June 03, 2014

Is Cycling Becoming An Election Issue?

After decades of urban planning being primarily oriented towards automobiles in North America, various signs are pointing towards that model becoming obsolete.
  1. When adjusted for population growth, driving in the United States peaked in 2005 and is currently at its lowest level in 20 years.[1]
  2. Younger people are deferring or abandoning vehicle purchases for reasons ranging from the persisting difficulty in finding work to a preference for living in bike and transit friendly urban areas.
  3. Cycling has increased in popularity to a point where cyclists now outnumber cars on College Street in Toronto.[2]
Elected officials are starting to take note with varying degrees of commitment. Does this mean cycling is finally getting heard as a legitimate election issue? Let’s explore what is being done at all three levels of government.
A bidirectional cycle track on Burrard Street (Vancouver)
Municipal

Of the three levels of government, cycling infrastructure falls mostly under municipal jurisdiction; though connecting routes, safety laws, and funding can be contributed by provincial and federal governments.

As mentioned in previous posts, Toronto has done a lackluster job with cycling infrastructure, given its anti-cycling mayor and a lack of will at city council. Still, there is reason for hope. Within the past twelve months, Cycle Toronto and like-minded advocates have been able to convince council to save and expand the city’s bike share program, restart the environmental assessment for bike lanes on Bloor, improve snow clearing operations, and approve protected bike lanes on Eglinton. Other major cycling projects such as a pilot project for Richmond and Adelaide, as well as improved bike lanes on Wellesley, Harbord, and Hoskin, have been approved by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) and are scheduled to be debated at the June 10-11 city council session.

When Cycle Toronto kicked off Bike Month on May 26, they unveiled their municipal election campaign called Minimum Grid. (http://www.minimumgrid.ca) It calls for a grid of 200 kilometres of new bike lanes to be installed during the 2014-2018 term of council, 100 kilometres of which are to be protected. In response, David Soknacki became the first key mayoral candidate to unveil a cycling plan; calling for a doubling of new cycling infrastructure from current levels, accelerated environmental assessments, improved key intersections, and improved bike parking availability in condo towers.[3] Olivia Chow promised to reveal her cycling plan in the coming weeks, while Cycle Toronto called out John Tory for wanting to scrap the council approved Eglinton Connects, which he later retracted.[4]

Provincial and Federal

In Ontario, which is in the midst of an election campaign, the Liberals and New Democrats have taken various measures to improve cycling safety. In 2010, Cheri DiNovo, MPP for Parkdale-High Park, presented a bill requiring drivers to give one metre of space when passing cyclists, which was defeated. Earlier this year, Glen Murray, Minister of Transportation and MPP for Toronto Centre, introduced Bill 173 (Keeping Ontario Roads Safe Act), which died when the election was called. This bill included $25 million in cycling infrastructure funding, the one metre passing rule, increased fines for “dooring,” and a provision requiring new highways to include paved shoulders. This bill was the first action plan relating to the latest provincial cycling strategy called #CycleON. The New Democrats promised to build on #CycleON by adding $5 million per year in funding and including a Complete Streets policy. While the Ontario PC Party has not released any cycling policies, their MPP Norm Miller was part of Ontario’s all-party cycling caucus including Liberal Mike Cole and New Democrat Catherine Fife.

In Ottawa, the NDP is the only federal party to have made policy statements related to cycling, the most important of which has been to make truck side guards mandatory. Olivia Chow, who used to be the NDP’s transportation critic, expressed support for a national cycling strategy, which has been done in European countries such as Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Is It Enough?

There are certain cycling advocates in Toronto who expressed frustration with the lack of progress and doubt the new measures would be enough. While these concerns are legitimate, the gains from the past year and the attention obtained during the current provincial and municipal election campaigns are an indication things are going in the right direction. It’s a matter of continuing to advocate for cycling infrastructure and holding our elected officials to account.
Bike on!
Rob Z (e-mail)

 

[1] Doug Short. “Vehicle Miles Driven: Another Population-Adjusted Low.” 24 May 2014. http://advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/DOT-Miles-Driven.php
[2] Cycle Toronto. “Cycle Toronto Observes More Bikes than Cars on College Street.” 13 Dec 2013. http://cycleto.ca/news/2013/12/13/cycle-toronto-observes-more-bikes-cars-college-street
[3] David Soknacki. “More Cycling * Safer Streets.” 23 May 2014. http://www.soknacki2014.com/more_cycling_safer_cyclists
[4] Jennifer Pagliaro. Toronto Star. “Toronto Election 2014: John Tory softens position on cancelling Eglinton Connects project.” 9 May 2014. http://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/toronto2014election/2014/05/09/mayoral_candidate_john_tory_softens_position_on_cancelling_eglinton_connects_project.html

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