Last Friday, word went out that Share the Road Cycling Coalition was planning to award the City of Toronto a Bicycle Friendly Community Gold designation at their annual Bike Summit. A number of cycling advocates wrote the Coalition with our views that this type of award would be insulting to many in the cycling community given the actual state of cycling in our fair city. Nevertheless, the powers that be went ahead and handed out the award, which was accepted by a group of people including many of the hard working City staff on the bike portfolio.
I’ll quote from my letter to Share the Road (with a change of tense here and there) to point out how meaningless this “Gold” designation is in my opinion.
“As a long time, four season bike commuter who has also biked in many other cities in both the US and Canada, I feel that although Toronto is starting to make strides in this direction, it is a long way from being a bike friendly city. Specifically, Toronto has virtually none of the attributes that the League of American Cyclists use to define a “Bike Friendly City” let alone one that is rated as “gold”. The LAB list reads like a wish list towards which Toronto can aspire
Do we have 65% arterial streets with bike lanes? Do we have “very good access for bikes to public transportation”? Looking at the LAB criteria, we score better on the “encouragement” spectrum, but we are silver at best on mode share, and not even bronze on the infrastructure side.
As such, having awarded Toronto “gold” greatly undermines the credibility of this award.”
I wish that they had given it a couple more years (or given the present pace of progress, perhaps ten years). Once the West Toronto railpath goes all the way downtown, the Richmond Adelaide bike lanes are permanently installed, Queen’s Quay is done, and there is a serious, protected east west route (bike lanes on Bloor/Danforth, for example, and the bikeway along the Eglinton corridor), and there are more bike lanes on outlying arterial roads where the majority of bicycle fatalities have occurred over the last decade, then we can begin to point to a connected “Minimum Grid” network of bike infrastructure leading from all points of the city through to downtown. At that point, we can start putting ourselves on a plane that approaches what cities like Vancouver and Montreal have done.
At the time that I wrote the letter, I hadn’t realized that Toronto was already rated silver, as was brought up by Herb at ibikeTO.
Now that Toronto is now “gold”, I really hope that the politicians will not make hay and stall further progress. If we are gold now, then what in five or ten years? Platinum? Diamond? Unobtanium?
Cycle Toronto posted this reaction to the award, and chose not to be present at the ceremony. What is unfortunate is that although organizations such as Share the Road and Cycle Toronto are working towards many of the same goals, this type of award creates a split in the community as it sends a mixed message about cycling in the city. Getting the gold doesn’t mean that things are good for cyclists.
Granted that there has been some progress in bicycle infrastructure over the last decade, but we are just at the beginning of a long journey towards having cycling taken seriously as a significant and safe transportation option for Torontonians. We all see the present situation where it has become more and more difficult to get around the city, and with the significant densification that is happening in many neighbourhoods, things are only going to get worse if we continue along our present path.
Further note: there is a rationale for rating Ontario differently than the US or other jurisdictions in Canada: in the US there is federal funding for bike infrastructure, despite the Republican’s efforts to strip it out every time the highway bill comes up for renewal. In the Vancouver area, there is funding that I think is associated with Translink. I don’t know about Montreal or Quebec. The City of Toronto bike infra budget is very small, and despite this recent announcement, provincial funding is limited as well.
Update: this recent article indicates that all is not unicorns and rainbows in Montreal as well.