Never Accept the Status Quo

Q & A with Angela Bischoff by Steve Brearton
Photo by Molly Crealock

Angela Bischoff has never been content to accept the status quo. Since co-founding EcoCity Society, an Edmonton-based urban environmental advocacy group in 1990, she has worked to promote sustainable transportation, food security, civic engagement, mental health issues and much more. The Toronto-based Bischoff is currently fighting for bike lanes on Bloor/Danforth with TaketheTooker, and for a renewable electricity future with the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. dandyhorse connected with Angela to hear her insights on activism and the keys to building a sustainable earth and a sustainable life.

Tell us about your work at the Ontario Clean Air Alliance? Why is energy such a crucial issue today?

Many of the crises facing our planet today—climate change, smog, urban chaos—stem from our profligate use of fossil fuels. We need to reduce our use of energy, and use what’s left more wisely. It’s critical that we move swiftly to a 100 per cent renewable electricity grid – that’s the goal of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. And we’re making great progress in Ontario. No new nukes are on the drawing board, and coal is on its way out. The Green Energy Act is ushering in the green energy revolution that we’ve all been working toward for decades.

Your advocacy work has always been very broadly based. Is there a thread that connects all of these issues?

It’s all about lowering our environmental footprint on this planet, living simply that others may simply live. Twenty per cent of the population (that includes us!) consumes 80 per cent of the resources. That same 20 per cent is the primary cause of the ecocidal trajectory we’re on. I call that insanity! We have all the solutions to living sustainably, equitably and peacefully on this planet; they’re generally low-tech, low cost and local – wind turbines, bicycles, permaculture.
But it’s also about health and wholeness. Just as we aim for ecological sustainability, we must also aim for sustainability of mind, body and spirit.

Bikes. Tell me how bicycles fit into your life and your advocacy work.

My intro to civic participation was in bicycle activism in the late 80s. Bikes are the most graceful, silent, sustainable, space/cost-efficient, joyful and healthy transport choice. Why then does Toronto insist on making on-street storage of cars a priority over safe passage for cyclists? Despite the fact that 14 per cent of the traffic on Bloor is on two wheels, and the fact that Bloor has one of the highest car/bike collision rates in the city, no space has been allocated for cyclists. That infuriates me. Cyclists have identified Bloor as their #1 priority since at least 1990. Let’s do it already.

By far the best part of my day, when I rejuvenate and smile, is when I’m cycling. I’m engaged with others on the streets, appreciating the seasons, releasing endorphins, keeping fit without having to go to the gym. I call it cyclo-therapy – good for the mind, body and spirit. But it’s also good karma – or bikema. I’m not using fossil fuels, not contributing to congestion or smog, not likely to kill or maim anyone, and I’m not changing the climate. Guilt-free transportation. It’s easy on my pocketbook too.

It all ties back to my earlier point about living simply that others may simply live. Imagine every person on the planet riding their own bicycle. Imagine what a sweet, clean and peaceful world that would be. Imagine how much money we’d save on infrastructure, health care costs and policing. We could do it, if we willed it.

Always being engaged in the struggle for social justice, peace and sustainability can be difficult. What sustains you when the going gets really tough?

I surround myself with beautiful people, meaningful work, and organic farmers’ markets. I practice yoga, am a vegetarian, cycle daily, play piano, sing while cycling. As an activist I’ve always lived on a very low budget, which means I spend very little time or energy consuming. But when times are really tough, I pray, breathe, stretch. I see myself as a spiritual person – believing in compassion, equity and service.

This interview originally appeared in dandyhorse Volume 3, Issue 1.

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dandySHOPS: Hoopdriver Bicycles

By Carolyn Pioro
Photos by Anita Lalchan

In the H.G.Wells-penned comedy, The Wheels of Chance: a Bicycling Idyll, Mr. Hoopdriver, a worn-out everyman, embarks upon a liberating ten-day cycling holiday. He explores near-distant lands, makes unexpected acquaintances and most importantly, is offered the freedom of mobility and repose—all made possible by his trusty two-wheelled steed.

