My One and Only Complaint about Cycling in Toronto

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Ok, the headline of this post is a little misleading. I have plenty of complaints about cycling in Toronto. And, if you read BlogTO, you know that there’s a list and growing discussion of even more gripes going on there.

But… and this is a big BUT… nothing outweighs the benefits of cycling in Toronto…

We have trails through ravines!

We have a growing bike lane network!

We’re busting cops for parking in bike lanes!

We have a cyclists union!

We look damn good on our bikes!

We have more than 70 bike shops in Toronto!

However, I do have one big complaint… and boy-oh-boy is it a doosie!

There are simply not enough cyclists in Toronto.

That’s it, that’s my complaint.

Some days it’s just so lonely. I know there are thousands upon thousands of cyclists around. But, I want to see more… don’t you?

Join the discussion in the BikingToronto Forum

Photo via the BikingToronto Flickr Pool

Dottie Demonstrates Dressing for Winter Cycling

While waiting for the TTC last night at Dufferin and Bloor I watched several cyclists pedal by. Mostly, they were men. And mostly they were wearing cycling tights, and bright yellow cycling jackets, and thick gloves and goggles or glasses.

Then, with the wind blowing her hair, a woman cycled past in a long wool jacket, wool mittens and tall boots.
As demonstrated below, you don’t have to don the latest advances in plastics to cycle year round, even in Toronto. Never underestimate the power of wool to keep you warm.

Video via Let’s Go Ride a Bike

How to Get Teenage Girls on Bikes; Focus on Something More Than Beauty

Recently, Scientific American released a much talked about article stating that in order to assess the “bikeability” of a city, you simply count the number of women on bikes. The conclusion is that the safer the city is for cycling, the more women you’ll have on bikes.
In Canada, women make up just 30 percent of cyclists and in Toronto under 2 percent of the population choose bicycles as their main transportation choice. Needless to say, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
To make cycling a more “attractive” option for women in the UK, campaigns are popping up that place emphasis on looking good while cycling. However, is this the only concern keeping young girls off their bikes? Sarah Phillips says, “no.”
What’s stopping teenage girls from riding bikes?

Campaigns to get women cycling seem to focus on how to look good over other concerns. Is this really all girls care about?

Posted by Sarah Phillips

Teenage girls don’t ride bikes. Or so says the Darlington Media Group, who have set about trying to rectify the problem with a campaign to get young women cycling.

Several years ago, the National Children’s Bureau published research that revealed that on average, boys cycle 138 miles a year and girls only 24 miles. This still rings true. Christie Rae, 16, from Newcastle told me: “I do have a bike, but I don’t really use it. Only sometimes in the summer when my friends and I cycle round to see each other. I don’t know many girls that do, actually.”

Darlington’s project began with the production of a documentary called Beauty and the Bike, chronicling a trip made by a group of teenage girls to Bremen in Germany, where they met their cycling-loving peers and found out about the joys of the open road. It all sounds slightly twee, but addresses the important issue that girls tend to get to a certain age and it’s no longer the done thing to get about by bike.

I have every admiration for such attempt to get women enjoying the numerous benefits of cycling, but what is frustrating is the focus on appearance that is often so integral to said schemes. Aside from the title, BATB, which incidentally has been used for a similar scheme in the past, Darlington’s site makes it clear they are keen to address the important issue of remaining fashionable while cycling. But as I recall, it was an overprotective mother that stopped me from spending too much time around the bike sheds in my teenage years, rather than any personal concerns over the way I looked.

Another offender is the site Bike Belles, run by the otherwise excellent charity Sustrans, which encourages women of all ages to take up cycling. One helpful section dedicated to beauty tips provides such gems as: “Use waterproof mascara when it’s raining on your bike, and take a powder compact for a quick refresher on arrival.” Admittedly, I write as someone who occasionally arrives at the office sporting a minor oil slick on my face, but I sincerely doubt that women are so image conscious that this is what is stopping them. As many a female cyclist will confirm, it is more hassle than it’s worth looking attractive while travelling by bike.

