The 6th annual Ontario Bike Summit wrapped Tuesday with a second day of plenaries, followed by a closing reception at Queen's Park
By Matt Talsma
The phrase "paradigm shift" was on the lips of many cycling experts and policy makers at the 6th annual Ontario Bike awards on Tuesday. You might be forgiven for dismissing this language as a politician's penchant for the dramatic - but in this case, there is some real substance behind it.
After many years of talk, debate and persuasion, we are finally seeing some real action on cycling policy at the provincial level. Along with proposed cycling legislation announced last month, this week Transportation Minister Glen Murray revealed $25 million in dedicated funding for cycling infrastructure in Ontario.
These recent developments contributed to a palpable enthusiasm at this year's summit. NDP MPP Cheri Dinovo, who first tabled the one metre passing law back in 2010, offered a famous Gandhi quote, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win" she told the summit audience Tuesday.
That one metre passing law, along with several other safety amendments to the Highway Traffic Act, including increased fines and demerits for "dooring" as well as distracted driving, are bundled into Bill 173 - the Keeping Ontario Roads Safe Act.
Share the Road founder Eleanor McMahon's efforts have been instrumental in getting the bill to Queen's Park. "This is a historic first for our province. This is a huge deal for the cycling community and it has really energized the summit process, and enhanced the conversation" she tells me.
The two-day summit concluded Tuesday afternoon with a political panel. Along with Dinovo, Ontario Liberal MPP Michael Colle, and Ontario Green Party leader Michael Schreiner discussed achievements made and challenges still faced. While the panel at times descended into partisan debate, the overall mood was one of friendly optimism.
Mike Schreiner, who has attended each of the first five bike summits, noted he was not able to recycle previous years' speeches because goals have turned into achievements. Ideals of attaining province-wide cycling strategy, legislative changes and funding for dedicated cycling infrastructure have been significantly advanced or realized since proposed at earlier bike summits.
But Schreiner notes there is still serious work to do. His Green Party is fighting to secure even more money for cycling infrastructure, a sentiment echoed by NDP Cheri Divono. And though the $25 million in new monies is certainly a step in the right direction, Schreiner lamented the typical reaction of opposition heard on conservative talk radio following the announcement of new spending that amounts to just a tiny fraction of total transport spending.
Schreiner hopes to secure at least a small fixed percentage of the total transportation infrastructure budget for cycling infrastructure. "Let's all work together to establish a precedent of dedicated funding in this province," he said.
Dinovo, who envisions a downtown eventually car-free, agrees that there is still a long way to go, but maintains confidence,"We've won in the past, and we can win in the future."
Eleanor McMahon with raffle winner Jennifer McCourt of Discovery Route Trails and the proud owner of a new Trek bicycle courtesy of Trek and Duke's Cycle
Several awards were presented at the summit's closing reception held at Queen's Park and attended by many provincial MPPs. For their efforts in advancing cycling policy, awards for bicycle friendly leadership were given to Transport Minister Murray, Halton Hills Councillor Jane Fogul, all-party bike caucus member Catherine Fife and Toronto MPP Michael Colle, among others.
In his acceptance of his award Michael Colle set an ambitious tone for the coming years, "We need to make Toronto more like Copenhagen, and Ontario more like Denmark," he said, eliciting a few whoops and cheers from the crowd.
And while Toronto is a far cry from Copenhagen, we need to get the ball rolling in that direction, and steps like Bill 173 and others like it can help towards building that momentum. Finally we are making amendments to the Highway Traffic Act to increase cyclist safety. Finally we are setting aside dedicated funding to cycling infrastructure. Finally we are including consideration of cycling needs into new road and bridge construction.
It does seem that cycling is increasingly part of the broader urban transportation public discussion. And though to some it may appear to be moving slowly, it's thanks to the many advocates' efforts like those at the Bike Summit that we're moving forward at all.
Transportation Minister Glen Murray is determined to get the changes contained in Bill 173 through the legislature. "If nothing else happens, but we can get the bill passed, it will make everything we've worked for over the last four years worth it. If we could pass Bill 173 we would save thousands of lives."
I guess we'll have to wait and see whether paradigm shift is the appropriate descriptor, but it is clear that we are moving in the right direction, finally.
Related on the dandyBLOG: