Talking Change: Complete Streets Forum and The Ontario Bike Summit

Conferences bring together big ideas about transportation and cycling

Photos and story by Leila Kent

If enthusiasm and information could make bike infrastructure come into being, the force of ideas exchanged over the last three days would have built Toronto a bespoke bike network. The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT)'s Complete Streets Forum, followed by Share the Road Cycling Coalition's two-day Ontario Bike Summit (OBS) were a whirlwind of expertise, anecdote, and discussion between professionals, advocates, and policy-makers.

There was a lot of information-sharing, but it was data and argument with a practical purpose - because the foundations for bike lanes, public relations campaigns, and changing legislation are built with words. Words exchanged between the right people, at the right times.

Ideas came from Toronto, and around the world. From Dan Burden’s internationally influential advice on creating “walkable cities” at the TCAT Forum, to strategies from the managers of massively successful bike programs in Copenhagen and London presented at the OBS, to reports from around Ontario on how these big ideas are being put to use.

Both Share the Road and TCAT see this as a key time to launch new dialogues, and refresh old ones.

At the Evergreen Brickworks, the TCAT Forum sought to give participants the tools to implement Complete Streets. One of those tools was new data, presented in order to augment the arguments for active transportation.

Monica Campbell, director of Healthy Public Policy, Toronto Public Health, presented evidence from a new public health report on walking and cycling patterns across the city that  quantifies the health benefits of active transportation in comparison to the health costs of inactivity. The report states that due to levels of walking and cycling in core areas of Toronto, 120 deaths are averted each year (due to prevention of chronic diseases) and $110-160 million is saved in direct healthcare  costs. Physical activity levels were shown to be higher in more "walkable" areas, and BMIs were lower (key elements in preventing common chronic diseases like heart disease and type II diabetes).

Campbell also explained that people's desire for their neighbourhoods to become more walkable was distributed around the city - not just in downtown.

Complete Streets Forum participants brave the weather on Bixi bikes

At the OBS, there were concrete updates on the status of a key Toronto cycling project.

Dandyhorse asked Daniel Egan, Manager of Cycling Infrastructure and Programs for the City of Toronto, about the Sherbourne St. Separated Bike Lane Project.  “We’re almost finished the detailed design which will get tendered in the next few weeks. Then when we award the contract, construction should start sometime in July and get finished up in the fall."

“Sherbourne Street for years has been falling apart and waiting to be resurfaced. It’s not an ideal street to start on because it doesn’t have the width to put a proper separation in, but it’s our first attempt at doing something different than a painted bike lane. We’re doing one section of cycle track that’s at the same level as the sidewalk, and one that’s at the same level as the street, so it will give us a chance to see how well those work. On these narrow streets it’s really hard to find space for everybody; the other thing we’ve had to do is remove all the parking on the street - so that’s a first for any of our bike projects.”

With regards to the value of the OBS, Egan noted, “It’s good to learn from other cities and see what’s worked in other places.” He explained that this is especially true in Canada because the information-sharing between our municipalities is much more informal than in the U.S.

After participating in a provincial politics panel at the OBS, Mike Schreiner, leader of the Ontario Green Party, told dandyhorse, "I think it's important that we get some policy ideas on the table and know where people stand." He was joined in the panel by the Conservative MPP John O’Toole (Durham) and the NDP’s transportation critic Jonah Schein (Davenport).

After discussing how Ontario measures up to other jurisdictions, OBS conference delegates had a chance to pass on their thoughts to their MPPs.

At the OBS's first Queen's Park reception, CEO and founder of Share the Road, Eleanor McMahon, presented awards to provincial and federal politicians for their work in bike advocacy. McMahon herself was lauded throughout the Summit for her advocacy work.

The OBS will henceforth be held in Toronto to facilitate the aim of influencing the hub of provincial politics.

Highlights from the Complete Streets Forum here

From the dandyARCHIVE: a Complete Streets policy for Toronto

Some dandy background on the cycle track on Sherbourne St.

Creative walker Dan Burden and his amazing moustache

Urban designer Chris Hardwicke of &Co. architects at the Evergreen Brickworks for TCAT's Complete Streets Forum

Complete Streets Forum participants  at the Evergreen Brickworks

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