A bike rack outside City Hall. Photo by Ben Spurr.
Naked, sweaty cyclists could soon be bathing in the City Hall parking garage.
On Friday, council voted to restart construction of a bike station in the building's underground parking lot, a project that gained notoriety when the mayor and his brother fiercely criticized the fact that it will include showers.
Despite Mayor Rob Ford's objections however, the project passed easily by a vote of 26-5.
Before the decision, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker urged other councillors to respond to the growing demand for downtown bike parking.
"If you want people to get out of their cars so there's less congestion... you've got to provide secure bike parking," he said in a speech to council. "My prediction, madam speaker, is the day you open that facility is the day that it'll be sold out."
The mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, have repeatedly slammed the project as a waste of money, complaining on their radio show last month that the city was spending $1.2 million on showers. That figure is the estimated cost of the entire bike station however, and the facility's three showers will cost only $20,000.
Mayor Ford moved a motion on Friday that the change room and showers be omitted from the project, but it failed in a 12-19 vote.
"We don't need change rooms and showers... We don't even need this bike station," he said.
"I'm definitely not supporting this. More taxpayers' money down the drain."
The debate took a sour turn when Doug Ford was accused of making homophobic comments in the chamber. During his questioning of city staff Councillor Ford asked whether the showers would be manned by a "towel boy," and predicted the bike station would "turn into a bathhouse."
His remarks prompted Councillor Gord Perks to rise on a point of privilege and demand an apology for the bathhouse statement, which he described as "homophobic."
"Don't tell me I'm homophobic! I'm donating to the gay pride parade!" Councillor Ford shot back, but he eventually agreed to withdraw his remarks. He continued to insist that the showers will be a magnet for sex play however, claiming "there's going to be hanky panky, I guarantee."
The bike station was originally approved as part of the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization project but was quietly halted without council's input in July 2011. Although at least $600,000 had already been spent on design and infrastructure prep work at the site, the transportation department decided it could not afford to compensate the Toronto Parking Authority for the 24 car spaces the bike station would occupy.
The Parking Authority was seeking $70,000 a year, which the agency said was the amount the spaces would generate if left as car slots.
But under questioning from Councillor Paul Ainslie, Parking Authority staff said Friday that as a matter of policy the City Hall parking lot typically operates at only 85 per cent capacity in order to encourage turnover. The bike station would take up roughly 2 per cent of the lot's spaces.
"The parking garage is not full, so why would you put a value to those spots?" asked Councillor Anthony Perruzza.
As part of the vote, council directed the Parking Authority to waive the $70,000 charge and absorb any resulting lost revenue.
Construction on the facility, which will be able to accommodate 380 bikes, will resume next year and is expected to be completed before the end of 2014.
The station will be open to members of the public at the cost of a one-time registration fee of around $27, in addition to monthly charges that will range from roughly $21.50 for a single month, or $64.50 for four months. Casual users will be charged around $2 a day.
The fees are expected to bring in roughly $32,000 a year, enough to cover the cost of supervising and cleaning the facility.