September 14, 2023

Community Bicycle Network with Adrian Currie

When it comes to cycling advocacy in Toronto, groups such as Cycle Toronto and Community Bikeways come to mind today. However, Toronto’s cycling advocacy story goes back further with Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists starting in 1996 (see my interviews with Geoff and Nancy), while Community Bicycle Networks (CBN) dates further back to 1993. CBN ran a community bike shop, a predecessor to today’s Bike Share Toronto, and hosted events like the Toronto Vintage Bicycle Show before shutting down in 2017. I spoke with Adrian Currie – who was on CBN’s board from 2002 to 2017 – to learn more.

RZ: How did CBN’s BikeShare work?
AC: BikeShare had about 150 bikes at 25 to 30 different stops such as community centres and libraries throughout the city. There was one located at 519 Church which I went to the first time since I was living at Jarvis and Wellesley at the time. That was what introduced me to CBN.

CBN Bike Share booth from 2012 (Via Adrian Currie)

BikeShare costed $25 a year for a membership and it works just like the Toronto Public Library. You show up to a location, show your membership card to take out a bike, and then you could reserve a bike for up to two days. You keep it with you, lock it up at home, ride it around the city, and bring it back to another location. We had late fees to make sure people didn’t keep it for a week, but they were reasonable.

RZ: Which advocacy campaigns did CBN play a role with?
AC: At the time before I was chair of CBN, I sat on the Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee. First, it was chaired by Olivia Chow and then by Mike Layton when he revived the committee after being disbanded by Rob Ford in 2011. We helped secure bicycle racks on buses and GO trains. I remember going to the Wilson TTC yard with a group and the engineers mentioned they couldn’t do it because the buses lined up head to toe with maybe an inch of clearance. They took our recommendations, had a meeting, and came back to us within two to three months saying they would put bike racks on every single bus which was huge. We also petitioned GO Transit to allow bicycles on their trains which Herb Van Den Dool was into. We argued, “you want people to take GO Transit and you want people to ride their bikes, so why not bring your bike on?” They initially refused and we showed the research from other transit agencies across the country and North America, so they eventually agreed after two to three years.

Bikes on GO Trains? You can thank CBN for making this happen.

Through the Cycling Advisory Committee, we worked hard to get the cycle tracks on Richmond and Adelaide and contraflow bike lanes on Shaw Street. The contraflow was a major achievement in which we had a petition addressed to the (Ontario) Ministry of Transportation.

RZ: Tell me how CBN restarted after going dormant in 2008.
AC: In 2008, we had the world financial crisis and our funding dried up. Our community met and there was a vote in December to shut down CBN which I was distraught. Dave Meslin, Yvonne Bambrick, and others wanted it shut down because they had a plan to start Cycle Toronto (then known as the Toronto Cyclists Union). In 2010, Herb Van Den Dool, Geoffrey Bercarich, including some others and I decided to start CBN again after things settled down because it was a great value to the city. Geoff did the mechanical work, Herb did the administrative work, and I was responsible for outreach and volunteering. We hired mechanics including Jerry Lee Miller, recruited more board members, and ramped up our programming.

CBN bike repair at the 2016 Vintage Bike Show (via Adrian Curie)

In 2013 or 2014, we got a $25,000 grant from a tire recycling company which helped significantly pay down our debt which was around $35,000 at that point. We would also put together Christmas parties and other fundraising events – including raffling goods donated by MEC, Curbside, and Sweet Pete’s – to help pay down that debt which ended up being eliminated by the time we closed down in 2017. We also put together the Toronto Vintage Bicycle Show.

RZ: I remember the Vintage Bicycle Show! What was the inspiration behind it?
AC: We started the Vintage Bicycle Show from 2012 to 2017 to encourage the reuse and recycling of vintage bikes instead of tossing them into the landfill. We had on average 16 vendors each year coming as far as Peterborough, Hamilton, and maybe even further to set up shop and sell their wares. We had different sponsors supporting us including the "Courage My Love" clothing store in Kensington (Market). We would get some volunteers to dress up in the clothing and hand out flyers and business cards, had Panago Pizza deliver free pizza, and had people play music who were given an honorarium. It was a proper show that helped expand bike culture in Toronto.