Stepping inside the eponymous Toronto bike shop, Hoopdriver Bicycles, the spirit of adventure and independence is embodied in the steel and aluminum framed bicycles that hang in the carefully packed retail space. Here you won't find bikes with tricked-out suspension, disc brakes or infinite gears. Instead you'll find stylish yet practical, high-quality but unpretentious, bicycles for urban cycling of any kind. Proprietor Martin Neale describes his fleet as simple, durable and definitely well-designed. Mainstream and complete bikes by KHS and Opus are prominent along the racks, as is a substantial-sized collection of accessories, like Brooks England bags and saddles. Neale sells what he loves, and what he loves is many a-thing local. His keep-it-close-to-home sensibility sees the shop stocked with loads from Toronto-based vendors, like wickedly whimsical chain guards from Poka Cycle Accessories to YNOT Cycle's pedal straps to artist Iris Fraser's DIY leather handlebar-wrap kits (the pre-perforated leather comes in gorgeous jewel tones and the kits includes everything you need to customize your handlebars, like a needle, and thread in myriad colours).

The store, which opened in the spring of 2009, sits beside The Common on the south side of College near Dufferin. Just a hop, skip and a jump across the sharrows, Hoopdriver Bicycles has a welcoming interior with warm red walls and a bright wood floor. It may feel like a cozy bookstore, but the bestsellers here are bound by frames, forks and finesse; many of these low-tech masterpieces are also one-of-a-kind. Since opening, Neale (with occasional assistance from his senior mechanic) has completed approximately 40 custom builds. Each of these beauties is photo-documented on the store's website. He finds doing custom work the perfect outlet for his artistic temperament and mechanical skills. His own collection has more than a dozen custom-vintage bikes, some from the 70s and 80s and even a 1939 CCM, which is on the docket to be rebuilt next. (Just as soon as he can find the time that is!) Besides doing custom orders, the shop also provides for the local cycling community with day-to-day repairs, accommodating riders needing to fix a flat or have a tune-up; the store will even keep your ride safe over the winter, as they offer bike storage for a nominal fee. We had the chance to talk to Martin "Hoopdriver" Neale about why bricks-and-mortar bike shops trump e-comm and about the rise of the not-your-hipster-boyfriend's fixie.

Your website mentions how Hoopdriver Bicycles provides "a much deeper level of service than is available from long distance (and even some local) sources." How is your shop different from other—concrete and/or virtual—stores?

We serve the needs of the people who are looking at their bikes on a deeper level technically, and want to customize a little bit. Then of course in reference to e-commerce... One of my big worries was whether or not we could compete with all the online stuff, but when you do provide good service it's surprising and gratifying to see how many people are happy to support local businesses.

What are some of the trends you're seeing with bikes this season and do you have any predictions for what's to come?

I'm finding that people are realizing that they don't need 21, 24 or 27 speeds for city riding. You know, three, two, seven or eight [speeds] works really well or even sometimes just one. I think there is a really bright future for single-speed and fixed-gear, but not fixed-gear how they are often portrayed in major media (as these track bikes with no hand brakes on them.) We're seeing single-speed bikes with room on them for larger tires, fenders, racks, water bottles and I think these will become more and more popular.

What sort of things are people looking for in a custom bike?

What we're doing more of in the shop now is working with people who are bringing in their vintage frames and parts and we're modernizing them a little bit. For instance: making a 70s road bike with skinny tires and a limited range of gearing a little more practical for perhaps its original owner, who is now older, and doesn't want to push those big gears uphill. Or for someone who wants to make their bike do something a little bit different. I did this with a lot of my own bikes: take an original bike and bastardize it, but in a very unique, sensitive and carefully designed way.

Hoopdriver Bicycles is located at:
1073 College Street
Toronto ON
M6H 1B2
(647) 344-9120

hoopdriver.ca

dandyhorse magazine is proud to have Hoopdriver Bicycles as an ongoing supporter. Customers of Hoopdriver Bicycles can pick up a free copy of dandyhorse while supplies last.

