dandyARCHIVE: Thank you Jack

Photo courtesy of Jack Layton's office in Ottawa

Thank you Jack
A tribute to Jack Layton’s contribution to cycling in Toronto

by Steve Brearton
Photos by Martin Reis

This article originally appeared in the "Food issue" of dandyhorse magazine.


Jack Layton had two modes. Rooted in place, Jack was communicating, engaging or instilling possibility.

In motion, he was getting to that next person or place as a means of making Toronto a better place. When he was in motion, he was on a bicycle. For admirers like me, Jack on his bike was code for a set of shared values that helped define the greatness in our city – sustainability, inclusion, environmentalism and the choice to live among, rather than apart from, the people.

There he goes — he’s one of us. But Layton’s real impact on cyclists lay in the fact he literally constructed much of our city’s cycling culture and infrastructure.

When first elected to council in 1982, Layton co-chaired the Toronto City Cycling Committee (TCCC) and would subsequently ensure cycling was kept on council’s agenda and that money was available for both staff and projects. In 1984, Layton called for Metro Toronto to review their policy of discouraging bike use on arterial roads and secured support for a campaign to replace on-road catch basins in which bike tires could get caught. In 1985, he was instrumental in the installation of the first post-and-ring parking for cyclists.

During his 1991 mayoral campaign, Jack committed to creating a car-free downtown with a free bike sharing program available for short trips. In 1996, in the wake of a rash of cycling deaths on Toronto streets, he announced, “I will not rest until we have bike lanes on a complete grid of Metro arterial roads.” Two years later, as chair of the Toronto Board of Health, Layton said, “I think a war on automobile pollution is what we have to declare.” And there was much, much more. “Of all the people who affected cycling in the city, Jack Layton was the most pivotal,” cycling and transportation advocate and academic Sue Zielinski told me in 2008. “He was inspirational and the reason I ended up committing to cycling.” Zielinski’s conversion arrived in the mid-80s, when she attended her first TCCC meeting and after a short conversation with Jack, found herself helping edit the TCCC city cycling newsletter Cyclometer, which continues to publish today. Layton always thought big and imagined the impossible, but focused on what could be done in the present and was pragmatic about how it could be achieved. At the beginning of his political career in the early 80s he said “road engineers and politicians alike treat the bicycle as the vehicle of the eccentric rather than the vehicle of the 80s.” Then he rolled up his sleeves and set to work.

Jack, oh my how you will be missed.


This article originally appeared in the "Food issue" of dandyhorse magazine.


Related on the dandyBLOG:

Pedal Power in Parliament: Olivia Chow

Who was first past the post? History of the ring-and-post bike stand

A day for remembering


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