July 21, 2016

Cycling Towards Climate Optimism

Over the past twelve months, Cycle Toronto and advocates across the city were hard at work with the Bloor Loves Bikes campaign, which gained support from over 9300 residents, dozens of local businesses, and residents’ associations. One group which contributed significantly to the successful pilot project vote on May 4, 2016 is the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). I interviewed Gideon Forman – their Climate Change and Transportation Policy Analyst – to learn more about the DSF’s campaign efforts and environmental leadership in general.
Yonge Loves Bikes ride in June 2016

RZ: During the Bloor Loves Bikes campaign, the David Suzuki Foundation cited “climate optimism” to justify their support. What does that mean?
GF: With the perception of climate change being a large and urgent issue, it can be easy for activists to get dispirited. Climate optimism is about showing people there are things they can do to make a difference in their communities and victories to celebrate. The Bloor pilot project is one such project which leads to climate optimism and can reduce the number of vehicles and emissions.

RZ: Aside from climate change, what prompted DSF to support Bloor Loves Bikes and how did they contribute to the campaign?
GF: While climate did play a big role, we wanted to get people to spend time outdoors and help protect nature, while reducing screen time.

We let local advocates such as Yvonne Bambrick, Albert Koehl, and Jared Kolb take the lead and helped amplify their voices while not dominating. With social media, we helped the campaign reach a community of hundreds of thousands of people. Along with Cycle Toronto and Bells on Bloor, we met with individual councillors, made deputations at city hall, and contributed commentary to the Toronto Star.

RZ: In a November 2015 blog post, DSF mentioned a larger campaign to support bike lanes in Ontario cities. What is happening outside of Toronto?
GF: We are starting with Toronto, given it is our home base and it is an important place which can serve as a model for others. We are planning to meet with the province to support their climate change plan proposal for increased cycling infrastructure funding. We are also happy to support bike lanes in other Canadian cities. 

RZ: What other issues is DSF working on that are relevant to Torontonians?

GF: Our other primary issue is building public transit, given the need to reduce transportation greenhouse gas emissions. While Toronto has lots of transit plans, it needs new revenue tools in order to pay for them.

Three revenue tools we support are a commercial parking levy, vehicle registration tax, and alcohol taxes which could generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year. There is more openness to revenue tools now than previously and would serve as incentives to drive less.

RZ: What are your thoughts on environmental leadership in Canada?
GF: I am excited about the federal level with their $2 billion per year commitment over ten years for public transit; covering 50% of funding for qualifying projects.

Ontario’s new climate change plan covers diverse topics including retrofitting homes, heating, and electric vehicles. Alberta is planning to phase out their coal fired plants. While efforts vary by province, the convergence in Toronto across all three levels of government is a positive sign.

RZ: What can ordinary citizens do to demonstrate environmental leadership?

GF: The first main action is to reduce your carbon footprint with measures such as turning down the heat in colder months, driving less, and replacing incandescent light bulbs. More measures can be found on our website. The second main action is citizens need to engage their elected officials to ensure they act on climate change.

RZ: What is next for DSF in Toronto?
GF: The David Suzuki Foundation is in the process of co-ordinating with local advocates on promoting bike lanes on Danforth Avenue. On Yonge Street, we are focused on the portion south of Bloor Street, which saw an environmental assessment recently launched. Yonge is known for safety issues such as taxis cutting off cyclists, but bike lanes there can bring a win-win-win situation.

We voiced support for lower speed limits and believe the Road Safety Plan is a good first step, but more needs to be done. We need lower speeds across the city.
Group photo after the Yonge Loves Bikes ride
Speaking about bike lanes on Danforth and Yonge, Cycle Toronto launched the Yonge Loves Bikes pledge last week, which you can sign at https://www.cycleto.ca/yonge-loves-bikes. The Danforth Loves Bikes pledge is still collecting signatures and can be found at https://www.cycleto.ca/danforth-loves-bikes.

Bike positively!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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