Aside from fashion tips, the beauty bikers and belles both voice concerns over the lack of decent cycle lanes and safety issues that make our roads a wholly unappealing prospect. Those two are serious issues that would put inexperienced riders off, and are much more worthy of a campaign to get people, regardless of gender, on their bikes.

Discuss this topic in the BikingToronto Forum

Did you get your bicycle "Safety Check"?

These days, a bicycle is often deemed road-worthy not by its level of safety, but simply by how it looks and functions.
Would we have “bicycle shaped objects” like those available at the big-box stores we love to hate if there existed a safety certification program ranking bicycles for safety?
The above photo was taken on Roncesvalles. The bicycle was locked with a rusty chain that was more than likely as old as the bicycle itself. Not much else remained on the bike to hint towards its origins, but this “Safety Check” sticker sure brings about many questions.
Was this sticker just a marketing tactic used to appeal to the want of having a safe bicycle? Or, was this sticker a requirement at the time. I’ve read that the city issued licence plates back in the 1950s after the bicycle was brought in to an officer who would then inspect the bicycle for safety. Although I haven’t found much else on what requirements needed to be met in order for a bike to be deemed safe.
On second thought, maybe this bicycle is even older than that. The peach basket on the rear rack could indicated that this bicycle was once owned by James Naismith… although I didn’t check to see if there was a hole cut in the bottom.
Do you know more about this bicycle or bicycle safety checks? Share your stories in the BikingToronto Forum

“If you don’t have congestion, then you’re actually in trouble because people aren’t moving around wanting to do things.”

Group Commute

Congestion. Downtown Toronto is congested with pollution-emitting vehicles. Yet, pockets of our city also have other forms of congestion, ones we certainly aren’t as worried about.

The congestion of foot traffic in Chinatown and Kensington Market. The congestion of bicycles along the Don River trails.
This is the congestion we want. Congestion that provides opportunities to be social, deliver a constant stream of shoppers to local merchants and gives you the feeling that we live in a city populated with more than just the latest models of Toyota, Ford and BMWs.
From The Globe and Mail:

Et tu, Toronto? Traffic a problem Caesar couldn’t solve

Options up for consideration at Transportation Futures conference include toll roads monitored by GPS and High Occupancy toll lanes

Anna Mehler Paperny

More than 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar is said to have gotten so fed up with traffic congestion in ancient Rome that he banned all transport vehicles from the city during the day.

The ensuing nocturnal clatter resulting from this “war on the cart,” as Romans took their commute to the city’s narrow nighttime streets, caused mass insomnia and apparently drove Juvenal mad.

Traffic congestion is far from a new problem, or one exclusive to Canada’s largest city, whose overcrowded roads, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, are costing the Canadian economy $3.3-billion a year. Across North America, individual vehicle trips have grown at a rate far outpacing either population growth or new transportation infrastructure for years. When Toronto Mayor David Miller was first elected in 2003, he made addressing the city’s jam-packed roadways a priority – and was the target of a political drubbing for suggesting tolls might be the answer.

This morning in downtown’s Metropolitan Hotel, Transport Futures, a non-partisan think-tank, will host a conference to discuss the options open to planners seeking respite from clogged transportation arteries.

This meeting comes on the heels of an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report released this week that found congestion in Canada’s most populous city costs the country an estimated $3.3-billion annually, and a gauntlet thrown down by the Toronto Board of Trade challenging the city’s mayoral candidates to come up with innovative solutions.

Here are some of the options up for consideration.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Nineteenth-century Torontonians had to stop and pay a fee at toll booths on Kingston Road, and although the endangered species of traditional toll booth is almost extinct, it’s still in common on bridges.

In the meantime, far more fancy incarnations are taking the “free” out of freeway: Toll gates that could be installed on highways around the Toronto area could charge drivers based on anything from their mileage and driving time to their carbon footprints.

