Angela enjoying the new bike lanes on Bloor this winter. Photo by Cayley James.
To help us get through the next couple of colder months, dandyhorse is profiling cyclists from around the world! Folks who love to cycle here in Toronto and further afield will give us insight into what it's like to cycle in their cities. Want to add your voice to the Bike Spotting series? Get in touch with us at: email@example.com
Angela is also one of the original advocates for bike lanes on Bloor, and she held the banner high during the Bells on Bloor Victory lap this summer when the bike lane pilot project finally opened. dandyhorse asked her to be one of our few Toronto-based folks in our international bike spotting series this winter. Here's what she had to say about her relationship with the bicycle in Toronto.
What’s your history with the bicycle?
Bikes have always been one of the few things I owned and truly loved. My first bike had a banana seat and ape handlebars. My second bike was a 5-speed, and then I got a 10-speed. At age 25 I bought a mountain bike that I used to commute from the suburb into the city; that bike I called Purple Bliss (though it wasn’t purple). It emancipated me. Suddenly I could ride anywhere – the inner city or the mountains.
My next bike was The Owl, and then Blue Molly, then Artimis and Athena (depending if I was in the country or the city), then the Green Machine, then Tookela, and now I ride Blue Jay.
My bikes have enabled my independence as a woman, allowing me to swoop in and through the world on my own accord, and not be reliant on others for car rides or on public transit. It’s important to me that my vehicles of choice are clean, silent, non-polluting and fossil-fuel-free. Bikes have kept me connected to my body and fully aware of my environment year round. And truly, biking has kept me joyful – the best part of my day is when I’m on my two-wheeled steed. I feel like I’m dancing and doing yoga and singing and playing an instrument all at once, gracefully and skillfully, as I spin my wheels.
You sound like you’ve been around the block on your bikes.
I’ve ridden my bikes in many countries – from the chaotic streets of Calcutta, to the horn-blasting streets of Guangzhou, to the highlands and forests of Vietnam and Japan. I’ve ridden from beaches and cliffs of Mediterranean islands to ancient pilgrimage trails of Spain and France. From Rocky Mountain passes to Dutch sand dunes to Laurentian rails-to-trails. From Indian ashrams to Cuban bike factories to Mexican playas. It’s the best way to travel. I schlepp my bike on trains and busses for the long hauls, but there’s nothing like cruising new cities or island hopping on your own wheels.
How does Toronto compare?
I’d say we’re behind most Western cities. Every time I arrive at my destination, I thank the heavens that I made it safely. It’s been amazing to see the bike lanes pop up around town in recent years, and I gravitate to them like a bee to honey. But they are too few and they are too far between. Montreal and Vancouver are miles (literally) ahead of Toronto, though even they don’t hold a candle to much of western Europe. It’s no wonder that in some Scandinavian cities 50 per cent of the trips are made by bike. Quebec is the closest thing to this in North America with their provincially-funded Route Vert (5,000 km of bike trails connecting cities and towns.) And Montreal has an incredible bike network on par with many European cities.
Toronto is just beginning to accommodate bikes, which is a tarnish on our reputation as a great city. Congestion and air pollution are serious issues in Toronto – both could be alleviated by relatively low-cost investments in bike infrastructure. And I think bike infrastructure is the surest way to reduce our climate ‘car’ma.
What was your role in establishing bike lanes on Bloor?
I moved to Toronto in 1999 with my partner, Tooker Gomberg. He was a formidable climate and bike activist and political actor. When he passed away in 2004, some bike friends got together to scheme a legacy project in his honour.
We met at Futures on Bloor, and came up with the campaign for a grand bicycle expressway from Mississauga to Scarborough along the Bloor Danforth corridor. Cyclists had been calling for safe passage on this route since 1896, I kid you not. But there had never been a concerted campaign.
We called it Take the Tooker and began hosting mass bike rides, demonstrations and a petition. Bells on Bloor formed, then Bells on Danforth. Larger rides ensued, court cases were launched, and rallies filled Nathan Phillips Square. Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation released some stellar research and reports showing that businesses would benefit from bike lanes along Bloor Danforth. Cycle Toronto got on board. With the help of Councillors Mike Layton and Joe Cressy, the pilot project on Bloor was officially inaugurated on Aug. 12, 2016 – which just so happens to be Tooker’s birthday. How sweet is that?
Angela and her new bike "Blue Jay" at Bloor and Shaw. Photo by Cayley James.
What else are you passionate about?
Bikes and renewable energy. They’re both smart, healthful, low carbon and low footprint technologies that will help solve our climate, pollution, congestion, safety and financial challenges.
SUVs are to bicycles as nuclear reactors are to solar/wind/water – dangerous, expensive, and damaging to the environment. Ontario is now turning its back on renewable energy and investing tens of billions of dollars instead on rebuilding our aging nuclear infrastructure. Likewise Toronto is spending billions on the Gardiner and subway to Scarborough rather than city-wide LRT and bike infrastructure. It makes no economic or environmental sense especially in the climate era.
It’s time to wise up and double down on efficient human-powered transport and renewable energy technologies – and reap the tremendous rewards.
Photo by Tammy Thorne of Angela Bischoff winning a new bike courtesy of Cycle Couture and dandyhorse.
Related on dandyhorsemagazine.com