No One Likes Head Winds – Cycling Advocacy in Ontario

As I was riding home from work last week, I found myself riding into a steady head wind which forced me to ride in first gear.  I must admit that I really don’t like head winds and I hate feeling like I am not getting anywhere. 

I came to realize that where cycling policy in Ontario is concerned that cycling advocates have been riding in a steady head wind for years.  As a politician in a decision making capacity and now working hard to be a cycling commuter, I really am starting to see all of the opportunity we have to make significant improvements for cyclists here inWaterloo. 

I spoke in an earlier blog about the trail closure in Hillside Park and promised to return to the conversation.  Well as frustrating as the closure is, it facilitated a discussion with City Staff related to the need to recognize the requirement to maintain trail connections during construction and highlighted the fact that trails are not necessarily for recreation, but also for commuting and transportation.  Certainly you would not close a road in this manner.  This closure helped to raise the awareness of our trail system to staff and Council and will form the basis for a policy related to maintaining trail connections during construction in the future. 

As we are all well aware, there are significant challenges inWaterloo related to East West Connections over the Expressway. I have explored crossing at University (terrifying), Lexington(do able), and Northfield(a bit scary).  The City is undertaking an Environmental Assessment related to road improvements on Lexington and all of the preferred alternatives consider on-road cycling infrastructure by way of a dedicated lane.  City Staff, our Transportation and Trail Committee and I have been in conversation with the Region of Waterloo and the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) regarding improvements on Northfield.  With the LRTcoming through in the future and the need to reconstruct that roadway at that time, significant improvements to the overpass will likely have to wait. I don’t see much opportunity to makeUniversity Avenue more cycling friendly, but trying to find an alternative across the expressway near University is on the agenda for the City Transportation and Trail Committee.  I have come to understand that the MTO has the first and last say in anything related to the Expressway.  I hope that the soon to be released coroner’s report on cycling deaths inOntariowill help to lead a change where MTO holdings are concerned.

To all of my cycling friends I say, thank you for riding in the head wind for so long. Valued change takes time and the changes that have occurred are valued by new cyclists like me and those that will follow in my footsteps.  Please know that even in first gear, you have made a difference and you have moved the cycling conversation ahead.

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Seeking Inspiration –2012 Ontario Bike Summit

April 24 and 25, 2012 I attended the Ontario Bike Summit in Toronto.  In talking about the Bike Summit I have to point out that the First Summit was hosted in the City of Waterloo 4 years ago.

The summit is delivered by the Share-the-Road Coalition (www.sharetheroad.ca).  It attracts amazing speakers to come and educate and inspire Ontarians interested in supporting cycling and active transportation.  In 4 short years Share-the-Road has moved the conversation around cycling from what some might describe as radical to mainstream.  They have changed the game for police through the passing of Greg’s Law which allows police to take immediate action to impound vehicles of drivers stopped under a suspended license.  It was one such driver that killed a cyclist and OPP officer Greg Stobbert.  As well, in partnership with the Bicycle Trade Association of Canada (BTAC) and the League of American Cyclists Share-the-Road has brought the highly successful Bicycle Friendly Communities program to Ontario.

On the first day of the summit Andreas Rohl, Manager City of Copenhagen Bicycle Program, delivered a keynote entitled “the stick, the carrot and the tambourines” a case for cycling; to the summit attendees.  I suspect I was not the only one in the room who may have rolled their eyes and thought we are so far behind, how can we, in Ontario, actually implement lessons from the cycling mecca of Copenhagen.  Mr. Rohl was amazing! He provided so many “do-able” recommendations that I could not write fast enough to capture all of the information he shared.  The following are some of the take-aways for me:

  • The mind shift – there are no cyclists in Copenhagen.  There are citizens who ride bikes to get about.  Cycling is like brushing your teeth, it is just something people do
  • Copenhagen mode share: 39% Bike; 4% Walk; 28% Bus; 31% Car.  The mass mode of transit is the bicycle;
  • Cycling infrastructure is designed on major streets for 35,000 bike trips per day
  • 5 km is the average commute for 70% of citizens
  • Climate is very similar to Toronto with seasons including snow
  • The shift to cycling occurred in the 1970’s when citizens demonstrated by the 1,000’s asking for politicians to stop building wider roads and start building cycling infrastructure
  • Copenhagen spends 15-20 million/year or $25 per citizen on cycling infrastructure
  • Cycling infrastructure is so less expensive than roads that the savings support other critical infrastructure such as library and recreational services
  • The financial effect of improved health from cycling results in a society gain of 0.22/km; the loss for car use is $0.12/km
  • Cost to build a separated cycling lane is 1.9 million/km versus 3.2 million/km for a car lane
  • Why do people cycle?  56% quick and easy; 21% exercise; 12% cheap and 1% environmentally friendly
  • Congestion promotes cycling
  • Related to Infrastructure: Look for ways to make cycling a preferred choice
  • Cycle parking is critical
  • Cyclists have more money
  • All taxis have cycling racks
  • Build corridors all the way from point A to B even when it hurts, even when there is opposition, even when it is the tough choice.

There are many more thoughts he shared but the one that really resonated with me was this.  If he was starting over, what would he do differently?  Andreas said “do not think of cycling safety” because it drives the suspicion that cycling is not safe.  His analogy is this: if I say don’t think of an elephant you will think of an elephant right?  Constant discussion around safety is the elephant in the room related to cycling.  Build the infrastructure and provide clarity on how to share the road. 

I believe if we build it, they will come…..(quote from the movie Field of Dreams)