Four years after his rhetoric about the "war on the car" helped win him the Toronto mayor's office, Rob Ford is ignoring city staff analysis as he goes on the attack against a plan to revitalize Eglinton Avenue.
The proposal to make the street more attractive to cyclists and pedestrians was backed by council in 38-0 vote two months ago. But it is coming back to council this week. The issue has divided mayoral candidates and prompted a chaotic news conference Tuesday by Mr. Ford.
"City planners want to replace much-needed space on our gridlocked roads with bike lanes and wider sidewalks," he said as a shirtless protester nearby chanted "resign."
"This does not make sense; it's a complete waste of taxpayers' money," charged Mr. Ford, who was absent for the last council vote on the proposal. "We can't afford more gridlock than we already have. We can't approve things that will bring this city to a standstill."
His stand is at odds with the conclusions of city staff, who say that a redesigned Eglinton would have the capacity to carry expected traffic volumes years into the future.
"There has been traffic modelling … to ensure that the movement that's anticipated can be accommodated," said chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat. "I think drivers should expect delays during the construction period. Drivers should not expect delays other than the delays that already exist today, once construction is complete."
The plan, known as Eglinton Connects, is related to the light-rail line being built under the midtown road. Buried transit will reduce the need for bus lanes, freeing up space and prompting a reassessment of how best to use the roadway. Among the ideas are separated bicycle lanes and expanded sidewalks. In some parts of Eglinton, where there is lower demand, there would be fewer lanes for vehicles.
According to staff, the plan could result in as much as a 10-per-cent increase in traffic on nearby streets. Various measures are available to stop that if it becomes an issue, Ms. Keesmaat said.
Some of the ways to implement Eglinton Connects are part of a report coming to council for approval this week. Mr. Ford seized on the plan's re-appearance, sparking statements of support and criticism from his rivals in this fall's election.
John Tory, who was on hand in Nathan Phillips Square for the launch of Caribana, said he wouldn't support any project that takes traffic lanes out of service.
"The [traffic] study says that it's going to lead to an increase in traffic on residential streets off Eglinton of 10 per cent and I don't buy into that," he said. "I don't think that the residential people who live in there are counting on that."
But Olivia Chow, who said she attended the most recent round of public consultations on the project, listening to staff presentations and audience questions, and talking to residents, called the project "great."
"By and large, people are looking forward to more trees, a more comprehensive road, better pedestrian walking," she said Tuesday in a meeting with The Globe and Mail editorial board. "And no, it won't reduce traffic capacity."
Karen Stintz, who has represented a midtown ward for three terms, issued a statement saying she had "always supported" the project.
"I am shocked that the Mayor waited until today to oppose the Eglinton Connects proposal," the statement read. "This is a long-term project that has involved the many city councillors and communities whose wards include Eglinton Avenue. That Mayor Ford has decided to oppose this proposal at the last minute proves once again that he has no idea what is going on in his own administration."
With reports from Elizabeth Church and Kaleigh Rogers