Pushing the Envelope

This article originally appeared in dandyhorse magazine volume 3, issue 1. Order this issue here.

by Amy Packwood
photo by Dana Lacey

Reba Plummer joined the Toronto cycling community in the mid-80s after answering an ad in a newspaper. The seasoned wrench at Toronto’s Urbane Cyclist—and 2003 Cycle Messenger World Champion (cargo bike racing division)—likes to say that she went from hobby rider to urban bike courier in one phone call. The rest, she says, is history.

“As a courier I learned that I could bike every day, year-round, in any weather and [since then] I’ve just always been on the bike. I bike pretty much every day, commute to work, go out on Sunday rides, go on holidays with the bikes.”

Now a member of Urbane Cyclist’s worker-owned co-operative, Plummer caresses the championship prize: an electric green Bilenky. “I’ve had them add some extras,” she says, pointing out the neon green paint, chain guard, curvy tube and electric assist. She’s also attached a handmade rack woven out of inner tubes.

Plummer’s time on the road made her aware of a few gaps in the services offered to couriers. She and her partner opened The Bike Ranch in 1990, which catered to Toronto’s bike messenger community. In 1995, she began designing, sewing and selling her ideal bike messenger bags under her brand name, Push the Envelope.

In 1999, when faced with finding a new space for The Bike Ranch, Plummer instead decided to join forces with Urbane Cyclist. It was a good fit. The 13-year-old co-operative is the only business model of its kind in the Toronto bike community. It has nine members, and six staff as members-in-waiting. “Each worker member is part owner, and all major decisions are made in a collective, non-hierarchical process,” she says. Urbane’s site boasts that “Co-ops aim to serve the needs of a community with integrity and a vision towards social justice and genuine alternatives to corporate culture and values.” It also enjoys a friendly and solid reputation among couriers, commuters and even the Toronto Police, who patrol on Urbanite bikes.

Plummer has spread her love of bikes and self-reliance to the broader community. In 2002, she worked as the mechanic / teacher with Open Roads, the funded version of what became the popular volunteer-run Wenches with Wrenches through the Community Bicycle Network. Although she didn’t start the woman-led bike repair workshops, Plummer has been integral to the success of the program and continues to volunteer.

Cycling activism, cycling business, cycling lifestyle, cycling hobbies, cycling holidays...what else is Plummer into? “Bikes, bikes, bikes,” she insists “I love bikes!”

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Commuter cyclists can help keep recreational Trail Plan on track

Lack of winter maintenance on existing multi-use trails was one of the concerns expressed at the Trails Plan open house.
Photo of cyclists on the West Toronto Railpath by Martin Reis.

by Duncan Hurd

Update: Transportation Services Cycling Infrastructure and Programs staff have released the maps on display at this public meeting. The Proposed New Connections Map (PDF) and the Proposed Trail Upgrades and 2012 Trail Upgrades Map (PDF).

Approximately 100 people filtered through a meeting room door on the second floor of Northern District Public Library to have their say about the City of Toronto's updated Trails Plan on Monday, February 6, 2012.

Included as part the Mayor's Bike Plan, the Trails Plan aims to improve existing multi-use trails across the city as well as add 100 km of new off-road trails. About 30 km of new off-road multi-use trails are close to completion. These trails were approved in 2009, prior to the current mayor's election, and are funded as part of the Recreational Infrastructure Canada Program in Ontario (RInC). These trails include the Finch Hydro Corridor and CN Leaside trails (for a full list of RInC projects in Toronto see here).

Map of RInC trail projects.

At the Trails Plan open house, two large maps were spread out on tables dividing the proposed projects into two parts. One map featured the locations of state of good repair updates proposed for existing trails and a second map listed the 29 proposed new trail connections.

Transportation Services staff from the cycling infrastructure and programs unit circled about the room, encouraging participants to attach notes to the maps with their concerns, and answering questions about the plans. Many of the attendees presented very specific requests for upgrades and repairs such as improving access to the Don Trail and adding road markings where the Eglinton West trail crosses through intersections. From flooded trails to unclear wayfinding signs, the group that gathered around the state of good repair proposal map shared many stories about the frustration of navigating the current trail system by bicycle. But there was a decided emphasis on connectivity between off-road and on-street bike infrastructure overall.

At the proposed trail connections map, guests were encouraged to rank the importance of the proposed new connection projects. It was here that it became clear that many attendees were interested in the recreational trail projects that could also benefit bicycle commuters. The projects that quickly received stickers indicating top priority included the West Toronto Railpath extensions both north and south, a trail along the Ward 17 Hydro Corridor and connecting the Martin Goodman Trail along Queen's Quay.