Taking the high-tech route

The congestion-pricing system of the future operates like a souped-up Global Positioning System. It’s used in Singapore, the planet’s dean of congestion pricing – the island city-state has been fighting clogged roads since 1975. The latest technology involves transponders installed in each vehicle, and charges drivers based on where they drive, what time of day and for how long. Singapore adjusts its prices depending on how crowded roads are, charging more as vehicles’ average speed slows to a traffic-clogged crawl and dropping it when space frees up.

London and Stockholm, both cities with a clearly demarcated downtown core, charge drivers each time they enter the inner city. While London has a flat rate, the peninsular Swedish capital changes its fees based on time of day – a far superior, nuanced strategy in targeting congestion, argues Bern Grush. Mr. Grush is chief scientist at Skymeter, a Toronto-based company that researches and manufactures this radio-frequency identification for vehicles.

But a toll strategy that cordons off Toronto’s downtown could be a hard political and logistic sell. An ambitious alternative that just received legislative approval in the Netherlands would cover a wide swath – conceivably as much as the entire province of Ontario – so vehicles would be tracked and automatically billed varying prices wherever they went.

High-Occupancy Toll lanes

One more reason to bring your spouse, child or cubicle-buddy along for the ride. Within the next 25 years, Ontario has plans to create 450 kilometres of High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes that would be reserved for multi-passenger cars. But many jurisdictions are turning to High-Occupancy Toll lanes and letting solo drivers use them – for a price. Shortly after HOT lanes were set up on a bottleneck stretch of California highway between Orange County and Riverside County, almost half the drivers opted to use the less crowded toll lanes.

Parking

Simple equation: You’re less likely to drive your car to work if there’s nowhere to put it once you get there. In many jurisdictions there’s a growing push to lessen the number of parking spots available, or at least to make them more expensive. Copenhagen has been doing just this – taking away a few parking spots every year in an urban-planning version of musical chairs – for decades, says University of Toronto geography professor Paul Hess, and it seems to be working on the congestion-fighting front. That might not go over so well in Hogtown, however, where business owners and landlords are still required to provide a minimum number of parking spots in their establishments.

Transit and cycling

All those wallet-protecting commuters will have to go somewhere. Although some road space is expected to be freed up when drivers take less clogged routes or make their drive in off-hours, improved transit and cycling infrastructure is a vital part of the equation, says University of Toronto urban planning professor Paul Hess: The city needs to act aggressively to beef up its “skeletal” transit system and make the city safe and attractive for would-be cycling commuters – something it has taken other cities decades to accomplish.

But, Prof. Hess noted, “all successful cities face congestion issues.

“If you don’t have congestion, then you’re actually in trouble because people aren’t moving around wanting to do things.”

Bikephopia?

Bells on Bloor - Queen's Park Montage

Is “bikephopia” a spelling mistake? Or is it a strange mish-mash word meaning a city where it is fear-inducing to bike in? Sort of a bicycle negative of utopia…

From The Toronto Star:

How to conquer bikephopia

A new study suggests women fear cycling in infrastrucutre-poor cities like Toronto. I’m trying to get over it

My bike is going to kill me. That was all I could think about as I rolled the thing out of my apartment and made those initial awkward pedal pushes in my first ride around downtown Toronto.

But gliding along Queen St., with no angry cars honking or getting too close to my wheels, I figured I might actually get home alive. If I could just remember the road rules.

Hand signal directional changes. Turn left on left lanes only, or get off the bike and cross the intersection like a pedestrian. If you’re changing lanes near streetcar tracks, approach them at a sharp angle so your tires don’t get caught in them. And for God’s sake, don’t pass cars on their right-hand side at stoplights.

You know the saying that you never forget how to ride a bike? Apparently I had. Or was too scared to remember. Either way, I’m not the only one. Studies from Australia and the U.S. identify me with a demographic researchers insist is key to promoting urban cycling: women.

Jan Garrard, senior public health lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, calls us an “indicator species.” Women are more likely than men to avoid cycling because they see it as dangerous. The extent to which women hop on their two-wheelers, or fail to do so, is a good indication of how developed a city’s cycling infrastructure is – how safe it is for biking, how accessible and extensive its bike lanes are.

Women in North America largely don’t ride bikes. In areas where they do, such as Europe, there are more cyclists on the road overall.

