Q&A with new Ward 20 City Councillor Joe Cressy

Photo of Joe, and his wife Nina Gorka, both daily cyclists, with their bikes in the Annex, courtesy of Joe Cressy's office.

Q&A with Ward 20 councillor Joe Cressy

Story by Jeff Carson

One of the few new faces joining Toronto City Council for the next four years is Joe Cressy, the Toronto-born former director of campaigns at the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Cressy bills himself as a progressive councillor with a passion for cycling. Cressy likes taking side streets, like Barton, in his neighbourhood and supports lower speed limits.

dandyhorse editor Jeff Carson recently spoke with Cressy about his new council position and what he plans on doing for the many cyclists in his ward.

Do you bike regularly in your ward?

I grew up on a bike. It's the “proletariat chariot,” as the sticker says on my bike, it's my main mode of transportation. I’m a year-round cyclist.

When you were campaigning what kind of concerns did you hear from cyclists in your ward?

A fair number. [Ward 20] is a heavy route for cyclists, not just because of those who live in Ward 20 and ride, but because we have 200,000 people who live in the official plan designated downtown, which is East of Bathurst, where I am, and we have 550,000 people coming in to the downtown core during the day. People are coming into Ward 20 or through Ward 20 on their way to work, so it is a heavily used area for arterial and residential cycling. Of the concerns I've heard and of the things I’m really keen to work on, the biggest one is around a clear north-south connect route, be it an arterial or a collector route, to connect the waterfront to the rest of the city. Other concerns you hear frequently, and I hear them all the time, is around out east-west routes. We have an environmental assessment underway on Dupont and Bloor, we got that back on the books during the last term of council.

Do you know what stage the environmental assessment is at right now?

It’s underway, we’re going to hear back in 2015. It’s a significant portion, it extends all the way over to the Bloor viaduct. The environmental assessment process is not just reviewing what could be a small pilot project, rather it’s a much larger umbrage.

In a survey for the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, you said support creating a minimum grid for cyclists, how would you work to make that a reality?

One of the mayor-elect’s priorities he’s outlined is gridlock. For every person on a bicycle, that’s one less car on the road. The importance of building a minimum grid is to make it not just accessible, but also safe. This is how we can begin to alleviate congestion, along with other critical transit investments. How will we do it in the four years going forward? Part of it is making the case from a city-wide angle that this is a priority not just for the downtown, but right across the city.

As a newcomer to council, how will you work with other councillors to improve cycling infrastructure throughout the city?

I think there’s a real opportunity to build effective coalitions in this term of council on issues related to cycling and building the minimum grid. I think we do that a couple of different ways. When we do the studies properly, and we put the research into it, or we pilot the project, councillors will see in each of our neighbourhoods the benefits that come with cycling infrastructure. Part of this is [influenced by] how we work together using a more respectful decorum in the chamber. Traffic and gridlock, I think, cost the city $6 billion a year in the GTA in lost productivity. It’s not just a quality of life issue, it’s an economic issue.

How will you work with the new mayor to achieve your goals?

On a number of issues we’re already in sync and will be able to work together. Nobody will be surprised to hear that I’m a cycling advocate, I’m proudly so. How I will work with the mayor-elect, other than as a respectful colleague, is through the demonstration of evidence and research, to make the argument not on the basis of rhetoric, but on fact-based policy making. It’s fair to say under Rob Ford it was sort of political-based fact making. I think under John Tory you’ll get someone who does want to look at the research and the evidence, so we can do evidence-based policy making again.

How will you work to increase the number of cyclists in your ward?

Infrastructure is a critical piece, there’s no question. These infrastructure investments are essential, because the safer one feels on a bicycle, the more likely they are to cycle. The second piece has to do with some of our education initiatives. It’s not just proper rules and behaviour around the roads, which is as important for drivers as it is for cyclists, it’s also when new cycling initiatives come in ensuring that people know how to use them.

Do you support lowering the speed limit to 30 km/h in your ward?

I do support it. Given the high amount of traffic coming into downtown we need to protect our neighbourhoods. The rates of survival when you’re hit by a car, or the severity of harm, is significantly lessened based on a 40 to 30 km/h speed limit.

Mode share in Ward 20. Data Source is DMG 2014: TTS 2011 - Courtesy of the Toronto Cycling Think and Do Tank.
The most recent numbers from TTS (2011) show Ward 20 had an 8.6% cycling mode share. This is the second highest in the city. Ward 19 had an 11.4% mode share. It is notable that these are trips made from households in the ward and well under 50% of trips are by automobile.

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dandyhorse will continue to feature interviews with city councillors on the dandyBLOG in the weeks to come. Next up: Josh Matlow on lower speed limits and more.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Q&A with Ward 20 candidate Albert Koehl

 Bike lanes on Bloor: an update

Harbord and Shaw streets by bike for the first time

Bike Spotting at Simcoe and King: What do you think of this new bike lane on Simcoe?

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