Sunday, July 08, 2007

Cycling in Toronto -- Next Steps

The web log "I bike TO" has started some interesting discussions of our ultimate goals; imagining what the streets of Toronto should ultimately look like, and how they should ultimately work. I would like to start with a more modest goal: imagining what our next steps will look like. What do we need to do this year, and between now and 2010?

Building Critical Mass

Eight years ago, I stood on the street in Amsterdam and watched hundreds of cyclists rolling through an intersection. I thought then: the Dutch have passed the tipping point. Cyclists in Amsterdam have the numbers, to dominate not only the streets, but the perception of the streets. To a resident of Amsterdam, Rob Ford's "Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks." must seem self-evidently absurd.

So how do we get past that tipping point? In a culture saturated in car advertisements, where car columnists can speak about speeding as "not the problem", how do we turn this corner. In fact, nobody can guarantee we ever will.

Not one to go down without a comment, or a fight, I will propose four measures to support right now to get the bicycle commuters, the bicycle shoppers, and the Sunday cyclists out on the road.

  1. We need safe bicycle routes. That means bicycle routes safe from aggressive drivers, but also safe from muggers and rapists. We need lit, monitored cycle paths. We need more bicycle lanes, if lanes attract more cyclists and help keep them safe. We need more effective education for motorists on the need to share the road. We need sharrows on every street in the city.

  2. We need year-round bicycle routes. A fellow parishioner of mine told me his bicycles wear out in two years because he rides them in winter. The combination of salt slathered on roads, bicycle paths with "No Winter Maintenance" signs, and the inevitable hazards of winter add up to a potent, and toxic, combination of factors steering people away from winter cycling. I believe we need to designate winter bicycle routes along side streets, where we can avoid salt in favor of plowing. I believe we need to get the city to commit to keeping selected cycling routes open all year.

  3. We need public transit to accommodate bicyclists, not just when the TTC or GO finds it convenient to have cyclists aboard, but all of the time.

  4. We need to reach out.

    • We need to reach the thousands of unorganized cyclists in this city. Almost two thirds of the population of Toronto cycles; we need to make sure they know that by riding more, and by getting involved in the politics of this city, we can make our rides easier and safer.

    • We need to reach out to racialized and immigrant communities. We need to make the economic and health benefits of doing without cars clear to everyone in Toronto, and we need to hear what other communities need to make car-free transportation work for them.

I do not propose these things as our ultimate goals, merely as the next steps toward which we should organize. But I believe that as we begin to achieve these goals, we will move close to a bicycle friendly city, one which has broken the car addiction.

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