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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2011 Bikeway Network – Part Three: Defending the Jarvis bike lane – Dave Meslin

Part Three: Defending the Jarvis bike lane

I’ve spent most of the last week talking about bike lanes on John Street. I’d like to shift gears and discuss a much more important – and imminent – situation on another “J” street – Jarvis.

While the staff report does not recommend removal of these lanes, we have all heard the rumours that some members of Council want to see these bike lanes disappear. It is very likely that we’ll see a motion to amend the staff report, to remove the lanes. The motion could come at City Council (July 12/13) or could come at today’s PWIC meeting.

As you may recall, the Jarvis bike lanes were approved in 2009 and were the result of an enormous advocacy effort. Opponents felt that the bike lanes would create traffic chaos on the street – but those fears have not materialised. Rather, the staff report indicates that traffic disruption has been minimal:

“Travel time increased by approximately two minutes in both directions following the installation of the bike lanes in the a.m. peak hour and by three to five minutes in both directions in the p.m. peak hour. Much of the increaed travel time could be attributed to the delays and queus experience in at the jarvs Gerrard intersection…….The introduction of an advanced left turn phase in the northbound direction at this intersection, scheduled this summer, will reduce the delays.”

But here’s an even more interesting figure:

Traffic counts on Jarvis Street, before and after the installation of the bikelanes, show no change in car trips but a 300% increase in bike trips! The number of cyclists jumped from 290 (per 8-hour period) to 890 (in the same period).

(note: these counts were done by City Staff – not by consultants. So I trust them).

If these lanes are removed, all 890 of those bike trips will either have to find a new route – or be forced into a dangerous situation. Jarvis was a nightmare to ride on before the bike lanes were installed.

Cyclists should be getting ready for a big fight. Losing Jarvis would be the worst set-back in cycling safety in the history of Toronto. It would put hundreds of riders at risk, and would set a horrible precedent in the downtown core. It would also be a slap in the face for two reasons:

1) Unlike the removal of the lanes on Birchmount and Pharmacy, this removal is NOT being proposed by the local Councillor – Kristyn Wong-Tam. This would be an attack on her role as Councillor, and undermines her legitimacy as an elected representative.

2) The mayor himself was asked during the 2010 election if he would remove the Jarvis lanes if elected. His answer was no. He said it would be a waste of money. I agree. The mayor has been quite good at keeping his election promises. He should keep this one too.

In 2009, we were able to organize over 100 cyclists to gather in the chamber for the vote. This time, we’ll need 1,000. Every network, every list, every blog should be put into action. We’ll need to hand out flyers to every single one of those 900 cyclists who are using the bike lanes. Volunteers will need to talk to students, parents and teachers at Jarvis Collegiate. We need to talk to business owners, the BIA and resident groups.

Personally, I’d rather focus my energies on supporting the good parts of the mayor’s bike plan (Richmond, Bloor East, Dawes Road, etc). But if they try to remove Jarvis, it will overshadow anything positive in the staff report and we’ll be forced into an important battle to defend our rights to safe streets.

Some people may paint us as being “unreasonable” for not “compromising”. But there is no room for compromise on this issue – because there is no practical reason to remove these lanes. To be clear, if a bikelane was installed on a major street – and no cyclists were using it, AND it was creating traffic chaos, then perhaps there would be room for discussion. But neither of those conditions apply to Jarvis.

There is no traffic chaos – and there are over 600 new cyclists EACH DAY using the street. Bike lane removal on Jarvis is nothing short of insanity. It’s an ideology-driven, politicized, opportunistic political stunt that will literally put lives at risk.

Please mark July 12 and 13 in your calendars. This is when you’ll be needed at City Hall. These bike lanes won’t save themselves. Everyone is going have to step up to the plate.

Originally posted on June 22, 2011 to mez dispenser

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2011 Bikeway Network – Part Two: Separated lanes on Richmond and Bloor – Dave Meslin

Dave Meslin is dandyhorse magazine’s founding publisher. Here he looks at the major issues in the City of Toronto’s 2011 Bikeway Network Update:

Part Two: Separated lanes on Richmond and Bloor

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post showing how Richmond Street would look if we converted one lane of traffic into a physically separated bike lane. I was inspired by the new bike lanes that were being installed in New York City, and I created this image – merging Manhattan’s 8th Ave bike lane, with our own Richmond Street:

While this may seem like a fantasy, we are one step closer to bringing into reality with this this week’s staff report. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong has been vocally supporting a downtown ‘network’ of separated lanes for months. Of all the lanes proposed in the network, I’m most excited by two proposals: Richmond Street (from Bathurst to Sherbourne), and on Bloor (from Sherbourne to Broadview, across the Viaduct).

The Bloor lanes will create a safe and inviting route connecting the downtown to the east side of the Don River valley. These lanes are scheduled to be installed this year. We should be cheerleading this proposal and ensuring that it gets built. This will be Toronto’s first physically separated bike lane, and will serve as a showcase for what’s possible in other parts of town.

The Richmond Street lanes will not happen quite so quickly, but they are far from dead (as some have suggested). The report recommends that Staff “assess the feasibility of separated bike lanes on Adelaide or and/or Richmond” as part of a “larger overall transportation operations study of this area.” A preliminary “terms of reference” for this report is due in September. This study will also, hopefully, help sort out the tension surrounding the north/south bike lane options for John St or Peter St (I won’t get into that here. Can of worms…).

