January 06, 2014

Combining Cycling with Political Advocacy

Happy New Year, Heal4Life!

If there is one organization which combines two of my favourite activities, those being political advocacy and cycling, it’s Cycle Toronto. It’s a membership driven organization with over 2300 members advocating for a healthy, safe, bike friendly community. On September 4, 2013, I interviewed Laura Pin, who has volunteered with Cycle Toronto’s Street Smarts Program for two and a half years and is the captain of the Ward 14 Advocacy Group in Parkdale High Park, which she helped reinstate. She was named Ward Advocate of the Year at the Toronto Bike Awards on November 26, 2013.

RZ: How do ward advocacy groups contribute to City Hall and cycling in Toronto?
LP: Ward advocacy groups establish a direct link between Cycle Toronto and their respective city councillors. They also fill in a communication gap with council and staff by providing a community perspective on cycling, as well as focus on side streets and local projects, which often get overlooked.

RZ: Tell me briefly how the Street Smarts program works.
LP: Street Smarts has two components, those being outreach and education. Outreach consists of bike valets at special events and tune up Tuesdays, while the education component involves workshops at schools and libraries. Workshops help provide hands-on experience working with bicycles, and discuss topics such as how to ride a bicycle, rules of the road, equipment, and safety. During Bike Month, the Street Smarts program hosts workshops at workplaces all over the Greater Toronto Area in partnership with Smart Commute.

RZ: In your opinion, which three cycling campaigns do you feel are the most important to Ward 14?
LP: Infrastructure, Infrastructure, and Infrastructure! This is because I believe it is the root of many other problems cyclists face such as the lack of route continuity, poor design, and conflict between cyclists and drivers. There are no bike lanes in Ward 14, yet it has the second highest share of cycle commuters in Toronto after neighbouring Ward 19 in Trinity-Spadina.

RZ: And what about key campaigns impacting Toronto at large?
LP: Two of Cycle Toronto’s key campaigns are expansion of the BIXI bike share program and establishing a separated bike lane network. Bike share programs are part of world class cities and help make cycling accessible. The program is currently breaking even, but it has been slow repaying its capital debt, which has stalled expansion. With BIXI, Cycle Toronto is calling on the city to take over and expand the program.

Regarding separated bike lanes, Cycle Toronto has worked on this with Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) chair Denzil Minnan-Wong. They are a catalyst to increasing cycling due to their improved safety. These lanes have already been installed on Sherbourne, which will be followed by those on the Wellesley-Hoskin-Harbord and Richmond-Adelaide corridors.
NOTE: Since this interview, Toronto City Council passed a motion to purchase BIXI and there are plans to increase the number of stations from 80 to 102 in 2014.(1)

RZ: Aside from community campaigns, ward groups, and workshops, how else does Cycle Toronto promote cycling?
LP: Cycle Toronto directly engages in political advocacy and works to make sure cyclists are included in broader projects like the Eglinton Crosstown. Cycle Toronto also provides a vital link for cyclists wishing to get involved by issuing action alerts letting cyclists know when important issues are coming before Council, PWIC, and/or the Executive Committee.

RZ: Is there a final message you would like to give to cyclists in Toronto?
LP: I believe cycling is a critical, but often neglected, part of the solution to many of Toronto’s major challenges such as traffic congestion, an inactive population, high living costs, air pollution, etc. And cycling is a lot of fun too. Unfortunately, Toronto isn’t always the most pleasant place to cycle and that needs to change. I would tell cyclists to have confidence that they belong on the roads, and we can work together to build a city that is more supportive of active transportation.

Given cycling is a viable alternative to automobiles and public transit, municipal governments should recognize this fact by improving cycling infrastructure. Unfortunately, Toronto has been falling behind other cities such as New York, Montréal, and Vancouver on this issue and even has the dubious honour of removing bike lanes such as those on Jarvis Street in 2012.(2) Toronto cyclists should get involved by joining Cycle Toronto at http://www.cycleto.ca/join and contacting their city councillors. This will especially be important this year with October's municipal election. Elsewhere, Vancouver has HUB and Montréal recently started Coalition vélo de Montréal.

Last, but not least, I included a few pictures to demonstrate how Cycle Toronto gets involved in the community.
Bells on Bloor - May 2013
Lansdowne Phantom Bike Lane Ride - October 2013
Performers at Toronto Bike Awards - November 2013
Ward Advocates of the Year - Laura Pin, Liz Sutherland, and Burns Wattie
Bike on!
Rob Z (e-mail)


(1) Dean Campbell. Canadian Cycling Magazine. “Pan Am plans include Bixi expansion.” http://cyclingmagazine.ca/sections/news/pan-am-plans-include-bixi-expansion/
(2) Kelly Grant. The Globe and Mail. “Toronto’s Jarvis bike lanes to be removed by end of year.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/torontos-jarvis-bike-lanes-to-be-removed-by-end-of-year/article4583591/

No comments:

Post a Comment