Conversations around both maps continuously brought up the lack of connection between trails and on-street routes. Families wishing to cycle from their homes to the paths often must take convoluted side-street routes or face high-speed traffic on multi-lane roads. Many of the participants at this open house were there to strongly recommend that continuous routes be created that include both on-street lanes and off-road trails.

City staffer Jennifer Hyland explained that the Trail Plan is currently a "living document." Each proposed project is still in the early planning phase and the community and stakeholder input obtained at similar meetings will help shape the priorities and eventual outcome of the Trails Plan.

This meeting's comments collected by staff will be combined with those from previous consultations with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, Hydro One, Toronto Water and a number of other stakeholders. The resulting report will include greater details about the proposed connections and current state of good repair recommendations for existing multi-use trails. The report will be made public upon release to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on March 21, 2012.

Make your voice heard: share your comments, concerns and suggestions for the Trails Plan by February 24, 2012 by writing to

Transportation Services
Cycling Infrastructure & Programs
100 Queen St W, City Hall,
22nd Floor East Tower
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
E-mail: bikeplan@toronto.ca
Fax: 416-392-4808

Be sure to also write your councillor to let them know you support off-road trails expansion and enhancement in your area but that you need to be able to get to them safely too!

dandyhorse will continue to follow the developments of the Trails Plan and will be looking in more detail at the current trails network over the next few months.

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Betty & Dash: New bike share at Vic College

Stephanie Fox and Esther MacKenzie named the Vic bike club at U of T after their own bikes, Betty & Dash Photo by Arturo Peguero

New bike share and repair hub at Vic College

By Leila Kent

It’s a Saturday morning at the picturesque Victoria College in downtown Toronto and a wintry wind is blowing, but rather than huddling in bed, some bleary eyed students  are hauling themselves out to fix up their bike share fleet. The bikes are part of a new college-funded program through which Vic students can borrow bikes and tools for free.

Betty & Dash” sounds more like a Saturday morning cartoon than a bike club, but maybe that’s appropriate. Founders Stephanie Fox and Esther MacKenzie envisioned a non-intimidating group that wouldn’t take itself too seriously, and naming it after their own bikes was just the start.  The club now lends bikes and tools to students, free of charge. 

What inspired them initially was their college community. Victoria University (Vic, for short) is perched at the eastern edge of the University of Toronto. To the frustration of pedestrians and cyclists alike, the ever-slippery Queen’s Park and the impenetrable traffic that zooms around it separate it from the rest of campus. Vic, for some reason, has also acquired a sizeable majority of female students in recent years.

Well-dressed Vic student Johanna Lewis with a MEC bike light compliments of Betty & Dash Photo by Stephanie Fox

“We realized that Victoria College is really girly, and we’re both really girly,” says Fox, who studies biological anthropology, plays varsity rugby, and did primate research in Ghana last summer. She and MacKenzie wanted to reach out to people at Vic who find city cycling intimidating and those like international students with short-term cycling needs.

Betty & Dash member Ashley Quan painting a bike Photo by Stephanie Fox

Fox’s personal relationship with cycling got off to a cartoonish start. ” When I moved downtown [from Oakville] in first year,” she recalls, “I had this vision of biking everywhere. I wanted to save money, avoid the TTC... be happy, healthy, quick and efficient. So I bought a bike on Craigslist - and within maybe two weeks of owning it, I accidentally ran it over with my car.”

Fox finds this hilarious in retrospect, but at the time it was decidedly unfunny. She Macgyvered the bike back into ride-ability, but  it was was never properly fixed.

Bikechain, University of Toronto’s D.I.Y. educational shop, offers a variety of services (which would have been great for freshman Fox). Unfortunately, it’s somewhat hampered by limited funding and a lack of visibility. “I didn’t know that Bikechain existed when I was in first year,” says Fox - a common complaint. The bigger problem is a busy shop. Space and hours are minuscule relative to the number of potential customers. Their rental program has 30 bikes for a campus of 50,000 students.

In the summer of 2010, Fox and MacKenzie started brainstorming. As Stephanie puts it, “Bikechain is a sweaty basement, usually full of guys. Not that it isn’t a friendly atmosphere - it is, but it needs a bridge from Victoria College.”

That bridge, they decided, could be built using a bike share program at Vic. With financial and administrative support from the Victoria University Students Administrative Council and expertise from mechanics at Bikechain, Fox, MacKenzie, and other curious Vic students put together the Betty & Dash fleet. When Mackenzie graduated last year, I took over as co-president of the club and we officially launched the bike share program in the fall of 2011.

