July 07, 2022

Riding Toronto with Mayor John Bauters – Part 2

On Sunday, July 3, about 70 cyclists joined Mayor John Bauters of Emeryville, California for a ride around Toronto including on Yonge Street. After the ride and some ice cream, I had the chance to interview Mayor Bauters to learn more about Emeryville and his thoughts on cycling in Toronto and other cities.

RZ: You got to bike around Toronto with the Bike Brigade yesterday and today’s ride down Yonge. What were your thoughts of cycling in this city?

JB: There are a lot of good things going on, but I witnessed a lot of speeding and cutting off of cyclists over the last few days here. A little more than what I experienced in other cities, but the people here are among the friendliest that I have encountered. Tons of people turned out for this ride which was very socially engaging and got lots of positive feedback from pedestrians and others we met along the way. I feel Toronto has a real opportunity to do more to make the city more accessible and people friendly. You got a lot of geographic space and urban density you can build off of.

RZ: What were your experiences biking in other cities such as Boston and New York?

JB: Every city is different. The cities in the Boston area are so old that the roads are kind of convoluted and not grid oriented like in downtown Toronto. There are a lot of historic buildings in Boston and New York which make the changing landscape a little more subtle. Toronto is much more dynamic in terms of its growth, while New York has a lot of growth in a different way.

In New York, there is a lot more awareness of pedestrians, more transit options, and more people trying to use alternatives. So drivers there are a little more cautious than here. There is a need to further develop the network for people using alternatives to cars and for greater awareness to change the dynamic here.

RZ: You talked about affordable housing in a recent social media clip. Why is housing connected to other issues we face here in North America?

JB: Affordable housing is actually the primary reason why I ran for office. Developing dense housing in urban cores is really key to affordability along with creating greater social equity and community equitability. If you build cities only for people of certain economic access or status, you are not building a community, but rather a compound. Housing affordability goes a long way because lower income people are more likely not to own a car for economic reasons, while they are more likely to support transit and use bicycles. Especially if you build affordable housing close to transit and develop alongside – or build in conjunction with – active transportation spaces.

The idea that affordable housing has to go in certain parts of the city; those are people that need to access the same amenities that people in market housing can access. I think it’s an important component of active transportation advocacy that cannot be overlooked. I know a lot of people who speak English as a second language or who work in minimum wage or service industry jobs who bicycle and you don’t see on these kind of rides. There’s the question of are we equitably including and lifting up the voices of service workers and other people who should be able to get to their jobs safely in our communities too.

RZ: I know Not Just Bikes did a good video recently on why transit (and cycling) planning needs to go hand in hand with land use planning. What one thing can Toronto do to make their city better?

JB: I can use the old Midwestern term “Pave your roads!” Even car drivers would agree with me on that one. Beyond that, I don’t know if Toronto has a bike plan. Is there one in place?

RZ: Yes there is. In December 2021, City Council passed their three year plan which calls for 100 kilometres (62 miles) of bike lanes. This plan aims to extend the Bloor bike lanes to Kipling and those on Danforth to (and along) Kingston Road, plus a few other arterials. It was unfortunate this ride didn’t use more of Bloor-Danforth because you now have an almost 10 mile (16 kilometre) continuous route.

JB: I did ride along Bloor yesterday when I joined the Toronto Bike Brigade to do community fridge fillings. I thought Bloor was really good, but there were spaces where there’s opportunities for cars to permeate into the bike lane. These spaces should be hardened, but I thought it was a really good example of what can be done well.

RZ: Do you know if there are protected intersections in Emeryville or elsewhere in the Bay area?

JB: There are some now. A city in the East Bay that has done them really well is Fremont. Walnut Avenue has curb level cycle tracks and fully integrated protected intersections that include bike paths going through protected island spaces.

Protected intersection on Walnut Avenue in Fremont, CA (via Google Street View)

We are working with the Alameda County Transportation Commission which approved a countywide 425 mile (680 kilometre) corridors plan for bicycles. This year, we are beginning to develop bike design guidelines so that all cities that would apply for new infrastructure funding would have the goal of universally approved design guidelines. The treatments would be consistent throughout the whole county as opposed to now I’m in a protected bike lane, now I’m in a painted bike lane, now I’m in a car sewer.

RZ: I know Toronto got their first protected intersection a few months ago and have dozens more being planned. Which other cities are you planning to bike around this year?

JB: I’ve been to Portland, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Toronto, Chicago, and Houston. My hope is to do Dallas – I have an invite to go there – and Seattle by the end of the year. I biked Vancouver and Minneapolis extensively in the past, so I kind of done those. I have a bunch of people ask me to come to Orlando. We’ll see, but I haven’t finalized it.

It’s not like I have a plan, but in this case, I am travelling for work in Boston and New York, and just chose to add Toronto to the trip. I never been to Toronto, but been to Canada a hundred times. It was a good chance to meet everybody here and see what you all are doing. I know there will be rides in other cities this year. Don’t necessary know which ones yet.

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