This is a video I shot on my iPhone last week in Brooklyn. It gives you an idea of how a physically separated bike lane on Richmond could look and feel:

The Richmond lanes are something cyclists should be watching closely, and supporting with all their might. We’ll need to build public support – from drivers, to the BIAs, to taxi companies, health agencies, insurance companies, journalists, editorial writers, and of course – City Councillors.

These two proposals (Bloor East and Richmond) are the highlights of the report, for me. The lanes are bold, and could greatly increase the number of people who feel comfortable biking on our streets. Here’s one of the first comments I got on my Facebook wall, when I posted the Brooklyn video:

That’s precisely why I love separated lanes. They are a ‘gateway’ to cycling. Non-cyclists are more likely to try bike riding, if there is a safe place to ride. We’ll see more suits, more kids, and more families on bikes. This could be the biggest step forward for cycling that we’ve ever seen downtown.

Originally posted on June 22, 2011 to mez dispenser

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2011 Bikeway Network – Part One: Birchmont and Pharmacy – Dave Meslin

Dave Meslin is dandyhorse magazine's founding publisher. Here he looks at the major issues in the City of Toronto's 2011 Bikeway Network Update:

Tomorrow at City Hall, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) will be discussing, debating and voting on a package of proposals for Toronto’s bike network. Some of the report is really positive, and some of it is a huge step backwards for Toronto. I’m writing a few quick blog posts today about some of the highlights of the report.

You can also read responses from the Toronto Cyclists Union, Torontoist, Toronto Star and iBikeTO.

Part One: Birchmount and Pharmacy

In 2008, City Council approved the installation of bike lanes on Birchmount and Pharmacy, in south-west Scarborough. Both of these lanes had also been approved in the 2001 Toronto Bike Plan (see PDF for District 4).

The bike lanes are working well, and automobile traffic is also flowing nicely. In the new report, city staff state clearly that “staff have reviewed the operation of these lanes and have concluded that they do not have a significant adverse effect on teh traffic operations and parking situation” on either street.

Here’s a great video, shot by cyclist Darren Stehr, showing a rush-hour ride on Pharmacy. He starts the ride at Danforth, at 5:10pm, and rides all the way up to just south of Lawrence and then back down again to Nancy Street. You can see that the street is working – for all users.

(The original video was 28 minutes long, but he reduced it to 8 minutes by speeding up the tape, for your convenience)

 

During the 2010 city election, Michelle Berardinetti campaigned very strongly against the bike lanes, and won the election with over 50% of the vote.

As a democracy activist, I’m torn here between my faith in democracy and my love for bike lanes and road safety. On one hand, I believe that residents should have a major role in designing their own neighbourhoods. On the other hand, we know that bikelanes encourage more cycling and can also save lives (and broken arms, legs, etc).

Councillor Berardinetti likes to point out two factors, related to this situation:

1) There are alternative routes for cyclists. For example, there are proposals to create a new off-street bike route through Warden Woods that could connect to the Gatineau Hydro Corridor (to the north west), and the Taylor Creek Park path (to the west). Another nearby route is the proposed Dawes Road bikelane.

2) She claims that her office receives many phonecalls complaining about the bike lanes.

Here’s my response to both factors:

1) Alternative routes: If there are alternative routes being built, let’s wait until AFTER those routes are completed, before removing the lanes. Why create a gap, in which cyclists in the ward have no safe route? It seems irresponsible to remove the existing lanes before alternatives have been built. I would also add that the alternative routes might not be convenient for those cyclists who live on, or depend on, Birchmount and Pharmacy.

2) Public opinion in the ward: As I said, I like democracy. So if the vast majority of residents in the area want the bike lanes out, then take them out. But I think it’s a mistake to interpret the election results purely as a referendum on the bikelanes. There were many other issues in the election. I also think it’s a mistake to base the decision solely on complaints that are coming in by phone. In politics, there is a sad truth about constituent behaviour: they are more likely to call when they DON’T like something, than when they DO. No one is going to randomly call the Councillor and say “I just want you to know that the road is working fine for me and, speaking as a driver, you can leave those bike lanes in”. Those calls don’t happen. So if we’re going to remove bikelanes in the name of democracy, let’s do it right. That means a proper consultation process, where residents have time to learn the facts, talk to each other, propose alterations, hear from the actual cyclists who use the street, etc.

We know that bike traffic isn’t high on these streets. No doubt. But even if 40 people are using it, doesn’t that make it worth it? That’s not for me to say. This is a choice for the residents of the ward, and it would be irresponsible to remove these lanes without properly consulting those residents. I think many of them would support the lanes, in the name of safety and fairness, if given the chance.

So I propose these amendments to the staff report:

1) That any bike lane be removed only after proper community consultation.

2) In the case of removal, the re-painting should only occur after alternative routes are completed.

Staff should also be asked to prioritise the Warden Woods bike path, and explore options for connecting the Warden Woods path to the Taylor Park Creek path, with a connection through the city-owned Dentonia golf course.

I’ll add one thing here too. The total cost of removing these lanes is $210,000 dollars. ($120,000 for Pharmacy and $90,000 for Birchmount). Seems like a waste of money, to paint lines and then remove them three years later. Imagine how that money could be better spent. I would spend it on three full-time staff, who’s job is to promote cycling in suburban neighbourhoods!

I’ll write more later today about other parts of the plan….

Originally posted on June 22, 2011 at mez dispenser

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