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Dissecting Mayor Ford’s Jarvis Letter – Dave Meslin

dandyhorse magazine's founding publisher Dave Meslin responds to the letter Mayor Ford sent to everyone who e-mailed him concerning the motion to remove bicycle lanes from Jarvis Street:

Hundreds of cyclists, concerned about their personal safety, have been e-mailing their Councillors and the Mayor about the looming removal of bike lanes on Jarvis Street. The Mayor’s office is responding to each message, with a form letter explaining his position. While the Mayor deserves credit for being responsive, most of the information in the letter is questionable and perhaps misleading. Let’s take a look:

Thank you for your email regarding the bike lanes on Jarvis Street. I appreciate hearing from you. Toronto’s economy loses billions of dollars every year from gridlock and traffic congestion. We need to make the situation better – not worse.

Yes, that is true. But traffic engineers have known for decades that the ONLY way to reduce congestion is to provide alternatives such as cycling and public transit. Widening streets, or adding car lanes, serves to INCREASE congestion in the long run by bringing more cars into the downtown area. The goal is “modal shift”, and that’s exactly what the Jarvis lanes were designed to do. By making the street safer, bicycle usage went up 300%. Meanwhile, car usage remained the same. Mission accomplished.

The Jarvis Street bike lanes experiment has been a failure. Ninety-four percent of commuters now face longer commutes on Jarvis Street. Over 15,000 commuters each day are suffering from longer travel times, for the sake of 600 additional cyclists.

First of all, the Jarvis lanes were not an experiment. They were approved by City Council, and are part of our City’s bike network – a network that thousands of cyclists depend on. Second, the lanes have not been a failure. City staff consider them to be a success. Fact: The “longer commute” is negligible, and city staff already have a plan to reduce the wait time by adding an advance green during rush hour.

As for the “600 additional cyclists”, this is a very misleading number. That statistic is based on an eight hour count, which means only one rush hour was included (either morning afternoon). Based on city data, it’s safe to say that close to 2,000 bike trips occur on Jarvis each weekday. Those numbers have increased greatly since the installation of the bike lanes. That means 300% more cyclists, traveling safely, to work or to school at Jarvis Collegiate each day. That is called a “success”.

The City should remove the bike lanes as soon as possible and improve travel times for thousands of daily commuters. City staff have been directed to develop a low-cost plan to do so.

There is no “low cost” plan that will improve traffic times. It doesn’t exist. That’s why this administration is moving so quickly with removal: because the proposal makes no sense and they are trying to minimise both debate and scrutiny. There is no plan to re-install the signals on the middle lane, so we may even see an INCREASE in congestion because without bikelanes we’ll have hundreds of cyclists trying to share the curb lane! The lane is too narrow for cars to pass bikes, so they will all be forced into the passing lane. This will SLOW DOWN traffic, create enormous levels of tension – and someone is going to get hurt badly.

Bike lanes were never intended to be installed on Jarvis Street. The original Environmental Assessment recommended against installing bike lanes – but City Council amended the report to approve bike lanes anyway.

But the Environmental Assessment DID recommend removing the middle lane. So how does this relate to the ‘congestion’ discussion? There is nothing in this proposal to remove bike lanes that will help drivers, unless you want to ban bikes completely, re-install the middle lane with signals (huge $$$), ignore all of staff’s recommendations, crack open a 1960′s urban planning textbook, and turn Jarvis into a highway. (Problem is, where will all those cars go, when they hit the bottom of Jarvis?)

As promised during the mayoral election, I am dedicated to delivering customer service excellence, creating a transparent and accountable government, reducing the size and cost of government and building a transportation city.

“Transparent and accountable?” Nothing could be further from the truth. This process has been carefully choreographed in order to ensure that there was no public consultation. The motion was deliberately moved at the last minute (after public deputations) to stifle debate and delay opposition voices. And the local Councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, was completely left out of the process – along with every single resident in her ward who depend on her to represent their needs at City Hall.

The process was not ‘transparent’ – it was secretive. And it was not ‘accountable’ – it was deceptive and intentionally circumvented the proper mechanisms of accountability: Standing Committee and Public Consultation. ‘Accountability’, without consultation, is a meaningless word. Accountable to whom? To what?

Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts. Please feel free to contact my office again at any time. Yours truly, Mayor Rob Ford City of Toronto

Have YOU contacted the Mayor’s office and your Councillor? There is still time to be heard. Click here to join the campaign for safe streets and fair process. And click here to join us at City Council on July 12/13.

