The political war between the supporters of two-wheel transportation and those favouring accommodation for cars has moved up a notch at Toronto City Council where our penny-pinching mayor has long declared the ‘war on cars’ over.
Bike advocates have received a commitment from the city to build a bicycle station in the parking garage below City Hall, with such niceties as shower and change rooms – and shower room attendants – so cyclists can freshen up at the end of their ride downtown.
In the face of a mounting crisis of traffic congestion in the city, the aim of this venture is to encourage people to bike to work, thus taking more cars off the road.
Aside from his outright rejection of the idea, the estimated $1.2-million expenditure for this perk for cyclists is what Mayor Rob Ford would call a ‘nice-to-have’ but not a ‘need-to-have’. Yet, the 380-space bike station received a resounding 26 to 5 vote in favour.
Mayor Ford’s suggestion of a splash pool instead of bike spaces, as well as his brother Councillor Doug Ford’s comments regarding the use of the showers for questionable activities – “hanky panky”, he called it – added as usual to the circus that passes for debate in Council these days, but we have to side with the mayor against the bike spaces and amenities.
Is this the best use of taxpayers’ money when the city is already short of cash?
We are all looking for ways to solve the growing problem of traffic congestion in Toronto, a problem the Toronto Board of Trade says is costing six billion dollars annually in lost productivity as motorists are tied up in traffic on our roads daily.
But solutions must also be cost effective. The question advocates of the bike station must answer is where is the money going to come from to maintain these accommodations? What would they have us give up in order to do this? And where will we make up the revenue lost from the parking spaces for cars that will be converted to space for bicycles? Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, in defence of the plan, says there is a growing demand for downtown bike parking and predicts that the spaces will be sold out. But it will not cover the estimated annual lost revenue of $70,000 from the 24 well used car spaces that will be given up in order to accommodate the bike station. (Ever tried finding a parking space under City Hall during the weekday?)
Before last week’s debate, the bike station had already been approved as part of the revitalization project for Nathan Phillips Square and some $600,000 had already been spent on required infrastructure as well as its design. But the project was stopped in July 2011 when the city’s transportation department found it could not afford to pay for the spaces managed by the Toronto Parking Authority.
Councillors in favour of the bike station have already admitted that with a full subscription of the spaces the annual revenue would only amount to $32,000. Their response to the revenue shortfall has been to ask the Parking Authority to waive the $70,000 that will be lost annually.
If this is the way city councillors hope to keep the confidence of taxpayers in Toronto then they will have a tough time convincing voters next year not to give Ford another term as mayor. Councillors voting on items like the bike station in effect override Ford’s mandate to keep spending in check. Voters in their numbers put Ford in the mayoral chair because they want to see an end to unnecessary spending.
We are not against the function of a bike station. Given our current traffic congestion, the intention is well-meaning. But why should the city take a loss to operate this amenity over another that brings in more revenue?
At the very least, cyclists should be made to pay their fair share for use of this space in order to make up the money that will be lost from the removal of the 24 parking spaces.