Story and photos by Robert Zaichkowski
Sunday, August 26, 2018, was a day of cycling and storytelling in the city. The Reading Line featured a book ride along the Prince Edward Viaduct (literally) bridging east and west Toronto, while BIKE MINDS held its fifth event at Todmorden Mills. Both events saw Melissa and Chris Bruntlett visit Toronto as the first stop of an eight city tour to promote their book, Building the Cycling City, out now. You can read our review here on dandyhorse.
Books on the Viaduct
Since 2014, I've participated in all five of The Reading Line’s Toronto rides, though there was an additional one done in Brampton earlier this year. The four previous rides criss-crossed the city along the Green Line, Bloor Street, Bathurst Street, and the Don Valley. The Viaduct was chosen this year to celebrate its 100th anniversary and promote the need for protected bike lanes on Danforth.
The ride – which dozens of cyclists took part – started at Central Tech near Bloor and Bathurst. Some new additions for this year’s ride include bicycle safety checks by Toronto Hustle, free Bike Share Toronto bike rentals, sign language interpreters, and a small swag package of bookmarks, Book Ride stickers, and coupons for Danforth Mosaic BIA businesses. However, I was disappointed with the lack of pizza by the time I arrived despite what was mentioned on their website.
Siva Vijenthira, formerly with Cycle Toronto, discussed her work on getting newcomers and youth to bike including the startcycling.ca website and CultureLink’s Bike to School Project. Bethlehem Terrefe Gebreyohannes read from her book Fire Walkers about her family escaping Ethiopia with the help of a caravan.
Carrianne Lewis – whose book That Time I Loved You was shortlisted for the Toronto Book Awards – read a bike-related chapter about June; an eleven-year-old Chinese Canadian attracted to (and betrayed by) Bruce who rode a ten speed and did wheelies. The book also discussed suicides over the Viaduct. (The suicide preventing luminous veil was installed in 2003.) Cycle Toronto’s Sarah Bradley also briefly promoted the #BuildTheGrid campaign.
At the next stop, Amanda O’Rourke of 8-80 Cities talked about #BuildTheVisionTO (which includes #BuildTheGrid) and the need to improve the quality of life for everyone by making places suitable for eight-year-olds and eighty-year-olds alike. Chris and Melissa Bruntlett read from the Rotterdam chapter of their book, titled “Streets Aren’t Set in Stone”, and revealed the Vancouver police no longer plan to enforce the mandatory helmet law thanks to an audience question. Ramon K. Perez talked about how his interest in comics and graphic novels developed, and handed out mini comic books from Parkdale’s Royal Academy of Illustration and Design.
The ride went across the Viaduct and the group safely took the lane all the way to East Lynn Park. Marvin Macaraig promoted the work being done to establish a cycling culture in Scarborough, including the opening of a third bike hub in Agincourt and plans for a fourth in eastern Scarborough. City Council candidate Brad Bradford talked about how the Toronto Hustle bike racing team he co-founded wanted to do more, including more advocacy work.
Fabiana Bacchini recounted her experience about her son Gabriel who was born premature and spent 146 days in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This lead her to write the book, From Surviving to Thriving, and promote charitable causes related to NICU. Finally, Jay Pitter, who co-edited Sub Divided with Spacing’s John Lorinc, talked about the need to not view street safety issues (e.g. bike lanes, police carding, transphobia) in silos and instead take a holistic approach.
There was a children’s bike parade and a band to finish the book ride, but we had to leave early to get to Todmorden Mills for BIKE MINDS.
While Matt Pinder and Michelle Kearns' four inaugural BIKE MINDS events sold out within an hour, this one was held in a higher capacity venue which took until the week before to sell out. Aside from some delays with Cycle Toronto getting the bike valet ready, the 100 to 150 people in attendance were treated to some inspiring stories about the ability of bikes to transform people’s lives. Before kicking things off, Jane French of Toronto Museum Services promoted the Bike City exhibit at St. Lawrence Market which covered bicycle manufacturing in Toronto, freedom on two wheels, and Toronto’s bumpy road to becoming a bike city.
Madeleine Cho – a mental health advocate who volunteers with Charlie’s Freewheels – recalled a life of struggle including three concussions over an eight month period and losing control of her vehicle on Highway 401; leading to surgery and post traumatic stress disorder. Despite such adversity, she biked 50 kilometres for mental health and recently got her first year credits at the University of Toronto. Mahitha Thota – a newcomer from India – talked about how Bike Host helped her overcome her initial lack of enthusiasm for Canada. Coralie Bruntlett – the daughter of Chris and Melissa – gave a youth perspective on how biking made her more mature, independent, and grown up. Finally, Dean Psarras – known on Twitter as @convertdcyclist – got fed up with car commuting and taking the TTC to a point where he spent $600 on a bike and headed to Sherbourne station; only to end up biking all the way to work on York Street.
Before presenting a summary of their book, headliners Chris and Melissa Bruntlett tested the audience with a quiz from Dutch consulting firm Mobycon which revealed the Netherlands has a 19-lane wide highway (!) and 880 bikes were stolen in the country every day. The Bruntletts’ presentation debunked various myths about why cycling cannot work in Canada by saying Winnipeg would have been Canada’s cycling capital if a flat city was needed, while the Netherlands had their own version of Donald Trump who did well during the last election. The Bruntletts concluded with a focus on obesity and asked the audience to think about what kind of future they wanted.
The event concluded with copies of Building the Cycling City being signed (and sold) by the Bruntletts as well as the usual mingling. Congratulations to both The Reading Line and BIKE MINDS on their excellent events. Let’s keep sharing our cycling stories and continue fighting to make Toronto a true cycling city.
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