Toronto vs. Everybody the Bike Month wrap edition
By Tammy Thorne
Something strange happened to me on Bike to Work Day this year.
My boss told me to I had to get my driver’s license.
Bike to Work Day kicks off Bike Month in many places around the world. It’s largely symbolic – a way for a city to show it supports cycling, at least in theory – and this magazine, dandyhorse, has religiously covered it every year because of its symbolic importance. But for me, personally, Bike to Work Day is pretty much every day.
But this year on Bike to Work Day, I was summoned by my bosses to the boardroom to go over my qualifications for my marketing job.
I was told that in my role I was required to not only have a driver’s license, but also a car.
I recently moved to a small city (population under 100k) northeast of Toronto where cycling to work is not something that people really do. There’s a great class divide happening everywhere (and is becoming more noticeable every day in North America, even in Canada) but it’s quite stark here in the more rural environs. And as we now know, cyclists are often affluent people – cycling is the new golf, as they say. And if you ask our new premier, cyclists are nothing but downtown, latte-sipping, elites.
But here, people who bike around downtown are more likely to have bags on their handlebars full of empties. It’s a different socioeconomic bracket than what you see in the big city. The empty plastic clank clank whirrrr sound of an e-bike scooter rolling over a pothole is a much, much more common sound here than the gentle clicking whir of a spinning freewheel in the streets.
Don’t get me wrong, there are MAMILs (middle-aged men in lycra) galore in this region due to the decent collection of off-road trails and routes. In fact, the cycling club here is the largest club per capita in Canada. But all these guys, they drive to work.
This city does have a few bike lanes and received a big chunk of funding to do more – but they haven’t gotten around to it yet.
And in the meantime, I feel like I’m having a flashback to 1999. “Did you ride in again today?” is something I now get asked every day. The day that it rained and I brought a change of clothes, well, I thought we might have to have another meeting in the boardroom with to explain.
I consider my commute short. My coworkers, on the other hand (many of whom are young and healthy), think my commute is “admirable” and epic.
It’s 15 minutes.
Even though there are many lovely off-street bike trails here, none take me to work. In fact, there are no bike lanes downtown that actually connect you to destinations. (Just like the early days in Toronto’s bike lane development.)
When I rode to work to U of T from Parkdale in the 2000s, other people were riding to work, sure, but there were still always those who asked, “Did you ride today?” But that’s all changed. Tens of thousands of people who live in or near downtown Toronto now bike to work and school. There are protected bike lanes in the core that fill up to the brim (to the bollards?) every day to the point where there is now bike congestion in Toronto.
Sure, the city still has a long way to go to become bike-friendly, but Toronto has grown its bicycle culture to the point where it is a fully accepted form of transportation downtown.
By moving merely an hour or so away, I’ve effectively travelled back in time.
Now that my commute requires that I ride next to pick-up trucks going 50 km/h (if they're doing the speed limit) on “downtown” streets, I am missing the crowded, bike-lane-filled city that I called home for over two decades. When I started biking everywhere in Toronto it felt like it was pretty much just me and the bike couriers (and the Layton clan) – but now it feels like everyone is doing it.
In my new town, with fast moving cars and trucks all around me and a deadly combination of new student drivers (both schools are on the outskirts and only one has a bike trail to it) and so many retiree drivers (we have the second largest population of people over 65 in Canada) – I miss the predictably congested streets of Toronto, as crazy as that sounds. As we know, slower speeds are safer speeds.
One big problem we have here that Toronto had in the early days of the bicycle revolution is building bad bike lanes, like bike lanes in the door zone (College Street anyone?) or ones that start nowhere, and go nowhere.
The surprising part is that census data for my new home city shows that walking or cycling to work is more common here than in any other city in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area. A Toronto Centre for Active Transportation book on the topic even put this city’s bike-laned mainstreet on the cover.
Here’s the rub though, that bike lane is one of the most dangerous bike lanes I’ve ever ridden in: It’s in the door zone between busy on-street parking and a fast-moving, two-lane, one-way traffic. They're extending it so it connects to destinations and other bike lanes this year, which is great, but it's still in the door zone with no barrier, and no intersection treatments, on a very fast moving street. It's better than nothing (as we used to say in Toronto in the early days when the City's transportation department proposed things like sharrows.)
When I moved here about a year ago I wrote a story for a local paper about how great the cycling was based on the trails I’d been on and the city’s plans to build at least four new bike lanes and make existing ones longer, connected and buffered. I was thinking, wow, we could be the Boulder, Co., of Canada. But, a year later and none of what municipal officials told me was happening has happened. There’s one person who manages the entire portfolio here and everyone says what a “great job” she’s doing and how nice she is. Criticizing this person is pretty much tantamount to kicking a kitten. So I won’t.
Another thing I won’t do?
I won’t be getting my driver's license any time soon.
And even if I do, I’ll still be riding my bike to work every day.
Tammy Thorne is publisher and editor of dandyhorse magazine, founded in 2008. She does not have a gym membership.
Related on dandyhorsemagazine.com:
Dykes on Bikes Bring Pedal Power to World Pride (from 2014)
Bike lane update for Peterborough (Electric City July 2018)