November 11, 2014

Spokes and Swapping Skills

On November 8 and 9, over 70 cyclists from all parts of Toronto (except Etobicoke) participated in Cycle Toronto’s second annual Skills Swap at City Hall. The first day consisted of speeches and advocacy workshops, while the second day was a bike plan pre-consultation with city staff.

Day 1
Councillor Layton kicking off Skills Swap (via Cycle Toronto)

Saturday got kicked off by Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina); a full time cyclist and part of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees cycling infrastructure. He told stories about cycling during his childhood and how cycling (and other) bills get through city hall (see below). He identified the roles of various stakeholders (media, businesses, not-for-profits, constituents, colleagues, advisors) and expressed the need to establish a big tent in order to make incremental changes and move forward.

Layton’s speech was followed by a ward advocacy presentation from Jared Kolb (Executive Director), Mark Romeril (Ward Advocacy Manager), and Liz Sutherland (Board Member and Advocacy Committee Chair). Kolb mentioned Cycle Toronto has 2861 members and compared two proposed contraflow bike lanes on Shaw and Glen Cedar. Shaw succeeded thanks to a bike friendly councillor, a strong advocacy group, and support from schools in which children made deputations. Glen Cedar, however, was deferred due to a perceived lack of support. Romeril discussed the ward groups’ main functions such as chair, communications, advocacy, and outreach; while Sutherland took suggestions from participants on collaboration between ward groups and other stakeholders.
Cycle Toronto Executive Director Jared Kolb

For an outside perspective, Justin Jones spoke about the Yes We Cannon campaign for separated bike lanes on Hamilton’s Cannon Street, which were installed in September. For Jones, it was about finding opportunities to say yes while removing reasons to say no and communicating ideas that are easy to understand. He mentioned grassroots organizations must appear professional and organized, which they did when starting in May 2013 with t-shirts, banners, and petitions. Within 24 hours, they had 500 signatures!
Bike Parade on Hamilton's Cannon Street

Participants then attended two of four breakout sessions. The first was a choice between public speaking and running a meeting. Public speaking included making bumper stickers, while the meeting one involved groups drafting agendas. After lunch, it was either lobbying or talking to strangers. While I didn’t attend the former, the latter included a role play in which participants alternated between volunteers and passing cyclists.

Day one finished with a business engagement session. Daniel Arancibia of the Toronto Cycling Think and Do Tank discussed business concerns about cycling infrastructure leading to a loss of customers. However, research confirmed fewer than 10% of customers in The Annex arrive by car, while cyclists spend more than drivers. Monique Drepaul of the Eglinton Way Business Improvement Area (BIA) referenced Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” and how the research enabled her to convince the BIA board to support Eglinton Connects, which prompted other BIA’s to follow suit. She encouraged advocates to keep their requests brief and do the necessary due diligence and collaboration when lobbying BIA’s, given staffing and time management limitations. Drepaul also referenced other bike friendly BIA’s such as Downtown Boston for cycling wayfinding and Wellington West in Ottawa, Ontario’s first bike-friendly BIA.

Day 2

City of Toronto Cycling Unit Staff (via Cycle Toronto)

Sunday’s objective was for Cycle Toronto’s ward groups to present local cycling connection ideas to city staff before consultations for the new bike plan begin next spring. Before then, Daniel Egan – Cycling Infrastructure and Programs Manager – discussed the development of the 2001 Bike Plan and subsequent evolution of cycling. When work on the 2001 Plan started, Toronto was recently amalgamated, Cycle Toronto didn’t exist yet (founded in 2008), and cycling wasn’t on the political radar except in Downtown Toronto. While the goal of 1000 lane kilometres of bike lanes by 2011 fell short (Toronto has 213.2 lane kilometres), Egan admitted it was overly optimistic, but the bikeway network was only one of 49 recommendations. The main goals of doubling cycling modal share and reducing collision rates were fulfilled, while Toronto has stronger political and community support for cycling, along with stronger advocacy.

Some recent successes Egan mentioned include the following:
  • Rapid multi-use trail network expansion since 2009, including the 2012 Trails Implementation Plan consisting of 77 kilometres of trails at a cost of $60 million.
  • Toronto’s first separated bike lanes on Sherbourne, Wellesley, and Richmond-Adelaide.
  • Approval of transit related projects such as Eglinton Connects.
  • A new winter bike lane maintenance program starting next year.
  • A new mobile cycling app to collect data for the new bike plan.
Data from City of Toronto Cycling App

During the Cycle Toronto ward group presentations, a consensus emerged for separated bike lanes on east-west arterial roads such as Bloor, Danforth, Eglinton, and Lawrence. Yonge was the most commonly cited north-south route; though Dufferin, Bathurst, and Woodbine were also mentioned. Each ward identified dangerous intersections, missing links, and potential contraflow routes. After the presentations, participants then reviewed other ward groups’ maps and co-ordinated priorities.

While providing city staff with input is important in establishing the new bike plan, cycling advocates must now take their experiences back to their neighbours, local businesses, and councillors to help make that plan a reality.

Bring it on!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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