Cyclists want city to backpedal on John Street redesign

A group of prominent lawyer-cyclists wants the province to intervene in the city's John Street revitalization plan because it offers too little to cyclists and too much to drivers, they say.

No bike lanes? No good, group says

An artist's rendering of what John Street will look like after it's made into a pedestrian-first thoroughfare between Grange Park and Front Street West. (City of Toronto)

A group of prominent lawyer-cyclists wants the province to intervene in the city's John Street revitalization plan because it offers too little to cyclists and too much to drivers, they say.

Alan Heisey, Brian Iler, Laura Dean and Ian Flett — all of whom say they ride on John to get to and from work — made their written request to Environment Minister Glen Murray late last month.

"Ultimately, it should be car-free," Iler told CBC Toronto Thursday. "That's what makes the most sense."

The city intends to turn John into a "cultural corridor" linking the Art Gallery of Ontario to the Rogers Centre via Grange Park,  the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the Canadian Broadcasting Centre and a handful of restaurants.

The problem, the lawyer-cyclists say,  is that the city's plan calls for a much wider eastern sidewalk, for picnic tables, benches and pedestrians, and much narrower lanes for cars. 

Cyclist Brian Iler is one of four lawyers who hired a traffic consultant to do a bicycle count on John Street last September. They say the results show bike lanes are a must on a re-designed John. (Mike Smee)

No bike lanes are included.

When that layout was tried during a pilot project between 2013 and 2015, cyclists found themselves forced into the much narrower traffic lanes, which, Iler said, was unsafe.

Iler said his group likes the city's plan to widen the sidewalk and encourage pedestrian use. But the current traffic lanes should be turned over entirely to bikes.

"We see how wonderful car-free downtowns are in Europe," he said. "There's no reason we can't do the same thing here.

"We don't need cars on John Street. They have every other street in the city to use."

City councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina) says pedestrians are the focus of the John Street redesign. (CBC News)

The group maintains that the re-drawn John Street does not include bike lanes because it was based on a faulty bike count by the city, which suggested only about two per cent of traffic on John was made up of bikes.

So the group hired its own traffic consultant last year, Iler said. That research, conducted last September, suggested 70 per cent of southbound traffic on John during the morning rush is made up of cyclists. That number jumps to 75 per cent during the northbound afternoon rush, accord to the group's research.

Iler said that the local councillor for the area, Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) has not been receptive to the changes his group wants to see.

Provincial Environment Minister Glen Murray wouldn't comment Thursday on a letter a group of Toronto lawyers sent to his office, asking that the city's plan to re-design John Street be re-assessed. (CBC)

Cressy said Thursday that dedicated bike lanes don't make sense on the John Street promenade because once it's completed in several years, the street will occasionally be shut down for pedestrian-only cultural events, which would make the bike lanes obsolete.

CBC Toronto asked Cressy Thursday if there was any chance the plan could be sent back to the drawing board to better accommodate cyclists,

"No," Cressy replied.

"The pedestrian initiative on John Street, which has been designed for coming up on 10 years as a pedestrian plaza,  is already into detailed construction design. And the great news is that that project will be open in the next number of years."

'I can't interfere'

And at Queen's Park Thursday, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray. also appeared to offer the group little hope.

He declined to talk about the group's letter, because "we've just received the letters on it. I can't interfere with the ministry process."