John Pucher, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has studied this trend for over 12 years. He found that in Denmark, where 18 per cent of all commutes are by bike, women make up 45 per cent of cyclists on the road. In the Netherlands, where women cyclists are in a slight majority at 55 per cent, cycling takes up nearly a third of all commuting trips.

We Canadians, however, aren’t doing so well at a 30 per cent bike share for women, and maybe a 2 per cent commute share for bikes. (The trend is similar in the U.S and Australia.) In Toronto, just 1.7 per cent of the population rode to work in 2006 – just 35 per cent of them female. But we’re not the worst city, laughs Pucher. “In Dallas, Texas, 95 per cent of bicyclists are men. Which is disgusting!”

Garrard, meanwhile, explores the psychology behind the numbers – why most women refrain from riding in the first place. She surveyed Melbourne’s cycling population by asking what situations kept them from the road.

“For just about every constraint we included in our item list,” she says, “women were more likely to say it was a constraint. And these things included traffic conditions, weather, lack of time.”

Sounds familiar to me. Though I’d have added fear of my face in the pavement.

A larger number of women also indicated they preferred off-road routes, or paths separate from cars. Last month, Scientific American reported on a Portland, Ore. study that coincides with this, having tracked Portland cycling commutes by GPS. When given the choice, women were more likely to take longer routes to a destination if it meant using a car-separate path.

Which is something cycling advocates in Toronto would argue we don’t have enough of. Most are intended for recreational use – not a lot of help if you’re trying to get to work, which is largely why I wanted to cycle in the first place.

Pucher points out that the idea isn’t to paint the non-cycling majority of women as timid creatures, and that other bike minorities, children and seniors, are also important in gauging a city’s bikeability.

“I’m pretty risk-averse myself,” he says. “I think anyone who is concerned with safety is going to want some kind of facilities that address those concerns.”

There are bike shops in Toronto that try to, by offering women-only programs that teach bicycle repair and construction and traffic laws.

Sherri Byer, co-ordinator at the Community Bicycling Network on Queen St. W., finds she still gets condescended to in unfamiliar cycling shops, even though she’s been fixing bikes for eight years.

“I think that’s why Wenches with Wrenches is so popular,” Byer says of CBN’s four-week program, which aims to provide women with a non-competitive learning space. “I kept thinking the market for it would dry up for it, but it’s not.”

I figured the Sunday sessions for women and transgendered people at Bike Pirates, a cycling co-op on Bloor and Lansdowne, was a good place to start. If I did the work they would supply me with the help, space and tools to build a bike of my own.

And as Lisa McLean, a Sunday volunteer, points out, there’s a certain confidence that comes from knowing how your bike works.

That may not stop me from slamming into the open door of a parked car, I think to myself as McLean shows me how to install ball bearings into a stem. But at least I can fix my bike afterwards.

Besides, I can’t imagine any of the women working at Bike Pirates fitting into the description of risk-averse or road-shy. With any luck (and a lot more riding), hopefully I will eventually count myself among them.

The War Against Physical Activity

An excerpt from the 1958 Disneyland TV Show episode entitled Magic Highway USA.

Did the optimism of super-speed travel indicate just how unsatisfied everyone already was with suburban living? My future fantasies involve car-less avenues, spacious parks, dense and sustainable work spaces and no silly magic highways or conveyor belts.

The World Now Knows Toronto Has Cycle Chic

Congratulations!

Every pole becomes a bike rack

While many Torontonians know that the post and ring racks that line many of our streets aren’t fool-proof, their simple design is unmistakable.
The major benefit of their design is that they give cyclists options when locking. Different bicycles require different locking positions to secure a wheel and frame at the same time and the curved loop allows this, although you are encouraged to lock to the centre pole.
Currently a pilot program in London, UK, the Cyclehoop transforms street signs and poles into usable bicycle parking. The bright colours attract are a lot of attention, which is the point. As more and more bicycles are found on streets around the world, transforming existing space into useable bicycle parking is a “quick-fix” while other initiatives (like large-scale parking stations) are in the works.
Photo via Cyclehoop.com

