Youth leaders present vision for cycle-friendly Ontario

Youth participants of the Ontario Youth Bike summit mingle with MPPs at the closing reception

Youth leaders present vision for cycle-friendly Ontario

Story and photos by Matt Talsma

Ontario youth leaders passionate about improving cycling conditions across the province met with cycling experts over the weekend in the inaugural Ontario Youth Bike Summit. The event, hosted by advocacy organization Share the Road, took place Sunday and Monday, October 6-7, at North York Civic Centre, and wrapped with a closing reception attended by Ontario MPPs last night at Queen's Park.

At the reception youth leaders presented the cycle-friendly agenda they developed over the weekend. Justice Betty and Akehil Johnson, co-chairs of the Youth Bike Summit advisory committee, spoke to a room of peers and MPPs - including provincial transportation Minister Glenn Murray - outlining the advocacy and planning strategies that came out of the summit process.

Co-chairs to the Youth Bike Summit advisory committee Justice Betty and Akehil Johnson (at podium), with the recently assembled Ontario All Party Bike Caucus (left)

Johnson was confident in the summit outcomes, observing the passion of participants, and noting that all the ideas discussed were realistic and implementable. Betty confirmed the inspiring tone of the the event, saying the proceedings "epitomized the care and concern that young people have for making our communities, and our province better and safer for cyclists in order to encourage more people to cycle more often". The pair then outlined specific ideas and strategies developed over the past few days, including:

-  implementation of the  #CycleON strategy - the recently announced and ambitious 20-year provincial strategy  outlining steps for creating province wide improvements to our cycling system.

- creating connected cycling networks to provide young people with the option to choose cycling as their mode of transport, especially safe routes for travelling to schools

- investment in cycling education programs to  provide enhanced confidence to encourage youth to cycle more often.

- strengthen legal protection of cyclists with laws such as the one-metre passing law, and legislation for tougher penalties for motorist offenses such as "dooring"

- implement Share the Road's one per cent solution, which would see one per cent of Ontario's transportation budget (or $25 million), dedicated to cycling programs and infrastructure

Participants of the Youth Bike Summit pictured with Ontario Minister of Transportation Glenn Murray (centre) and Share the Road founder and CEO Eleanor McMahon (left)

The recently formed All Party Bike Caucus, made up of provincial MPPs Mike Colle (Liberal), Catherine Fife (NDP), and Norm Miller (PC), addressing the room afterwards, voiced their support for the youth recommendations.

Miller discussed the legislative obstacles that he has been working to overcome. For example new roads with a broad paved shoulder would allow for the easy construction of new cycling routes between municipalities, however provincial law prohibits cycling on the shoulder of many highways - legislation he is working to change.

Catherine Fife expressed support for tougher penalties in cyclist-motorist interactions, noting that just last week, when her friend and colleague Waterloo councillor Diane Freeman was injured when hit by a car from behind while cycling, the offending motorist only received a $110 ticket

Ontario Minister of Transportation Glenn Murray spoke briefly about the #CycleON plan, and requested the youth's continued involvement with the cycling vision as it rolls out in 5- and 1-year strategic action plans. Minister Murray also acknowledged the tireless effort of Summit host and Share the Road founder Eleanor McMahon, in advancing progressive cycling policy  in Ontario.

While some have reacted to early readings of the province's #CycleON strategy with skepticism, the youth leaders are confident that an ambitious plan is desirable and achievable:

"When we ride to school, to visit our friends, to spend time with our families, we are engaging in an activity that is great for our health, has zero emissions, and is low cost. The cost of doing nothing by comparison is significant. We look forward to working with Share the Road and advocates across Ontario, to making our province the most bicycle friendly jurisdiction in Canada".


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