Betty & Dash has also given bike riding lessons - an idea that some experienced cyclists scoffed at. “Doesn’t everyone know how to ride a bike?” they asked incredulously. It turns out that the answer is a resounding “No!”, but not being experts doesn’t make people any less capable of learning. (In the same situation? The City of Toronto offers info and lessons for all ages through CAN-BIKE.) Even for those who know how to ride, some tips can be helpful - especially when it comes to winter biking.

Despite her early set-backs, Stephanie Fox has since become a utilitarian, everyday city cyclist. “I’m chronically late, so biking saves my ass half the time. Plus, I can do twice as many things in one day!”

In future she hopes the club’s services will expand, especially by renting over the summer term and becoming better equipped: a kind of satellite bike hub on campus. For now, services are available by appointment.

And if you know anyone at Vic who wants to take advantage of the mild winter riding, let them know their steed is waiting in the stables.

Betty & Dash can be reached at bikes@vusac.ca

Betty & Dash member Jen Roberton and co-founder Esther MacKenzie Photo by Stephanie Fox

Stephanie Fox contemplates the future of the bike club Photo by Arturo Peguero

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dandy Winter Web issue coming soon!

Share this poster! Print off the full-size version (PDF) and hang it in your shop, office, or anywhere!

dandyhorse magazine is pleased to announce our first ever winter web issue!

This February, dandyhorse magazine will delight your cycling sensibilities with a winter themed issue at: dandyhorsemgazine.com/winter2012

We’re focusing on gear – what to wear, how to wear it and why winter cycling is fun for everyone.

And we mean EVERYONE!

We’ve gone across Canada and beyond to create a great collection for our Bike Spotting files, where we’ve asked cyclists cities across the country what they wear to get around during the drearier months. Cycling makes you feel better – the exercise, the breeze on your knees, the money still in your pocket book for that after work beer (which you’ll be enjoying sooner than those who drive home in gridlock…) Well, there are just so many reasons to keep it on two wheels all winter long and we wanted to show you how many different people are able to do it with ease.

We’re kicking it all off with an Ice Race photo essay from senior dandy Dana Lacey.

We also have:

- photos by Rebecca Baran of rookie courier Ian “Ginger” Christianson about what it’s like to work outside on your bike all winter long
- Photo fashion feature by John Lee with Thieves boutique and art bike by Mark Charlebois
- a feature on global warming and cycling by new dandy contributor Todd Aalgaard with a fresh illo by super dandy Dave Murray
- a feature on best practices in bike lane snow clearance by another fresh dandy, Tyler Wade with photos by Tino Ries and more!
- Plus; the original “Sweater Bike” by Toronto artist Janet Morton

We also have the regular dandy features you’ve grown to love: Heels on Wheels (with Laurie Featherstone) and the Doctor’s Note (with Dr. Chris Cavacuiti, as always)…. AND MUCH MORE!

Thanks to ALL of our sponsors and supporters for helping us promote our first winter issue by hanging our winter web poster in their shops – and for helping make dandyhorsemagazine.com’s first year online a great success! Thank you to Featherstone 2 Wheels Green Delivery for local deliveries.

dandyhorse magazine is available free to customers of these sponsor shops:

The Big Carrot 348 Danforth Ave
The Toronto Cyclists Union Centre for Social Innovation - Annex
720 Bathurst Street, Suite 300
The Cycle Shoppe 630A Queen St. West
Cyclemotive 156 Bathurst Street
Hoopdriver Bicycles 1073 College Street
Mountain Equipment Co-op 400 King St. West
Steamwhistle Brewery 255 Bremner Blvd.
Sweet Pete's 1204 Bloor St. West
517 Bloor St. West
Urbane Cyclist 180 John St.
Liberty Cyclery 171 East Liberty St., Toronto
Curbside Cycle 412 Bloor Street West, Toronto

Purchase the latest issue of dandyhorse at these fantastic retailers:

All Book City locations in Toronto! 501 Bloor Street West, (416) 961-4496
348 Danforth Ave., (416) 469-9997
1950 Queen Street East, (416) 698-1444
1430 Yonge Street, (416) 926-0749
Another Story 315 Roncesvalles Ave.
Art History* 1080 Queen St. West
Good Catch* 1556 Queen Street West
The River Trading Company 1418 Queen St West
(416) 452-6727
She Said Boom* 393 Roncesvalles Ave.
Merchants of Green Coffee
2 Matilda Street
Also find Merchants with copies of dandyhorse
at Evergreen Brick Works Farmers' Market Saturdays from 8am - 1pm.
Method Lab* 148 Augusta Ave.
Swipe Books On Advertising and Design* 401 Richmond Street West
Toronto Women's Bookstore 73 Harbord Street
Type Books 883 Queen Street West
427 Spadina Road
Sweetpea's 163 Roncesvalles Avenue
BikeSauce* 235 Broadview Avenue

* These retailers have a limited selection of back issues available for purchase. Order back issues online here.

