How a Bike Lane is Born #4: City Council

How a Bike Lane is Born #4: City Council

Welcome back to How a Bike Lane is Born, the investigative series where we try to understand, and then explain, how new bike infrastructure comes to be. From the earliest line on a map to the final flexpost, no stone will be left unturned.

Our first editions focused on the future Portland Street bikeways’ historical context, its community consultations, and its first trip to City Hall for the Infrastructure and Environment Committee.

In this fourth edition of How a Bike Lane is Born, our project heads back to City Hall for a potentially contentious debate at City Council.

As we discussed previously, when a cycling infrastructure project is presented to the councillors on the Infrastructure and Environment Committee (IEC), they debate and then vote on recommending it or not to City Council. Usually, when the IEC recommends a project, it passes at City Council. But not always.

So on a Wednesday in April, our fair project finally made it to the big stage and bright lights of Toronto City Hall. And just like at the IEC, the Portland Street bikeway project was bundled with a collection of other projects across the city.

(The April 18th Toronto City Council meeting as seen on YouTube.)

Shortly after City Council began, Speaker Frances Nunziata listed out the items that would be saved for later, or “held”. “Items” are the pieces of legislation City Council votes on. Usually items that councillors want to amend, hold recorded votes for, or ask staff about, are “held” at the start of the City Council meeting. As is typical for cycling projects, Item IE12.4 was held to be addressed later on.

After some thought-provoking debate on the future of Toronto’s recycling bins, its school nutrition program, and the controversial vacant home tax, our cycling projects would finally come up to get their moment in the spotlight.

The first councillor to take the floor was Mike Colle, a member of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee. He read out a prepared speech on the projects’ value to the city’s cycling network and urged councillors to vote in favour of these “progressive increments to our bike network”.

(Councillor Colle reads a speech in support of the Portland bikeway project.)

All was going well. It seemed like our Portland bikeway was on its way to an easy win. But all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, Councillor Holyday (a well known foe of anything bicycle) rose out of his chair to speak.

“I’d like to request a recorded vote on Item 1F.”

(Councillor Holyday rises to request a recorded vote on the Portland bikeway.)

Unfortunately 1F happened to be our Portland bikeway. Why did Councillor Holyday choose to request a recorded vote? It is not clear. Perhaps someone with a more nuanced understanding of municipal politics might know. But regardless of why, the Portland cycle tracks were about to face their greatest challenge yet.

Silence fell on the Council chamber. What felt like hours went by as the various councillors headed back to their seats to have their say in a vote that would indelibly alter the history of Portland Street.

A voice came through on the speakers: “Part 1F carries. The vote is 20 - 2.”

(The project passed 20 - 2.)

And that was it. After everything it had been through, it was hard to believe that the project had finally passed and would really be constructed. The dream of happily pedalling down Portland, across the bridge, and down to the lake was becoming a reality.

Some mystery remained: When would construction start? Why did Councillor Holyday request a recorded vote on just the Portland project? And why did another councillor who represents a ward over 30 km away also vote no? Luckily, the first question will certainly be answered in our next edition of How a Bike Lane is Born. Stay tuned for that one. And as for the second and third questions…sometimes some things are better left unknown.

(Councillor Crisanti, who inexplicably joined Councillor Holyday in voting “No” on the Portland bikeway project. Image:

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