Bell needs parking more than cyclists need safety, and the City of Toronto agrees

(This is a roughly edited version of a letter I sent to Councillor Joe Cressy, Mayor Tory, and Film Toronto about Bell Media closing down one of the few bike lanes in the downtown core so they would have a convenient spot to park. Cressy, my very own councillor, acted with speed & efficiency rarely seen in government to get it re-opened before the end of the day.)

Bike lanes, like any other piece of infrastructure, must sometimes be closed. But Richmond is the only westbound bicycle lane between College street and Queens Quay. To many cyclists, the bike lane is the only thing that makes it a bike-friendly route, given the high speeds of many drivers. This is a central route for cyclists such as myself for travelling to work in the downtown area, and it should be closed only when there are no other options – and this was clearly not the case. It’s important to find out how and why this happened, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Did the city give Bell a permit specifically to park in the bike lane? Or was it just a permit for the area, which they interpreted as okaying the bike lane?

Several pictures were posted on Twitter of what appeared to be a Bell employee removing the bollards separating the bike lane from traffic. The City of Toronto’s Film Planning website indicates that changes to street signs & other infrastructure must be done by city transportation staff. Did Bell have any right to remove these bollards themselves? It can’t be acceptable for private companies to remove devices that were installed for safety.

The city film site also notes that location filming permits “cover parking for production vehicles only”. However, most of the vehicles I saw parked in the bike lane with location permits did not appear to be involved in any production; rather, they were vehicles that had been relocated out of a parking lot. Is this an appropriate use of a special parking permit?

Finally, I was incredibly disappointed to read the comments of Film Toronto Manager Eric Jensen in Metro News, who said that “It was necessary to facilitate the ongoing operation of Bell Media,” and that there was nowhere else to park. This is entirely untrue, as cars could have parked in multiple nearby locations:

  • Duncan Street, which is where the vehicles are now located;
  • The south side of Richmond Street, where there is no bike lane;
  • The underground parking lot at John & Richmond;
  • Several surface parking lots, such as one at Queen & Peter.

Perhaps these locations were slightly less convenient than the bike lane on Richmond, but the city needs to consider more than simply “the ongoing operation of Bell Media.” A decision to shut down a key piece of transportation infrastructure should not fall solely to one city agency, particularly one with such a limited scope.