April 19, 2018

Meet Toronto's Bike Riding Mayoral Candidate-To-Be

With Doug Ford focused on becoming Ontario’s Premier and no high-profile progressives planning to run for mayor (yet), it seems Mayor John Tory is unopposed for this October’s election. His record leaves much to be desired given he supported wasting billions on the one-stop Scarborough subway extension and rebuilding the Gardiner Expressway, as well as opposed Transform Yonge (deferral notwithstanding). Fortunately, road safety advocates and progressives will have at least one candidate they can support – Sarah Climenhaga – whom I spoke with about road safety and other issues.
Why do you plan to run for Mayor?

I support Joe Mihevc – the local councillor in my ward – and he has been responsive to residents’ concerns, so I don’t want to compete against him. Since I lived in Ward 21 for the past eighteen years, I felt it wouldn’t be right to parachute in another ward, which rules out a council run. While my candidacy is perceived by many to be a long shot, I believe it’s extremely important to advocate for the causes I and so many others believe in, as well to present a bold vision for the city.

Given the high number of pedestrian deaths this year, what must Toronto do to accomplish Vision Zero?

Toronto needs to take evidence-based actions that will help protect vulnerable road users. Council deferred voting on Transform Yonge – including protected bike lanes and wider sidewalks – which I believe council must adopt after the election. I feel we need to move faster on protected infrastructure, given the Bloor bike lanes took so long to get so little. Finally, the process for making our streets safer – whether through speed humps or pedestrian crossings – is far too slow and we need to consider other measures that put safety ahead of vehicle speed. I am interested to see what comes of the city’s investigations into streamlining the speed hump process, but even that alone will not address all our safety issues.

How would your not-for-profit experience contribute to your candidacy?

In the not-for-profit sector, I advocated for change, learned about different urban policy issues, examined program data, and worked with boards and partners. Being focused on evidence and able to listen, collaborate and communicate effectively was crucial. These skills are important for leading a city of 2.8 million people and they relate directly to the work of committees which the Mayor and councillors serve.

Your city budget deputation identified several issues Torontonians felt were unaddressed. Why do you feel Council is refusing to act on these priorities?

There is a huge gap between the need to raise revenues and the commitment to limit property taxes. Too often, council adopts plans without funding them. The City did meet some commitments such as the two-hour transfer, but it is not city building. At the same time, they approved wasteful spending on the Gardiner Expressway hybrid & refused to perform a value for money analysis of the Scarborough subway extension.

From your conversations, how receptive did you find Torontonians to be on raising revenues?

Many of the people I interviewed agreed on the need to raise revenues. However, some are skeptical about property taxes despite them being low compared to other cities, which can lead to a catch 22. There is a need for residents to better understand and participate in the budget exercise, as well as ask for what they need. A commercial parking levy is a revenue tool I believe should be seriously considered, among others.

How can budgets and public meetings be made more participatory?

I’m interested in looking at recommendations from civic engagement experts like Dave Meslin to see what more we can do. Right now, people attend public meetings when they feel threatened, but meetings need to be more proactive and constructive. I believe we should respect the deputants’ time and offer the chance to participate earlier in the budget and planning processes. Content and public notices should be made clearer, while meeting times and locations should be convenient to help reach out to those who are less engaged or have language barriers. Finally, people need to see evidence their input is genuinely meaningful; not just done for the sake of a process.

What could organizing groups such as Progress Toronto do to make their work more effective?

I am excited by the advent of Progress Toronto and other like-minded groups. I am sure they will work together and inform each other to get positive change in the upcoming election. It’s always important to avoid duplication of efforts and work co-operatively towards a common goal.

Incumbents often have an advantage during Toronto’s elections. What can candidates do to become competitive?

Candidates should get out to meet as many people as possible and try to engage people who don’t vote, given voter turnout can be as low as 40%. I strongly believe that Toronto should switch to ranked ballots, which avoids the problem of vote splitting and does not allow people to win with 20% of the vote (or less).

How can people get involved with your campaign outside of donating?

While donations are extremely helpful for hiring people, printing flyers and other materials, and showing the media the amount of support a candidate has, I truly believe money isn’t everything. Mayoral candidates who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars can still lose!

The first thing people can do after May 1 is to spread word of my campaign on social media and in conversations with their communities. As a next step, volunteers can help knock on doors and organize neighbourhood events. I would encourage not-for-profit groups to give questionnaires with questions specific enough to give a meaningful indication of platforms and values.

Upcoming Campaign Launch

For those of you wanting to learn more about Sarah or get involved, I encourage you to check her website and read her recent post on visiting crash sites across Toronto. Her campaign will be hosting a launch party on Friday, May 4 – exactly two years since the Bloor bike lanes were approved – at The Pilot. You can get tickets on this Eventbrite page.

