A Toronto cyclist who was facing charges for taking part in a protest over the Jarvis bicycle lane removals said in an interview he would happily spend time in prison if it means more lanes are installed.
Tomislav Svoboda, a medical physician and Annex resident, was arrested back in November and charged with mischief after sitting in the path of a city truck removing the bike lanes along Jarvis Street.
After appearing before an Ontario court judge on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 17, he had his mischief charges withdrawn in exchange for community service with Cycle Toronto, a bicycle advocacy group.
“I just joined the group of protestors already there on Jarvis, that’s all I did,” said Svoboda, an avid cyclist for 25 years, of the Jarvis incident. “And I naively thought we’d stop the bike lane from being removed.”
His role in the protest and subsequent arrest has made Svoboda willing to sacrifice his personal freedom to fight for more lanes.
“If I knew I could get 500 kilometres of bike lanes in exchange for going to jail for two years, I would do it,” said Svoboda hours before his court appearance. “I could do more in jail for my patients if it means lanes are built. People get killed because of the lack of infrastructure – 57 people were hospitalized because of collisions last year.”
On Wednesday. Svoboda was part of a small group of physicians calling on city council to live up to a 2001 commitment to add 400 kilometres of lanes throughout the city. The plan was to have been completed by 2011. The reality, instead, he said, is Toronto is 382 kilometres short of its stated goal and removing lanes at a time when cities are like New York, Montreal and Chicago are investing heavily in cycling infrastructure. “We’re lagging so far behind on an international level it’s an embarrassment,” he said.
The group, which includes the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, also released an open letter to city council touting the health benefits from cycling and was signed by 24 physicians.
Svoboda, who practices medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital, said adding more bike lanes will increase safety for all, including drivers.
“Study after study has shown bike lanes, whether they’re painted or a segregated track, reduce the chance of collisions by at least 50 per cent,” he said.
“The Jarvis lanes reduced street collisions for everybody by 25 per cent and those are numbers from the city.”
While an estimated 50 per cent of Torontonians make use of a bicycle at some point in the year, just two per cent use them to commute to work. But Svoboda said the Jarvis experience showed having lanes in place would encourage more use of them.
“When you put bike lanes in, people start using them,” he said. He acknowledged “natural divisions” exist within city council that create political opposition to adding more lanes, and said greater awareness of the health and environmental benefits of cycling was needed to bridge the divide. Still, he believes the Jarvis protest galvanized cyclists in a way not seen before and urged more doctors to lobby elected officials on the importance of adding more bike lanes.
“As physicians, we have not normally been involved in discussions like that,” he said. “For health and environmental reasons, we need to make more of a stand.”