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Our beautiful poster art was created by new dandy Jody Hocs. He's had his current bike for 5 years now and that's a long time for a bike in Toronto because of theft and vandalism, so he keeps his bike looking gritty but in good working order. Jody chooses riding a bike most of the time because I makes him feel good, and it's cheap and simple to maintain.

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Facelift proposed for pock-marked Sherbourne Street

Illustration of proposed separated cycle track on Sherbourne Street raised to sidewalk level south of Gerrard.

By Duncan Hurd
Images courtesy City of Toronto

Big changes are on the way for Toronto's bumpiest bike lane.

On January 26, 2012, City of Toronto staff unveiled plans for a continuous cycle track on Sherbourne Street running from Bloor Street East in the north down to Lakeshore Boulevard in the south end.

While bicycle lanes currently exist on the street, the proposed plan upgrades the painted lanes to those separated from motorized vehicles using curbs and raised cycle tracks. The Sherbourne cycle track is set to be the first in a series of new separated lanes that will help form a connected and separated network for people who use bikes to get around the downtown area, a plan approved by City Council in July, 2011. (Background info here.)

By coordinating with planned resurfacing of the pock-marked asphalt, cycle tracks installed between Gerrard and Front streets will be raised above street level similar to those found in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Portland, a Toronto first. North of Gerrard to Bloor Street East only patch work repairs are being undertaken so this section will remain at street level and derive its separation with a rolled curb and plastic bollards.

In Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa, recent separated bicycle infrastructure has been created by adding planters and large curbs to prevent motorized vehicles from entering the cycling lanes. Sherbourne, with its comparatively narrow width to the other streets, will be separated by rolled curbs allowing motor vehicles to still have access to the lane. This access is meant to be restricted to Wheel-Trans and emergency vehicles. The addition of painted buffers and in some places plastic bollards should make it clear that the cycle tracks are for bicycles only.

A rolled curb separates cycling traffic from motorize vehicles. The design allows access to the cycle track by Wheel-Trans and emergency vehicles.

In addition to separating cyclists from motor vehicles, the proposed design will change how cyclists handle left turns. Along Sherbourne between Bloor Street and Front Street are 15 intersections. Four of these cross streets considered part of Toronto's bike route network, and have existing bicycle lanes: Wellesley, Gerrard, Shuter and Bloor Street East.

As separated lanes run right to the crosswalk, merging into the left-most lane will no longer be possible for people on bikes. To allow for left turns, Sherbourne will see the installation of marked space within the intersection for cyclists to perform indirect left turns. These spaces are placed ahead of crosswalks and allow for cyclists to stop and wait for the light to change before proceeding with the rest of their left turn.

Similar to bike boxes installed on Harbord and College streets, these spaces will be painted with a bicycle symbol and turning arrow and allow for cyclists to stop ahead of motorized vehicles, increasing visibility. However, due to placement ahead of both the vehicle stop line and pedestrian crosswalk, these waiting areas are intended for cyclists who have already entered the intersection completing the first half of a left turn and are not intended to allow cyclists to jump to the head of the queued motorized traffic.

Set-back crosswalks allow space for indirect left turn boxes at all intersections on Sherbourne Street.

Toronto currently has just three intersections that provide space and signs for indirect left turns though few people know of them: Dupont & Annette, Bloor Street East & Sherbourne and Browns Line & Lake Shore Blvd W. As indicated by the proposal illustrations, signs will be installed to explain indirect left turns.

Aerial view of proposed intersection design shows indirect left turn box placement.

The City is requesting input from area businesses and residents as well as the general public who may use or be affected by these changes until February 17, 2012.

For more information visit: toronto.ca/cycling/network/sherbourne.htm
To provide your feedback, you can use this form (PDF): toronto.ca/cycling/network/pdf/2012-01-26_sherbourne_comment_sheet.pdf

Related Posts:

What is it like biking on Sherbourne Street - Bike Spotting

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