Olivia Chow is the Best Choice for a Bike-Friendly Mayor of Toronto

On October 25th, 2010, I sat horrified in my Amsterdam flat as news made its way to me that Rob Ford – of “My-heart-bleeds-for-them-when-I-hear-someone-gets-killed-but-it’s-their-own-fault-at-the-end-of-the-day” fame – had been elected Mayor of the city I still called home. Toronto, the city that Bicycling Magazine had named the #1 Cycling City in North America 15 years earlier, had just elected a man who proudly proclaimed in City Council that cyclists were a “pain in the ass” as its chief magistrate. Rob Ford had campaigned on a divisive kind of politics which pitted downtowners against suburbanites, drivers against cyclists, and generally aimed to divide the city against itself. Living in one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world and knowing that in less than a year I’d be returning to the aftermath of Rob Ford’s culture war on urban mobility, I was heartbroken at the prospect of being a cyclist in Rob Ford’s Toronto.

“I’m wearing pinko for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything,” - Don Cherry at Rob Ford's inauguration.
“I’m wearing pinko for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything,” – Don Cherry at Rob Ford’s inauguration.

Toronto’s official Bike Plan, approved in 2001, promised to build a network 1000 km of bike lanes in 10 years. Progress has been slow since then, and has nearly come to a halt during Rob Ford’s tenure as Mayor. 13 years since the plan was made official and now two years overdue, Toronto has less than 600 km of dedicated bike lanes, just over 100 km of which are on-road. Worse, we actually lost bike lanes under Ford, with 500 m of freshly built lanes on Jarvis Street having been torn up in 2012.  The city only plans to build (paint) 10 km of bike lanes this year. Despite the fact that about half of Torontonians cycle for leisure, commuting, and sport, City Hall has yet to get in gear with adequate infrastructure.

On October 27th of this year, Toronto will have the opportunity to elect a new Mayor who will commit to improving transportation in our city. For those who want a bike-friendly mayor who understands the importance of all modes of transportation, Olivia Chow is the best choice.

Toronto Mayoral Candidate Olivia Chow

Full disclosure: I am involved in Olivia Chow’s campaign. One of the biggest reasons I chose to support Olivia early-on was due to her longtime commitment to fighting for safer and better transportation for people across Canada using all modes. As a Member of Parliament and as Opposition Transportation and Infrastructure critic, Olivia has championed important causes, such as mandating side guards for trucks, a National Transit Strategy, and a National Cycling strategy.

Olivia announced her cycling plan for Toronto today, in which she promises to build 200 km of separated, designated bike lanes. Her plan is bold, fiscally responsible, and will improve conditions for cyclists, drivers, and transit users citizens in the immediate future. Her four year plan includes:

  • Repairing potholes and improving bike lane maintenance
  • Expediting bike lane pilot projects
  • Adding $ 1 million of unspent funds to the cycling capital budget
  • Expanding bike parking at transit stations
  • Better snow removal

If elected Mayor, Olivia Chow would triple Toronto’s existing network of bike lanes. For folks like me who rely on a bike as their primary means of getting around, this is huge. Moreover, this plan constitutes the Minimum Grid cycling advocates in Toronto have demanded.

The other major candidates’ platforms leave cyclists with much to desire:

Rob Ford hasn’t announced a formal cycling plan as of yet, but in the past – when not decrying their existence – has advocated for relegating cyclists to the city’s parks and trails. I’m all for a weekend ride through High Park, but until we can all live, work, shop, and socialize in parks all year, bike lanes to and from nowhere just wont cut it.

John Tory’s offering isn’t much better. Tory has also yet to announce a plan (shocking, I know), but when pressed on bike lanes said that he’s “in favour of making opportunities available for cyclists to get around the city too because that helps, in its own way, to get traffic moving too.” and that he “wants to make sure whatever we do we are not putting additional obstructions in the way of people getting around in this city.” When other mayoral candidates were advocating for better bike infrastructure on Bike To Work Day earlier this year, John Tory was “a curious no-show.” Tory pledged to fight gridlock by completely ignoring the findings of the $150 million Eglinton Connects proposal for a complete street midtown, only to backpedal on the gaffe after drawing the ire of citizens and experts alike. John Tory’s views on cycling lack any consideration of what it means to build and maintain complete streets for a network of moving people, and rely on the same divisive driver-vs-cyclist, “get out of my way” rhetoric that Ford so negatively mobilizes. Despite the city’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat disagreeing with him, Tory – like Rob Ford – thinks of bikes as little more than something that will harm and obstruct cars. I guess it’s a good thing he sticks with what he knows: golf carts, surface subways, and water taxis.

Karen Stintz’s campaign has yet to release any formal policy on cycling, but her own personal policy of blowing through stop signs while on two wheels doesn’t do much to keep our streets safe. I’m happy to see that Stintz supports the “Idaho Stop” so enthusiastically, but I’d suggest that in the future she should channel that enthusiasm a little more productively.

Credit where credit is due: David Soknacki released a comprehensive and progressive bike platform.

The starkest contrast, however, is between Olivia’s vision for cycling in Toronto and the current lack-thereof under the current administration. Toronto has a vibrant community and culture of cycling that should be embraced. Olivia understands that embracing and respecting cyclists is commensurate to embracing and respecting all users of our roads. She understands that investments in bike infrastructure are investments in infrastructure for all citizens. She understands that complete streets are not for one kind of vehicle or the other – that they are for people.

Bike infrastructure is a a smart investment that our city desperately needs. As one of the least expensive and quickest ways to expand the capacity and increase the flow of our streets for all users, we can’t afford not to invest in bike lanes. Safer streets mean less collisions, injuries, and deaths, and make cycling safer and healthier for children. More people on bikes leads to less people in cars, which leads to everyone getting home quicker. Toronto deserves the kind of modern transportation system that other major cities enjoy.

Toronto needs more bike lanes. Toronto needs Olivia Chow.

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