International Bike Spotting – Olga Haliuk

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:

Ola Haliuk at home with her road bike. 

Olga is an interior designer at the Toronto based design firm DIALOG. It embraces an interdisciplinary approach to its large scale projects and has team members with backgrounds as diverse as architecture, urban design and engineering. As an interior designer at DIALOG she works collaboratively with many of the firm’s disciplines on a variety of projects ranging from small retail design to larger- scale government ventures. When she isn't working Olga is on her bike. She was kind enough to sit down with dandyhorse and tell us how she gets around Toronto.

What is it like getting around Toronto by bike? Can you tell us a bit about your daily commute?

Getting around Toronto by bike is getting easier thanks to cycling advocates and an increasingly active dialogue on the topic of cycling and alternative transportation options in Toronto. Cycling awareness has gained momentum, and in turn we’ve seen a more aggressive approach to accelerating infrastructure.  My daily bike commute is about 25 minutes, which shaves about 20 minutes off of a 45-minute subway ride. I can alter my route depending on my errands, but with DIALOG being in such a central location, I can often get everything done in a lunch hour. DIALOG also encourages cycling to and from work and to meetings, offering staff secure bike storage, showers and membership to a bike sharing service.  About a year ago I moved from the west end of the city (where I lived all my life) to the east end. Hopping on my bike and the local paths provided an affordable and flexible way to explore my neighbourhood and its paths.

How are you finding the growing network of bike lanes in Toronto?

I definitely support it – I think the completion of each new route increases the public perception that cycling is safe and encourages people along that new stretch to try it.

From an urban planning perspective, how do you find biking in Toronto, and the infrastructure available to cyclists, compares to other cities?

The city is making progress, but there’s room for improvement. The routes in Toronto are fragmented meaning that you’re forced to jump between bike lanes and shared roads. Toronto’s cycling infrastructure is well behind cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam (but to their credit, they’ve had about a century to figure it out).  On a positive note, City Council’s approval of the Cycling Network Ten Year Plan was a step in the right direction, and there’s momentum and excitement building with every route that’s painted on the ground. One of the highlights of my summer was biking up to Danforth during Open Streets Toronto and getting accidentally caught in the Bike Parade to celebrate the new Bloor Street bike lanes.  It really proved how much support there was for a fully integrated cycling network.

What can the city do better?

The city should continue creating safe routes, while also connecting the fragmented ones.  With each new connection, more opportunities are created for those who wouldn’t normally cycle to give it a try.  It’s an amazing alternative, not only for physical health reasons but for mental health too.  I was inspired to try cycling when my one-and-a-half hour streetcar commute (supposed to be 35 minutes) became too much to handle. What made my irritation even worse was glaring out the window as cyclists whizzed by. Frustrated after a long commute one day, I spent an afternoon at the office searching Kijiji, purchased a bike and biked home that evening. Cycling is amazing - it energizes me in the mornings and clears my mind on the route home. Looking back, I regret that it took so long for me to have that “ah-ha” moment.

Where else would you like bike lanes?

I would love to see uninterrupted bike lanes on Dundas or Queen connecting Roncy and Woodbine – it’s not in the ten-year plan, but hey, a girl can dream!

What is your relationship with the cars on the road?

Thankfully I’ve never had a physical encounter – knock on wood.  As a cyclist I know that I can’t have road rage towards a car as it is bigger than me and I will lose.  I am extremely cautious when entering intersections (cars making right turns) and when there’s parking (cars pulling out). I’m astounded by the number of cyclists that I’ve seen run red lights while barely slowing down to look both ways.  It would be amazing to create bike boulevards that designate entire streets to cyclists.  I think that the physical separation would address many of the safety concerns of cyclists and motorcyclists, it’s practical and would reduce the fear associated with sharing the road with cars.

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