Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lessons from Annette Street

Last Friday, the cyclists of this city lost the Annette bike lanes from Jane to Runnymede, and we lost badly. A back room deal trumped the efforts of those who came out to two public meetings and gave deputations to the committee. The outcome did not only short change cycling in this city, it insulted public participation. Those of us who rearranged our schedules, lost work, time with our families, or sleep to come out and speak up got the door slammed in our faces and had our voices trumped by lobbying and back room deals.

So what lessons should we draw from this?

  1. We have a broken city government; unfortunately, just knowing that won't get us any further ahead.
  2. Toronto politicians, for a mix of good and bad reasons, listen to the concerns of merchants. Since merchants fear the loss of parking as much as anything, plans for bicycle lanes will have a very rough ride if they do not accommodate the perceived need for parking. In some respects, this makes sense; a bike lane contributes much less than it otherwise could to a livable city if the loss of parking bankrupts local businesses and drives their customers to Wal-mart and other local big box complexes.
  3. I draw a simple if less than pleasant lesson from this: we have three choices when it comes to pushing for bicycle lanes.
    • We can find ways to accommodate merchant concerns about parking. We can run bicycle routes around commercial clusters. We can push to replace residential parking with commercial (merchant) parking. We can accept gaps and sharrows in the network.
    • We can push, hard, for the facilities we need. That may make us disliked, because to get bicycle lanes, we will have to take away parking, if not merchant parking then residential parking. We would have to work to deprive some people of a level of convenience they have come to feel entitled to. We would probably have to use boycotts, and would certainly have to work very hard to defeat certain councilors.
    • We can turn up at public meetings, as we have done, and continue to lose. I don't consider that a good option, but we seem to have chosen it, and we will have to make a conscious choice to do something else.

In the short term, we have to decide quickly whether or not we want to offer a compromise when we bring this situation before the full council. We have a good process argument against the decision, in the sense that cyclists got left out of the negotiations on the final proposal. But that argument works better if we can say we really would have negotiated. Certainly, if I had known that Councilor Saundercook would push for the installation of sharrows, I would have worked hard for a better compromise. If we take the position that we want bicycle lanes, we have a right to bicycle lanes, and we insist on nothing less, then council can reply that we simply reached an impasse, and the councilors did what they thought best for the city as a whole.

Belated Update, November 4:

I stand corrected; over 150 emails later, we have our bicycle lanes. And let us not underestimate the importance of this achievement, either. City council has traditionally chosen commercial parking over bicycle lanes, and this may mark the first time they deferred to community pressure (thanks to all who sent in the email messages or otherwise lobbied council). We can make change, and we don't have to back down.


Ed W said...

So if the city won't install bike lanes, it's no big deal. Take the lane. Ride in it as if you owned it, because you do. It's just as much yours as it is any motorist's, so be assertive and take the lane.

Jennifer said...

One option is to take the lane -- this is easier to do if you ride with someone else.

If we don't keep up the fight then we are push-overs, and we will never get bike lanes. The only option is to continue this fight.

Even if we lose, we'll win because we'll have put the councillors on notice that we won't back down easily.