With a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions coming from transportation, cycling can play an important role in addressing emissions reduction targets and combatting climate change.
When I first got involved with cycling advocacy in fall 2012, Toronto was in a transportation dark age. Not just the Ford administration’s scrapping of Transit City (later partially reinstated by city council), but also for removing bike lanes. Those on Birchmount Road and Pharmacy Avenue were already removed and Cycle Toronto was pursuing the failed “Save Jarvis” campaign. The Jarvis Street bike lanes cost $50 000 to install and another $300 000 to remove them.
In spite of this setback, Ford’s stance against cyclists (and many other groups) required Toronto’s community members to organize and fight for a better city. A case of every hero needs a villain. There were some positive developments during the Ford administration, including investment in recreational trails (and the 2012 Trails Plan) and the installation of the city’s first cycle tracks (a.k.a. separated bike lanes) on Sherbourne, Wellesley, Richmond, and Adelaide Streets. The revitalization of Toronto’s waterfront street – Queens Quay – was under way and the city’s Cycling Unit started work on a new Ten Year Cycling Network Plan to replace the 2001 Bike Plan.
During the four years of advocacy, I could identify seven lessons learned.
Money talks – One main reason why the 2001 Bike Plan failed – only a quarter of the proposed 495 kilometres of bike lanes were built to date – was because it was not backed up by funding. During the 2014 municipal election, Cycle Toronto called on candidates to support building a Minimum Grid of 100 kilometres of cycle tracks and 100 kilometres of bicycle boulevards by 2018. The new bike plan studied various annual funding levels from $8 million to $25 million, with city council approving the staff recommended $16 million level in June.
Proper design is essential – Funding alone is not enough to deliver the Minimum Grid. While painted bike lanes may be cheap, drivers end up blocking bike lanes and some bike lanes get placed in the door zone. Cycle tracks are a must for arterial roads with in boulevard paths (e.g. Eglinton West) needed on faster roads. Properly designed streets will lead to an increase in cyclists, in which cycling volumes tripled on Richmond and Adelaide streets during the first year of the pilot project.
Go big or go home – If a cycling or bike share network is too small and/or disconnected, not as many cyclists will take advantage of it. Fortunately, the recent doubling of Bike Share Toronto’s network to 2000 bikes and 200 stations is a step in the right direction, along with the new bike plan.
Collaborate with others – One thing Councillor Mike Layton stressed at Cycle Toronto’s Skill Swap is the need to build a big tent of supporters including residents (and resident associations), businesses (and business improvement areas), students, academia, and community groups. If you can get some drivers on board, even better. It is very difficult to argue against such a broad coalition, which is one of the reasons why city council approved the Bloor Street bike lane pilot project by a 38-3 margin in May and will be installed in August.
Travel and learn from other cities – Visiting Amsterdam and other European cities can provide unique inspiration (e.g. protected intersections, bicycle parking garages, raised cycle tracks). However, it is also possible to learn from cities closer to home such as Vancouver, Ottawa, and New York City.
Develop future leaders - In order to enable idea sharing across ward groups and provide training to newer advocates, Cycle Toronto started hosting their annual Skill Swaps in fall 2013. These workshops covered topics such as running meetings, making deputations, and managing social media. It is also an opportunity for advocates to get the latest planning updates and provide feedback to the city’s Cycling Unit.
Prepare for the long haul – With the new bike plan deferring most major corridor studies until 2018 and the recently approved Road Safety Plan leaving pedestrian and cycling advocates wanting more, it is necessary to keep advocates engaged over the long haul. Especially given projects are always at risk of being delayed or abandoned.
While the Bloor pilot project victory helped change the tone on cycling at Toronto city council, the road safety plan and support for controversial projects such as rebuilding the Gardiner Expressway serve as reminders more needs to be done to make this change permanent. Cycling advocates have the obligation to regularly hold their elected officials accountable in ensuring the new Cycling Network Plan succeeds in making a Toronto that is truly safe for all road users.
Robert Zaichkowski is an accountant and the Co-Captain of the Cycle Toronto Ward 14 Advocacy Group. He maintains a cycling blog called “Two Wheeled Politics”, which can be viewed at twowheelpoli.blogspot.ca.