Introducing Ward 14 Cycle Toronto advocacy group

The Phantom bike lane ride on Lansdowne on Oct. 29, 2013 was well attended and organized in part by the Ward 14 advocacy group. Liz Sutherland who runs the Ward 18 Cycle Toronto group is in the bee outfit. Photos by Martin Reis.

Ward 14 Cycle Toronto advocacy group: formed in 2012 to improve cycling infrastructure and safety in the area and build community

guestBLOG by Laura Pin

Stretching from the waterfront to the Junction, and encompassing Liberty Village, Parkdale, Roncesvalles, and High Park, in many ways ward 14 is a neighbourhood of contradictions. Somewhat affordable rental units overlook million dollar homes, trendy cafes and a few remaining dingy dive bars not yet refurbished by hip young urban professionals co-exist, and all throughout the mix there are bicycles. All sorts of bicycles. Muddied, hard-worn mountain bikes, slick hybrid commuters, bicycles towing small children, trendy fixies, dated roadsters, wide-handlebar-ed cruisers with big baskets... and the list goes on.

The sheer prevalence of cyclists is something that unites this eclectic area. According to 2006 census data, ward 14 has the second highest proportion of pedestrian and cyclist commuters in the entire city. An astonishing 26 percent of ward 14 residents commute using active transpiration. And this does not capture non-work related trips. Condo developers tout the bikeability of the neighbourhood as a selling feature; families cycle to the Sorauren Farmers Market en mass; and ring and posts are a hot commodity on Queen St. W., especially on a Saturday.Yet Ward 14 is often a frustrating place to ride a bike. Despite having such a high cyclist mode share, there are no on-road bike lanes in the area. Zero. Zilch.  A bikeability study from U of T based on WalkScore research from Simon Fraser University (featured in dandyhorse this summer) noted that Parkdale is an anomaly: an area with a high number of cyclists, but a very low level of 'bikeability'.

•    Witness: the many cyclists furtively pedalling the wrong way on one-way streets to avoid arterial roads like King, Queen and Dundas;
•    Witness: brave cyclists on Queen St. swerving to avoid: streetcar tracks, trucks, cars, getting doored, illegally parked vehicles, and/or large potholes;
•    Witness: the “Bermuda triangle”: where College, Dundas and Lansdowne meet and countless cyclists have gone down, trying to make the turn on to a designated cycling route;
•    Witness: would-be cyclists stranded en route to the waterfront at Lakeshore and Jameson,  caught in a bewildering convergence of multiple high speed, high volume roads;
•    Witness: a number of tragic, and entirely avoidable, cycling deaths in the area;

It was with this fundamental contradiction in mind; the explosive possibility for Ward 14 to become a prime cycling neighbourhood against the dismal reality, that, in the spring of 2012, a group of frustrated cyclists gathered in a windowless room in the basement of the Parkdale Library to plot (cycling) revolution. In other words, a group of cyclists, myself included, decided to start a Cycle Toronto ward group.

Cycle Toronto is Toronto's largest cycling advocacy group. The ward advocacy program of Cycle Toronto is based on a simple fact: 23 votes are needed to pass a motion at city council. If every ward had a group of cyclists reminding their councillor that cycling issues matter, then councillors might be be more inclined to support cycling-friendly measures. A second rationale for the ward program is the belief that local cyclists are best positioned to know the needs of the neighbourhood. Currently there are Cycle Toronto ward advocacy groups in 22 wards across the city.

Eighteen months later, Cycle Toronto's Ward 14 group is still meeting monthly. Just this past week, we held our December meeting at a local coffee shop to plan our next moves. Our  mandate is to improve cycling infrastructure and safety in the area and build community among local cyclists.

Some of the projects the Ward 14 Cycle Toronto group has been working on include:
•    Petitioning City staff to implement the approved, contraflow bicycle lanes in 2009 West End Bikeways project. Shaw St. was the first to be installed, and lanes are also forthcoming on Argyle, Florence, and Fermanagh;
•    Providing feedback on how the Roncesvalles bump-outs could be improved;
•    Participating in public consultations about the southern expansion of the West Toronto Railpath;
•    Advocating for City Council's approval of the Bloor-Dupont Environmental Assessment for bicycle lanes;
•    Co-hosting the first ever Phantom Bike Lanes ride (pictured) this past Halloween to draw attention to the fact that approved bike lanes on portions of Lansdowne remain uninstalled;

Despite some progress, there is still an enormous amount of work to be done to make Ward 14 safer for cyclists. We are still waiting for our first bicycle lane. Most crucially, Ward 14 lacks a network of connected routes to enable cyclists traverse the ward with ease. Creating bike-friendly neighbourhoods in Toronto is not just about accommodating the parochial interests of cycling advocates. Fundamentally, it's about what kind of city we want to build. Toronto has the worst commuter times in North America. Research shows that in Toronto cycling is often faster than transit or driving for trips under 5 km. We need to tap into the possibility that cycling holds for addressing the congestion problem that plagues our city. And, of course, riding a bicycle beats sitting in gridlock every time.

If you'd like to learn more about the Ward 14 Advocacy Group or come to a meeting, check out our website at http://cycleto.ca/ward/14 or email lauragracepin@gmail.com.

Sharrows instead of a bike lane on Lansdowne, just south of Bloor. Martin Reis photo.

A great photo of a great costume of one of the Phantom bike lane ride participants, reminiscent of the awesome poster for the event (below). Photos by Martin Reis.

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Below, Cycle Toronto Ward 14 advocacy group volunteers Mary-Jo Pollak and Peter Low at the Sorauren Farmers' Market this past summer. Photo courtesy of Laura Pin.

Photo above courtesy of Laura Pin.

If you'd like to learn more about the Ward 14 Advocacy Group or come to a meeting, check out our website at http://cycleto.ca/ward/14 .

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Ward 16 launches new advocacy group

Toronto Bike Awards 2013

Bike lanes on Bloor: an update

dandyCommute: send your story by Dec. 15 to win a bike!

Mapping biking in Toronto

Remembering fallen cyclists

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