not supposed to happen until 2012 after a separated lane is built on neighbouring Sherbourne St.

Councillors also voted to kill the bike lanes on Birchmount Rd and Pharmacy Ave in Scarborough. The city will spend more than $400,000 to erase all the bike lanes. The lanes on Jarvis were installed last July at a cost of $59,000.

“Last week Ford sent out a strong signal that people in cars matter more than people on bikes,” says Andrea Garcia, the union’s director of advocacy. “As other world cities add lanes to their bike networks, our city is taking a step back in the movement toward public safety… Things need to change. Pretty soon, Rob Ford will be on the wrong side of history.”

Joining the ride were councillors Paula Fletcher and Mike Layton, who grabbed the microphone to lead the crowd in a chant. “When I say bike lanes, you say Jarvis!”

Cyclist Xuan-Yen Cao says she was driven to join the protest because she uses the Jarvis bike lanes everyday to get to work.

“I don’t see the logic in this at all,” she says. “I ride the bike lanes, and I really don’t see how it slows down traffic. You know what slows down traffic? Cars.”

Fletcher told the crowd she feels tremendous sadness that city council voted for “the first time ever” to remove bike lanes from city streets. “We need to get council to rethink their decision. Bike lanes make it safe for cyclists, but they also make it safe for car drivers who are travelling with cyclists on the same road. It’s about safety.”

Roy Mitchell, who was the brains behind last week’s Take the Whole Lane Day, had a pink balloon harnessed to the back of his bike that read “Bike lanes save lives.”

“It’s a great day for a bike ride!” Mitchell says. “I think it’s idiotic of the city to take out something they have already installed that’s proven to work. We have to learn to live together.”

Before the ride, Dave Meslin, the founder of the Toronto Cyclists’ Union, stood on a stool speaking through a megaphone, beaming at the growing crowd of cheering cyclists.

“There’s a word most of us learned in kindergarten. It’s called ‘sharing,’” he says. “What we have behind us is called a complete street. Complete streets bring people together instead of dividing them. City hall is trying to divide us and we’re not going to play that game.

“There’s no such thing as a redundant bike lane because people bike on every single street in Toronto, and they all deserve a safe space.”

Meslin vowed to “put his body down on the road if the trucks come to take out the lines. Who else would?” Many cheered and raised their hands in agreement. He is also promising to recreate the magic with another Critical Mass protest ride before the end of the summer.