#CycleON: Popular Opinion(s) Regarding Ontario’s New Cycling Strategy

English: Riders assemble for a ride organised ...

English: Riders assemble for a ride organised by the London Cycling Campaign, as part of Bike Week activities. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you read the CycleOn proposal that is sweeping the cycling nation? This new proposal is aimed at positioning Ontario as an innovative, bike-friendly province before 2033. To say that CycleON contains “aspirational goals” might be the under- exaggeration of the year. The progressive nature of this proposal has created a lot of buzz around biking in Canada: Protestors and positive supporters have begun to share their insights across social media, in the press and offline at community events. Therefore, I wanted to write this blog to look at some of the issues that are being raised, as well I what #CycleON can offer to Ontario bikers.

For some background regarding the proposal, visit: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/pubs/cycling/index.shtml. Here you can read the provincial proposal, as well as review background information such as the concepts/research behind the strategy. This background includes the acknowledgement of the positive environmental, communal and physiological impacts that growing the cycling population will inevitably have on Ontario. I am sure that every active cyclist can agree with this strategic thought process as cycling offers a powerful antidote to many of the issues that are preventing Ontarians from realizing more active lives that do not cause ecological harm.

While this strategy is positive and sensible, one issue that is being constantly communicated across on and offline media is that CycleON focuses on extremely lofty and, at times, unrealistic goals. The truth behind this accusation is not hard to see when you look at CycleON’s Strategic Directions. Arguably, it may be difficult for the masses to imagine how CycleON alone will, “Design Healthy, Active & Prosperous Communities.” Especially for non-cyclists, I can imagine that this proposal seems like quite the ideological reach.

However, if you do not get too caught up in the specifics, you can see that the Ministry has a very positive and altruistic aim of creating more physically able and happier communities. Biking may not be the only solution, but by positioning it as an absolute stronghold in the fight for vitality, the Ministry will force communities to re-evaluate the indispensable nature of cycling.

Personally, I would love to see many of the CycleON objectives come true. We have 20 years to transform our province and, I believe, that it can happen. CycleON bring attention to the fact that not even one Ontario city is currently acknowledged in the top 100 bike-friendly cities. With a bold aim of getting us in the top ten, CycleON demonstrates that they have big goals for bikes.

Unfortunately, this and some of the other more “reaching” aspects of the plan are bringing sceptics out of the woodwork. I just hope that they do not disregard the positive nature of the entire plan in favour of a pessimistic refusal of progression. Luckily, passionate cyclists who have been consistently disappointed by conditions in Ontario are rallying behind the new doctrine.

If CycleON’s goals were not big and bold then there would be nothing to strive for. We need a huge push behind our motorists to ensure that the celebration of cycling becomes a widespread phenomenon. I have often spoken to the cyclist/motorist dichotomy that seems to inhibit the widespread acceptance of bike lanes/safety precautions. I hope that CycleON will remedy some of this built-up tension and reposition Ontario as a province that is more friendly toward non-motorized transportation. If Ontario commits to reaching even some of the CycleON goals, then I truly believe that we will all be living in a happier and healthier community.

What the Bike Community is Saying About Cycling Collisions

Cycling Oxford

Cycling Oxford (Photo credit: tejvanphotos)

One of the most feared and dangerous threats posed by our busy city streets is, of course, the collision of a moving vehicle with a cyclist. However, in addition to moving vehicles, “dooring” has also brought down many cyclists in their riding prime. I have spoken about dooring in a previous article, identifying it as a collision caused by drivers opening their doors and cyclists being unable to swerve. When a cyclist hits a car door there can be serious consequences including long-term, debilitating injury or death.

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Are Toronto Bikers Finally Being Heard?

Safe Cycling vs. Pleasant Driving: Does it have to be an either or?

Digital Cycling art by Jon Diogenous  I am writing this blog article with more good and bad news for the bikers in Toronto. The good news is: we are not alone. More and more often I am seeing write-ups in the Globe & Mail and National Post speaking to the need for safer cycling in Toronto. Torontonians are really beginning to recognize that it is not just “hipsters” and super star athletes that want to commute via bicycle. However, with positive protest arising from pro-bike citizens and city councillors, many bike opponents are speaking out just as loudly.

