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Toronto’s Safe Cycling Coalition Takes Battle for Safe Streets to Court

September 16, 2008 (Toronto, ON) – In what is likely the first intervention of its kind in Ontario legal history, a group of cycling advocates, the Safe Cycling Coalition, has sought and (yesterday) been granted the right to intervene in an Ontario court case.

The case, first brought to the Ontario Superior Court in August by certain downtown merchants, alleges that the City of Toronto violated the province’s Environmental Assessment Act when it proceeded with the Bloor St. Transformation Project – along Yorkville’s so-called Mink Mile – and failed to properly consult the public or to study alternatives.

“This is about one of Toronto’s most valuable public spaces – a $25 million ‘transformation’ of that space warrants public consultation,” explains Margaret Hastings-James, a Bloor Street bike-commuter who began to advocate for bike lanes when hit, and nearly crushed, by a truck in 2002. “The huge volume of pedestrian and cyclist traffic in this area demands an allotment of dedicated and safe space.”

The intervening citizen advocate group asserts that proper classification of the project would have allowed cyclists the opportunity to highlight provincial laws that direct municipalities to ensure the safety of all roadway. Cycling advocates have long pushed city politicians for a bike lane on Bloor St. – one of the city’s most heavily used, and most dangerous, cycling routes.

“The Bloor St. Transformation Project does have some positive features for pedestrian traffic,” said Angela Bischoff, lead contact for the Coalition. “Unfortunately the City has again forgotten cyclists. Motor vehicles will get about 15 meters in width of the public roadway, and cyclists will get zero. That’s not fair, and it’s certainly not safe.”

According to a 2007 Toronto Public Health report, 440 people die in Toronto each year from the effects of traffic pollution. The same report indicated that the death toll could be reduced dramatically by investing in cleaner options such as mass transit and better cycling infrastructure.

“The battle for safer cycling conditions in Toronto has now reached a new phase,” said Albert Koehl, a lawyer representing the group. “The urgency of problems like global warming and air pollution means we can no longer tolerate old-school approaches to fixing our inefficient and dirty transportation system. Bicycles are zero-emission vehicles that deserve a safe space on our roads.”

In August 2008 William Ashley China Ltd. filed an action in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Divisional Court) for a declaration that the city’s decision to proceed with the Bloor St. Transformation Project was illegal. On Sept. 9, 2008 the Safe Cycling Coalition applied to the Court for an order allowing it to intervene. The application was granted on Sept. 15.

The members of the Coalition include cycling advocates with over five decades of combined cycling advocacy experience. They include Angela Bischoff, Margaret Hastings-James, Hamish Wilson, Martin Reis, and Kristen Courtney.

The hearing of the case (William Ashley China Ltd. v. City of Toronto) is scheduled for Oct. 9, 2008.





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