April 11, 2018

A Pedal Powered Time Capsule

Back in July 2015, Bikes vs Cars launched in Toronto which highlighted the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes, memorial rides, and the late Rob Ford. However, it wasn’t the first film that discussed cycling in Toronto. During last month’s library book sale, I found a copy of Pedal Power from 2009 which served as a time capsule of cycling ten years ago.

Unlike Bikes vs Cars, Pedal Power is more uniquely focused on bikes and covered some themes other films may have overlooked. The film starts with a focus on bike theft and “Planet Igor”; Igor Kenk’s second-hand bike shop on Queen Street West near Trinity Bellwoods Park. The Toronto Police arrested Kenk in 2008 and seized almost 3000 bikes; making him one of the world’s most infamous bike thieves. The film discussed a case of a Toronto woman who had her bike stolen and was told to go to Planet Igor; something other victims of bike theft did at the time to try to recover their bikes … for a price. Despite this reputation, Kenk kept detailed records of bikes brought to his shop for three weeks prior to resale and a New York Times article cited his tendency to give jobs to street people and to those with mental health problems.

Critical mass rides – which take place on the last Friday of the month – are virtually non-existent in Toronto today, but attracted large crowds back then. There was even a Halloween themed ride; something not done since Cycle Toronto’s Ward 14 and 18 groups organized the Lansdowne Phantom Bike Lane Ride back in 2013. (Time for a revival, folks?) The Critical Mass segment featured Geoffrey Bercarich of Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists, while the fight for bike lanes on Bloor led by Angela Bischoff and Hamish Wilson at the time also got a shout out. For a publicity stunt, Bischoff and Wilson rolled out a bike lane in front of City Hall with 5,800 signatures in support of the bike lanes.

The film gave a reminder how certain issues back then such as collisions, frustrated drivers, and business resistance to bike lanes – including Annette at the time – still haunt Toronto’s road safety advocates today. One of the frustrated drivers interviewed accurately captured the hypocrisy they express. He used the tired excuse of cyclists disobeying the laws such as sidewalk riding on Dupont which has bike lanes as justification for opposing them, yet claimed cyclists need to be on separate roads from drivers.

Outside of Toronto, the film discussed Vancouver’s bike to work day and cargo bike riding, protected bike lanes in New York City and Montréal, bike share programs in Paris and Montréal, and Amsterdam’s white bike program. Toronto didn’t get bike share nor “protected” bike lanes until 2011 and 2012, respectively, while New York’s Transportation Alternatives held a transportation challenge which saw a bicycle rider get around faster than subway and taxi riders. I was disappointed the New York segments didn’t give credit to Janette Sadik-Khan who spearheaded that city’s rapid installation of 600 kilometres of bike lanes from 2007 to 2013. As for Amsterdam, the film didn’t note the “Stop de Kindermoord” movement.

Official trailer for Pedal Power

The film ended full circle with the female bike theft victim successfully recovering her bike when the police invited the public to review the seized bicycles, as well as a cheesy song about two wheels being better than four. While the film covered several key issues including bike theft, road safety, and best practices around the world, there was no mention of do-it-yourself bicycle clinics (e.g. Bike Pirates, Bike Sauce) nor the perennial problem of motor vehicles parked in bike lanes. Even so, Pedal Power gave a good throwback to Toronto’s cycling scene ten years ago and provided a reminder of how far we have come today, while many challenges still lie ahead.

Pedal away!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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