Some old bikes at the 2014 Vintage Bike Show

RZ: When CBN restarted in 2010, how did they differentiate themselves from Cycle Toronto?
AC: Cycle Toronto was the main advocacy group and CBN focused on programming. We did the mechanical workshops, a women’s only bike repair clinic called “Wenches with Wrenches”, bicycle lending, sold used bicycle parts, hosted a speaker series, and organized group rides around the city which all contributed to our focus of expanding cycling culture. By 2012, we had a full board and mechanics which helped us generate surpluses and pay down debt.

Peter Cox at a CBN Speaker Series event in 2012 (via Adrian Currie)

Cycle Toronto borrowed a lot from CBN over the years which is fair given CBN had been around for a long time. They ended up doing more of the programming such as bike valets, group rides, and their main fundraising ride now known as the “Big Toronto Bike Ride”.

RZ: What lead CBN to decide to shut down?
AC: One of our board members said to us during a board meeting that, “one of the signs of a successful not-for-profit is that you work yourself out of existence”. We thought about it and I said it might be time to shut down CBN which took some time to think over and wind down. Cycle Toronto was the main advocacy group – the new 800-pound gorilla in the room – and there were lots of community bike hubs (e.g. BikeSauce, Bike Chain, Bike Pirates, Charlie’s Freewheels) and bike shops like Curbside Cycle and Sweet Pete’s. I was recruited to join Cycle Toronto’s board in 2017 and around that time, I realized CBN had done its job and advanced Toronto’s cycling culture to a point where we didn’t need to exist anymore. Ultimately, we also convinced the City to take on BikeShare.

CBN Holiday Party from December 2014 - Former Councillor Joe Cressy is on the right (via Adrian Currie)

RZ: Was CBN ever involved in the suburbs such as Scarborough, Etobicoke, and North York?
AC: No. I grew up in Scarborough and my family still lives in Scarborough. So, I had that connection, but we just didn't have the capacity. It was hard enough to get traction downtown with bike lanes on Bloor and Richmond-Adelaide. There was a lot of opposition to bike lanes back then. Remember when Jarvis was removed along with Birchmount and Pharmacy in Scarborough? There was an unfair criticism that Cycle Toronto (and CBN) was only downtown focused, but that was where all the advocates were. If you can’t get bike lanes in downtown Toronto, how the f*** are we going to get them in Scarborough?

RZ: How familiar were you with the work CBN (or the broader cycling community) did before 2002?
AC: Expanding cycling culture was always an uphill battle because you had advocates who are environmentalists, who were very left leaning, and other activists while Toronto was a conservative city then. While bike culture did exist, there was a small, core group and successive bike advocates in each generation. I remember looking at documents from the 1980’s and 1970’s of people going on rides and petitioning City Hall. Not-for-profit and for-profit bike shops existed all over Toronto, but there weren’t as many. You’re trying to get that critical mass of getting more people on bikes, getting more cycling infrastructure, and getting the City to support cycling events that grew slowly over time. I remember looking at documents CBN had which had photos of outreach events, bike rides, and holiday parties. All that stuff was still happening – including bike repair, learn-to-ride programs, and bike donation programs – but on a much smaller scale.

RZ: Where do you see the cycling community needs to go to further expand cycling culture?
AC: Cycle Toronto needs to tell its story more because there are a lot of people – even in downtown – who don’t know Cycle Toronto exists. Even though you’re riding bike lanes, using Bike Share, and using bike parking. Cycle Toronto has expanded their rides to the suburbs and revamped their advocacy committee policy to ensure representation from Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke. Same thing with hiring staff.

Adrian Currie (right) is holding the Bike Lanes on Bloor banner during the 2016 victory ride

Bike Share expansion is going well because Cycle Toronto pushed Bike Share to open up stations in Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke. With groups such as Scarborough Cycles – run by Marvin Macaraig – we’re getting more traction in Scarborough. We’re working with people in Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park (which has the Gateway Bike Hub), while some Advocacy Committee members from Etobicoke are also spreading the word. However, Cycle Toronto needs to keep networking and expanding into the suburbs, as well as find a partner to spread the word because they can’t do it on their own.

Cycle Toronto works well with the City to get cycling infrastructure expanded. Our Holy Grail has always been to ensure every time a road would be resurfaced, the City would put in cycling infrastructure. We're almost there and it’s part of the bike plan, but it's not 100%.


  1. Excellent interview. Thanks for posting.

  2. Sarah Gabrielle Baron24/09/2023, 07:16

    Awesome article. It's exciting to see such an impressive catalogue of achievements from focused, cause-oriented citizen organizing.