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Ron Dembo


Cycling in Toronto: Why Can't We Get it Right?

Posted: 10/17/2013 1:29 pm

A big truck screams by me and I can't help thinking of the poor woman who got crunched by a truck while riding on her bicycle on Spadina Avenue yesterday. Having ridden up that poorly designed strip many times and been scraped by large SUVs, almost mowed down by TTC buses, driving like they owned the road, I relive the scene -- those final moments when a healthy person, a life, a family goes from one state to another. I picture the terrible scene over and over -- there but for the grace of god go I.

Last week I was in New York and the astounding thing is that it is much, much safer to ride a bike in Manhattan than it is to ride in Toronto -- hard to imagine! I remember the New York in the '70s and '80s and my crazy friend was one of the few bike riders in the city -- you could count them on one hand. New Yorkers were bragging about their new bike-sharing program. It is essentially Bixi with different colours.They did it right. First they built bike lanes and then launched bike sharing. We launched bike sharing and have no real bike lanes. We should have put up signs advertising "assisted suicide -- only $5 a day."

The amazing thing is that we have a pent up, unsatisfied demand for cycling. And what a good thing that is -- less pollution, less noise, healthier population, less congestion, less carbon and happier people. So why can't we get it right? Where is our Janette Sadik-Kahn, New York's spectacular Commissioner of Transportation? Where is the amazing group of managers that Mayor Bloomberg put together to transform his city?

While we rip up, at great cost, the one real bike lane that was created and sit and debate whether to build a subway or LRT for the 47th time, bikers are getting killed and congestion becomes unbearable. We should hire Janette and take our councillors to Copenhagen on a bike tour where 40 per cent of commuters use bikes.

So, as I buckle up my helmet and get on my bike, forever optimistic, I can't wait for the day, here in Toronto, when I meet the granny who rode to Copenhagen's Airport on a cold snowy day so that she could help delegates to the UN Climate Change talks with their transportation.

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  • Calgary

    Calgary scores <a href="http://blogs.calgaryherald.com/2012/05/15/new-bike-score-shows-strengths-and-weaknesses-of-calgarys-pathway-network/" target="_hplink">high in the inner city, older suburbs and northeast region</a>, thanks to its multiuse pathways.

  • Charlottetown

    While the prettiness of cruising Charlottetown on a bike is a real draw for tourists, it looks like only the very downtown core has any true 'bikeability' - <a href="http://spacingatlantic.ca/2011/06/14/connecting-the-dots-mapping-charlottetowns-cycling-infrastructure/" target="_hplink">Spacing magazine noted this could be due to the lack of connections between pathways</a>, and the lack of a usable map for visitors.

  • Halifax

    Halifax and nearby Dartmouth showed a similar pattern to other cities -- while the downtown areas had great 'bikeability', as you leave the core, it becomes more difficult. In the past, columnists have <a href="http://www.thecoast.ca/halifax/cycling-frustration/Content?oid=1663033" target="_hplink">complained about the lack of cycling infrastructure</a>, including paths and places to lock bikes.

  • Moncton

    Only a very small swath of land in Moncton is deemed bikeable -- <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/story/2011/07/18/nb-bike-lanes-moncton-kingston-139.html" target="_hplink">the city has had struggles when trying to enact a more bike-friendly attitude</a> and infrastructure.

  • St. John's

    Virtually unbikeable, the hills in St. John's make it difficult terrain to navigate by bike -- Newfoundland in general had <a href="http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2006/as-sa/97-561/table/t3c-eng.cfm" target="_hplink">the lowest rate of people who commute by bicycle in the country</a>, according to the most recent statistics. That, however, hasn't stopped the city from <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2010/07/27/cycling-plan-stjohns-council-727.html" target="_hplink">attempting to create a cycling plan that works for everyone</a>.

  • Saskatoon

    With its flat lands, Saskatoon lends itself nicely to cycling, and in fact, scored <a href="http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/programs/environment-utsp-casestudy-cs77ebikeplanning-1177.htm" target="_hplink">second-place for cities where commuters bike to work</a>. It also has an extensive cycling network in development, with <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/story/2009/07/28/bike-lanes.html" target="_hplink">new paths and lanes being added all the time</a>.

  • Montreal

    It makes sense that <a href="https://montreal.bixi.com/" target="_hplink">the original home of Bixi bikes</a> would do so well on the cycling scale. Montreal's relatively flat terrain and condensed size -- not to mention its bike paths and Bixi stations -- earned it <a href="http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1915050_1915041_1915033,00.html" target="_hplink">a place on Time Magazine's Top 10 Urban Bike Trips list</a>.

  • Toronto

    Toronto's size plays a major factor in its bikeability -- bike-friendly areas are scattered throughout the city, but there are plenty of places where bikes still dare not go. And despite a much-publicized '<a href="http://www.theworld.org/2012/05/war-on-the-streets-of-toronto-motorists-vs-cyclists/" target="_hplink">war on cyclists</a>,' there are <a href="http://bikingtoronto.com/maps/bikelanes/" target="_hplink">plenty of sites</a> and <a href="http://www.ibiketo.ca" target="_hplink">people advocating for better resources</a>.

  • Vancouver

    Vancouver scores very high on the bike-friendly index, thanks to the topography, bike lanes, and the difficult-to-qualify-but-still-important bike culture. It has a ways to go though -- <a href="http://vancouver.openfile.ca/blog/vancouver/2012/vancouvers-bike-score-heat-map-shows-city-one-canadas-most-bikeable" target="_hplink">northern Europe does better than every Canadian city on the map</a>.

  • Victoria

    Victoria was right up alongside Vancouver in terms of bikeability, and <a href="http://www.gvcc.bc.ca/" target="_hplink"> its strong Cycling Coalition and "Cycling Master Plan"</a> make it easy to see why.


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