Democracy belongs to those who stand up and participate.

Originally posted to Mez Dispenser on June 29, 2011.

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Wrenching for Communities with The Bicycle Commons

MEC Bikefest 2011
By Bryen Dunn
Photos by Colleen Kirley

The Bicycle Commons is a not-for-profit (NFP) initiative that grew out of a volunteer-based pilot project for St. James Town and Regent Park youth in 2010. During the course of the pilot, the founding volunteers became increasingly aware of the limited capacity of NFP cycling and community organizations to accommodate the overwhelming demand for programming. They also became increasingly aware of the economic and geographical obstacles that often make it difficult to access NFP cycling organizations.

The Bicycle Commons was formed at the end of 2010 with a mandate to build greater capacity in the cycling community, to facilitate community educational programs and to develop community outreach with participating organizations allowing them to leverage their combined resources. The focus is on bicycles since they are one of the best engagement tools imaginable helping transcend age, gender, cultural and economic differences.

Tamara Wise was introduced to The Bicycle Commons through a collaborative initiative with BikeSauce, where she has been a member/volunteer for the last couple of years. “The Commons and ‘Sauce have a very close relationship, with the founders of The Bicycle Commons providing startup resources for ‘Sauce, and in return sharing a well-trained volunteer base. After I began wrenching at their community bicycle clinics this spring, I realized that the Commons was a great fit for me and recently stepped into the role of Volunteer Coordinator,” she explains.

Although the outreach tends to be geared toward youth, and in particular disadvantaged or underprivileged youth, Wise admits, “The Bicycle Commons defines youth very broadly, but generally focuses on those between twelve and twenty-eight.” She also mentions that their intake process is only limited to name, age and reliable emergency contact information, as they regard any form of means-testing to be an additional psychological barrier for those already dealing with disparity.

The group is constantly expanding their capacity to provide free expertise and flexible equipment packages to other organizations that wish to conduct cycling education programs, bicycle clinics and host related events. Two recent examples include providing tools to allow Charlie’s Freewheels to expand their summer youth programs in Regent Park as well as providing a broader support package for Pathways to Education / Unison to establish youth bicycle programs in the Lawrence Heights and Neptune communities.

“Perhaps my personal highlight of this year is our ability to commit ongoing sponsorship to the Harm Reduction Outreach Program at the Queen West Community Health Centre by providing new bicycles, trailers, equipment, clothing and maintenance capability,” Wise divulges.

MEC Bikefest 2011

The Bicycle Commons currently has private funding in place, with an agreement goal of sustainable operation within two years. “We have avoided applying for grants, preferring to build sustainable partnerships rather than become enmeshed in the same cycle of dependency we council our youth to avoid. Obviously, this policy causes some challenges and requires creative solutions to maintain programming,” Wise points out.

At present, they're focusing a lot of energy on developing a sustainable social enterprise model.  Recently, they accepted an offer from Orontas to globally distribute their line of environmentally sensitive Bike Care products to not-for-profits. Community-based not-for-profits are often precluded from traditional distribution channels, and generally make smaller individual orders than commercial enterprises. By sourcing and distributing ethically produced products to NFPs the organization hopes to increase their access and build a sustainable economic foundation for their collaborative community programs.

In terms of partnerships, one of the greatest to date has been with Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). Wise explains, “We are the beneficiary of a very close relationship with Mountain Equipment Co-op, with whom we develop and share educational and outreach programming. MEC staff provide many of our core volunteers and generously share their expertise in sustainable practices.” Some of the many other organizations with whom they collaborate are BikeSauce, ThinkFirst, My First Wheels, Community Bicycle Network, Toronto Cyclists Union, Recipe for Community, Tower Renewal, Toronto Community Foundation, and the Learning Enrichment Foundation’s Bicycle Assembly & Maintenance (BAM) program.

“Our plan is to focus our resources on community outreach initiatives such as our free community bicycle clinics through this summer. These outreach programs allow us to build stronger partnerships and with experience, define the next stage of our programming. We are members of ING’s Network Orange and use their social innovation space for conferences as well as staff and volunteer training,” Wise advises. “Our community programs and clinics are operated without cost to participants. We underwrote the entire cost of our recent spring semester BAM pilot at the Toronto District School Board’s Alpha Alternative Secondary,” she proudly confirms. Wise mentioned they also receive tremendous support from community centres in their targeted neighbourhoods.