I read an interesting article a while ago (http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/09/06/much-talk-but-little-action-on-improving-city-for-torontos-little-bike-people/) that addresses politicians’ dismissal of “Little Bike People.” The article compares the biking environments in New York, Philadelphia and Toronto. While biking and safe bike paths are flourishing in the former two cities, these alternative commuting solutions still seem to fall flat in Toronto. I strongly believe that this is because our city has positioned driving and biking as oppositional ends on a negative dichotomy. In arguments put forth by the public and reiterated in the news, it always seems as though you must choose between being a driver or a cyclist. I have a few ideas why this sentiment has developed, but I think it is far more important for all of us to work on a discourse that begins to change this oppositional conversation.

The urge toward biking opposition runs high in our streets and in our political environment. Just last October Mayor Rob Ford spent $300K to remove a bike lane from Jarvis (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/10/03/mayor-ford-defends-spending-300k-on-bike-lane-removal-it-never-should-have-been-built-in-the-first-place/). While this bike lane offered cyclists a safer way to reach work and entertainment hubs, its costly removal shaves a measly two minutes off of drivers’ commutes. This aggressive anti-biking act demonstrates that, at Toronto’s core, there is a strong belief that progress for cyclists means doom for drivers of “proper forms of transportation.”

In an attempt to remedy this offense against Toronto cyclists, a few councillors proposed that drivers should be taxed to fuel the funds needed to build a safer biking environment in our city. Unfortunately, this motion was also swiftly rejected and it seemed that, once more, Toronto favoured motorized vehicles. Mayor Ford and his supporters argued that motorists are already being punished enough by our city’s congestion; adding additional monetary strife would only fuel the fire against cyclist.

It was interesting to note that the original article that I referred to presents the age-old argument in the way that, I believe, secures prevailing notions about the non-complimentary nature of biking and driving. Even though this particular author is a cyclist and a motorist, he could not help but present the two sides as oppositional He covers popular arguments for/against cycling and all of them sound the same: if we add bike lanes, then we take away from driveable lanes, leading to more traffic congestion and angrier motorists.

However, despite the somewhat dreary biking landscape, Toronto has brought on Philadelphia’s deputy commissioner of transportation. Considering that Philadelphia has booming biking paths and a steep decline in traffic crashes, we can hope that Buckley will bring this positive street-itude to Toronto. Therefore, I look forward to reporting more positive biking news in the near future!

Have No Fear Bixi is Here (to Stay?)

English: Bike sharing system in Toronto

English: Bike sharing system in Toronto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 I had written a blog article a few weeks ago about the Toronto Transit Union’s poor reception of the bike-sharing program, Bixi. The TTC had argued that Bixi does not align with their mandate and therefore, could not be financially supported. Cyclists across this city were disappointed by this dismissal of such an incredible contribution to our city’s cheapest and most eco-friendly transportation. However, there is great news for our green travellers: Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has persuaded three developers in her ward to contribute $1 million to the expansion of Bixi!

Currently, Toronto has 80 Bixi stations largely concentrated in the downtown core. This generous contribution from builders will enable 20 additional stations to be built. Neighbourhoods beyond the city centre will now have the chance to benefit from this community-focused and green-conscious program. What is really interesting is there appears to be a direct trade-off between vehicle and bike rights going on. These developers, in exchange for their Bixi donation, were allowed to build fewer parking spaces than city rules require. So hopefully, the residents in these building will be bike-friendly.

Wong-Tam does not want the growth to stop there. She argues that, if every ward was driven to do this, even Etobicoke could be riding on Bixi bikes in the not-faraway future. While it is not feasible for Ward 27 to fuel the entire program, Wong-Tam explains that expansion is occurring across the entire city. Developers are interested in different wards around Toronto; therefore, it should not be difficult to gain more funds to offset the potential green issues associated with large-scale development.

On the other hand, Mayor Ford has made his stance clear stating that, “the program is a failure and should be allowed to vanish from the Toronto landscape.” Therefore, it will be up to councillors to push for legislation that urges new developers to donate to the sustainability of bike sharing in Toronto. Arguably, he has a point and it is the same one that the TTC put forth. Currently, Bixi is being burdened by almost $4 million of debt. However, I would argue that the more the program is expanded, the more value it will have for all of Toronto.

Commuting to work from outside of the downtown core is a nightmare. Making bikes available to those beyond the city’s central limits will decrease traffic, increase exercise and benefit an even larger population of the city. All I can say is bring on the development if it brings on the Bixi!