January 01, 2018

2017 … The Calm Before the Storm

A new year has started which will become pivotal for Toronto’s cycling community. Not only is there October’s municipal election with three new council seats up for grabs and a mayoral rematch between John Tory and Doug Ford, there is the June Ontario election which may see the end of fifteen years of Liberal rule. Before worrying about the coming political storm, let’s take a moment to reflect on 2017.

1 – Winter Cycling Congress
Cycling in Montréal during the Winter Cyling Congress
By far my biggest highlight of 2017 was attending the Winter Cycling Congress in February, which saw over 400 advocates and experts gather in Montréal. My first international cycling conference was an unforgettable chance to learn about data collection (and other fascinating topics), meet like-minded advocates, and experience cycling in Montréal. The Congress was the first time I met legendary urbanist Mikael Colville-Andersen who spoke in Toronto later that month and launched The Life Sized City series.

2 – Ottawa Bike Trip
Ottawa River Valley Trail
Montréal wasn’t the only large city I crossed off my cycling bucket list in 2017. It was also the first time I biked in Ottawa. With its impressive trail network and a cohesive network of protected bike lanes, it has the potential to unseat Montréal as North America’s cycling champion. However, getting around during race weekend was a bit challenging.

3 – Victory on Bloor
2016 Bells on Bloor Victory Ride
No cycling top ten post can be complete without the successful campaign to make the Bloor bike lanes permanent. It was a fight forty years in the making which brought together veteran advocates like Bells on Bloor founder Albert Koehl, Cycle Toronto, David Suzuki Foundation, and Councillors Mike Layton and Joe Cressy. All six residents’ associations and two BIA’s (Bloor-Annex and Mirvish Village) supported the bike lanes. Now let’s extend the bike lanes west and east!

4 – Kyle Ashley
PEO Kyle Ashley (centre) with Erin Urquhart and Sabrina Kloetzig
If there was one person who changed the cycling conversation this year, it’s Parking Enforcement Officer Kyle Ashley. Until his Twitter was shut down in November, he set out to ticket bike lane offenders and shame them on social media. Companies such as Beck Taxi and Canada Post pledged to stop parking in bike lanes, while Kyle raised $3500 for Cycle Toronto’s Ride for Safe Streets and deputed in support of the Bloor bike lanes at October’s public works meeting. Don't forget to sign this petition to #BringBackKyle.

5 – Deadly Streets
Memorial ride for five-year-old Xavier Morgan
Per Ben Spurr’s Toronto Star article on December 26, 2017 saw 46 vulnerable road users (VRU) killed – 42 pedestrians and 4 cyclists – including five-year-old Xavier Morgan who fell off his bike on the Martin Goodman Trail in May. This exceed the 44 VRU deaths – 43 pedestrians and 1 cyclist – from 2016, which at the time was the worst year for road violence in over a decade. So much for Vision Zero. ☹

6 – Woodbine Bike Lanes
September opening of the Woodbine bike lanes
August saw the first protected bike lanes installed east of the Don River on Woodbine Avenue. It was subject to a fierce bikelash with thousands signing a petition to remove them within weeks of installation. However, they made a difference for my summer bike commute (and for many others), which can now be done almost exclusively by bike lanes. Too bad Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon – who championed the Woodbine bike lanes and has called for the same on Danforth Avenue – won’t be seeking re-election.

7 – New Provincial Funding
Etobicoke got its first bike share station in August 2017
December saw the Ontario government announce $93 million in cycling funding, of which Toronto will get $25.6 million. Part of this funding will build on recent expansions to Bike Share Toronto so the service will ultimately have 6000 bikes (currently 2750 bikes), while the remainder will be used to build out Toronto’s bike plan. For the June provincial election, let’s hold candidates of all parties accountable to make sure they do not jeopardize this provincial cycling program, despite Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown’s pledge to scrap the cap and trade program. (NOTE: The Federal Government’s carbon tax still applies.)

8 – National Cycling Strategy

This year saw a renewed push for a National Cycling Strategy thanks to Canada Bikes and politicians such as NDP MP Gord Johns and Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin. A petition was launched in support of this strategy, which focuses on areas such as health, education, economy, tourism, and infrastructure.

9 – King Street Pilot
King Street Pilot at Simcoe Street
One non-cycling highlight which deserves a mention is the King Street Pilot, which helped improve the flow of streetcars used by 65,000 passengers daily. Motor vehicles are forced to turn right at most intersections from Bathurst to Jarvis Streets, while cyclists can ride straight through and use left turn bike boxes at Peter and Simcoe Streets. Plans for public realm improvements such as parkettes and patio seating are in the works later this year, while business concerns remain to be addressed. Let’s get more of these pilot projects in place for transit and bicycle users to help move Toronto into the 21st century!

10 – Flooding
Flooded road on the Toronto Islands near Gibraltar Point
Normally, the summer months bring in a lot of people riding bikes on the Toronto Islands. Unfortunately, record rainfalls in May lead to the worst flooding in decades and the Islands closed to the public until July 31. Businesses such as the Island Café suffered losses from the reduced operating season, while flooding affected other parts of southern Ontario including the Waterfront Trail by the Rouge River and the Ottawa River Trail behind Parliament Hill. Time for Toronto to fund its TransformTO climate action plan.

Looking Forward

The year ahead will bring more challenges including getting bike lanes on Yonge Street in North York – subject to votes at the public works committee (January) and city council (February) – and holding the city accountable for the slow bike plan progress. More than ever, advocates need to work together to ensure the City accelerates the road safety plan and get as many bike friendly politicians elected as possible.

Happy New Year!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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