Volunteer members of The Bicycle Commons come from all parts of the city and are often involved with community groups in their own neighbourhoods. Once onboard they are expected to initiate and lead programming in the communities they know best. They will have the privilege of learning from youth and seeing the results of growing confidence as new skills develop. The organization also encourages youth participants to re-engage by volunteering to hone and teach their newfound knowledge. Depending on the program, there are often qualified educators available for assistance and advice. The staff and many of the volunteers come from teaching and social work backgrounds, in addition to maintaining a passion for cycling. They are presently run and staffed exclusively by volunteers, with educators and mechanics sometimes receiving honorariums.

Recently The Bicycle Commons was given a seat on the Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee (TCAC), which has been spearheaded by Councillor Mike Layton. Committee members come from a cross-section of Toronto's cycling organizations, such as the Toronto Cyclist Union, Culturelink and University of Toronto’s Bikechain. TCAC will meet several times a year to discuss collective data and opinions gathered through working on cycling's front line. Councilor Layton can then present this information at City Council meetings, and hopefully affect the decisions Council makes in regards to cycling in Toronto.

MEC Bikefest 2011

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dandySHOPS: Sweet Pete’s B-Side

By Duncan Hurd
Photos by Colleen Kirley

Selling bicycles on one of Toronto's busiest streets presents a unique challenge. The combination of on-street parking and a constant stream of cars and bikes on Bloor Street can be intimidating and overwhelming to someone learning or rediscovering how to ride a bicycle in the city. Manager of Sweet Pete's B-Side in The Annex, Chris Cousineau (pictured above with a customer), says they've even had a few customers purchase bicycles after only being fit in the shop as they preferred to learn to ride again on quieter streets or in parks.

Open since December 2010, Sweet Pete's B-Side is the first expansion of Pete Lily's popular bike shop, Sweet Pete's. The original location, which is located several blocks west on Bloor Street, stocks bicycles designed for the road, mountains and everything in between with a large store front. Due to the smaller space, B-Side focuses on bicycles and accessories for the everyday and commuter cyclist. Taking the collective bicycle knowledge their employees posses from all cycling disciplines, focusing on the commuter cyclist has been a joy. Cousineau tells me, "It's fun to sell city bikes because you know you're helping a person find something with the power to change their life."

"We spend a lot of time matching the right bike to the person," B-Side employee Tish Gaudio tells me. B-Side customers have often not been on a bicycle in years if not decades. Many come in not knowing what they want or need to get started. Most conversations with customers will sound like an interview as fitting a bicycle designed for everyday use requires more than just determining the right size. Finding the right riding position is important for comfort as are a few accessories essential for day-to-day city riding. The must-have accessory for every new bicycle? "Fenders," Trish tells me, "They're a pretty basic add-on but can make riding more comfortable in all weather."

Tish tells me how the new location has helped bring Sweet Pete's closer to many of their customers. Now open for 7 months, many customers of the original shop are happy that the new location is in their neighbourhood and that it is a shorter trip for tune-ups and service.

The hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, new counters and display units still look brand new and clean. "I've had customers ask me if they can bring in their coffee or are worried about bringing a dirty bicycle into the shop," says Tish. "We're a bike shop, so that means you're going to find grease here even if it does look clean." The dark mark in the shape of a chainring on Tish's leg tells of the hands-on approach the staff have, one they also encourage their customers to take when trying out bikes and accessories.

B-Side stocks comfortable, affordable hybrids and commuter bikes from well-known brands Giant, Kona, Trek and Opus as well as the city-focused Creme Cycles.

Sweet Pete's B-Side is located at:
517 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON
(416) 533-4225

Sweet Pete's is located at:
1204 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON
(416) 533-4481

sweetpetes.com

dandyhorse magazine is proud to have Sweet Pete's as an ongoing supporter. Customers of Sweet Pete's can pick up a free copy of dandyhorse at both locations.

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