Bloated Roads and Bloated Bellies

Intersection

The problems are obvious. Our manufactured environment is detrimental to our health, when done wrong. Physical activity not only makes you smarter, it helps improve our lives. Yet, when we let our built environment get in the way, well, the results are clear.
From The McGill Daily:

Walking life
Max Halparin outlines steps to a healthy city

Overlooking Autoroute 20 on Angrignon one July afternoon, my friend Elizabeth and I decide it would be a good time to dismount our bikes and document our relative danger. As more and more cars rush to the on-ramp leading to the Turcot, the sidewalks and pedestrian lights seem increasingly out of place in the blatantly car-oriented area. But it’s not just highway interchanges surrounded by industrial parks, barren land, and mega-mallas that are ill-suited to bikes and pedestrians. It’s anything designed beyond the human scale. Riding north toward Montreal-Ouest, I wonder how many four-or-more wheelers even noticed the two non-motorists crashing their hurried, gas-guzzling routine.

Any trip beyond the extended McGill bubble reminds me that this is exactly what has defined Canada’s (predominantly sub)urban landscape for the past 60 years. While trekking around Montreal for the better part of the summer and fall conducting a walkability survey of neighbourhoods in nearly every borough, I was struck by how much of the city resembles the stereotypical suburban layout I thought I’d escaped after bidding farewell to the sprawling, monotonous blob that is “outside Toronto.” This would be far less important if the issue was purely one of aesthetics. However, as study after study shows, the way we build our environments can have a significant influence on our health.

Sprawling cities have lead to sprawling waistlines. Our reliance on cars as opposed to our feet or pedals is central to the decreasing rates of exercise – especially that which is incorporated into the daily routine. Automobile emissions in turn affect air quality, leading to smog days in cities and respiratory illnesses in residents.

“It’s probably not that my grandparents went to the gym more, or that our genetic disposition has changed significantly over the past 30 years,” explains University of Washington pediatrics professor Brian Saelens when I ask him why he focuses on understanding the built environment’s effect on health. “If I’m to explain increased rates of obesity and inactivity, the only plausible thing is that we’ve changed our environment.”

“A fantastic amount of energy has gone into making the cars happy and providing capacity for more traffic, as if there were no other important issues in the city,” explains architect and urban designer Jan Gehl. Recorded by CKUT-Radio, Gehl’s talk at McGill this past July draws heavily on his experiences making Copenhagen one of the world’s most people-oriented cities, as an example for Montreal to follow.

Businesses, however, often claim that if customers can’t park, they won’t shop. Though this line of thinking is often used to derail the installation of bike lanes, data proves these fears illegitimate: other modes of transport increase the number of passersby – to the tune of 8,000 more per year on some Copenhagen streets, Gehl says.

Proponents of more liveable cities can find common ground with environmentalists who decry the increased carbon emissions and energy use predicated by suburban living; so can local food advocates fed up with the conversion of arable land to parking lots, buildings, and chemical-addicted lawns. The same is true for teachers and parents who see a correlation between their child’s health and academic performance. “There’s lots of synergies there, but if [the message is] splintered, it’s not going to be nearly as effective,” Saelens notes.

Since the implementation of all this information produced in academic fields still rests outside institutions, connections between public health researchers and other advocates for liveable cities are key. There are encouraging signs that this message is getting out there: the U.S. Centre for Disease Control (CDC) recently published 26 different strategies for preventing childhood obesity suggested by researchers, and the Active Living By Design organization links planners with public health researchers to advocate for healthier living through infrastructural change. Further, Projet Montréal’s success in the mayoral elections suggests the growing popular appeal of people-oriented planning.

At a conference discussing the CDC report, Saelens was asked what change would have the greatest impact over the built environment. His response? “Making gas $10-12 gallon, and the reason isn’t because I don’t want people to drive – there is some utility in it.” With people paying the real price for their behavioural choices, Saelens argues, “then you can have serious conversations about land use and true public transportation.”

LINK

Photo via Flickr