Happy door knocking!
Rob Z (e-mail)

April 11, 2018

A Pedal Powered Time Capsule

Back in July 2015, Bikes vs Cars launched in Toronto which highlighted the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes, memorial rides, and the late Rob Ford. However, it wasn’t the first film that discussed cycling in Toronto. During last month’s library book sale, I found a copy of Pedal Power from 2009 which served as a time capsule of cycling ten years ago.
Unlike Bikes vs Cars, Pedal Power is more uniquely focused on bikes and covered some themes other films may have overlooked. The film starts with a focus on bike theft and “Planet Igor”; Igor Kenk’s second-hand bike shop on Queen Street West near Trinity Bellwoods Park. The Toronto Police arrested Kenk in 2008 and seized almost 3000 bikes; making him one of the world’s most infamous bike thieves. The film discussed a case of a Toronto woman who had her bike stolen and was told to go to Planet Igor; something other victims of bike theft did at the time to try to recover their bikes … for a price. Despite this reputation, Kenk kept detailed records of bikes brought to his shop for three weeks prior to resale and a New York Times article cited his tendency to give jobs to street people and to those with mental health problems.

Critical mass rides – which take place on the last Friday of the month – are virtually non-existent in Toronto today, but attracted large crowds back then. There was even a Halloween themed ride; something not done since Cycle Toronto’s Ward 14 and 18 groups organized the Lansdowne Phantom Bike Lane Ride back in 2013. (Time for a revival, folks?) The Critical Mass segment featured Geoffrey Bercarich of Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists, while the fight for bike lanes on Bloor led by Angela Bischoff and Hamish Wilson at the time also got a shout out. For a publicity stunt, Bischoff and Wilson rolled out a bike lane in front of City Hall with 5,800 signatures in support of the bike lanes.

The film gave a reminder how certain issues back then such as collisions, frustrated drivers, and business resistance to bike lanes – including Annette at the time – still haunt Toronto’s road safety advocates today. One of the frustrated drivers interviewed accurately captured the hypocrisy they express. He used the tired excuse of cyclists disobeying the laws such as sidewalk riding on Dupont which has bike lanes as justification for opposing them, yet claimed cyclists need to be on separate roads from drivers.

Outside of Toronto, the film discussed Vancouver’s bike to work day and cargo bike riding, protected bike lanes in New York City and Montréal, bike share programs in Paris and Montréal, and Amsterdam’s white bike program. Toronto didn’t get bike share nor “protected” bike lanes until 2011 and 2012, respectively, while New York’s Transportation Alternatives held a transportation challenge which saw a bicycle rider get around faster than subway and taxi riders. I was disappointed the New York segments didn’t give credit to Janette Sadik-Khan who spearheaded that city’s rapid installation of 600 kilometres of bike lanes from 2007 to 2013. As for Amsterdam, the film didn’t note the “Stop de Kindermoord” movement.

Official trailer for Pedal Power

The film ended full circle with the female bike theft victim successfully recovering her bike when the police invited the public to review the seized bicycles, as well as a cheesy song about two wheels being better than four. While the film covered several key issues including bike theft, road safety, and best practices around the world, there was no mention of do-it-yourself bicycle clinics (e.g. Bike Pirates, Bike Sauce) nor the perennial problem of motor vehicles parked in bike lanes. Even so, Pedal Power gave a good throwback to Toronto’s cycling scene ten years ago and provided a reminder of how far we have come today, while many challenges still lie ahead.

Pedal away!
Rob Z (e-mail)

March 26, 2018

Stopping Toronto's Kindermoord (Child Murder)

Toronto city council will be debating REimagining Yonge tomorrow and the latest turn of events has left me outraged. Mayor John Tory – along with the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) – have gone against staff which recommended the “Transform Yonge” option reducing Yonge Street in North York from six lanes to four while adding protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and an improved public realm. Instead, he is calling for bike lanes to be moved to Beecroft Road which would cost an additional $20 million and do nothing to improve the safety of Yonge Street which people will still use regardless of transportation mode. His main reason – of course – is his foolish refusal to accept anything that would make traffic congestion worse. A repeat of the Gardiner East fiasco?

March 13, 2018

Why I'm Running for Cycle Toronto's Board

Cycle Toronto’s Annual General Meeting is next Thursday, which also marks their 10th anniversary when they started as the Toronto Cyclists Union. This year’s AGM will give members the opportunity to elect four candidates to Cycle Toronto’s board of directors, reflect on the past year’s accomplishments (Hello, Bloor bike lanes!), and socialize (of course). I am pleased to announce I, Robert Zaichkowski, will be running for a board position along with nine other candidates (click here for bios). Not only would I like to explain why I am running, but also give you the chance to ask me questions on this blog, Twitter, or the Biking Toronto Facebook group.
Here's a brief profile I sent to Cycle Toronto.

Ward: 14 (Parkdale-High Park)
Occupation: Accounting Manager at Grafton Apparel
Cyclist: Well rounded (e.g. commuting, errands, long distance touring)
Skill: Finance/Accounting
Bio: Originally from Moncton, New Brunswick, I have been passionate about bicycles, numbers, and civic engagement since childhood. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CMA) with almost ten years of accounting experience. I volunteered with Cycle Toronto for over five years and write the Two Wheeled Politics bike blog (http://twowheelpoli.blogspot.ca).
Why I want to join the Cycle Toronto Board of Directors: I strongly believe successful board candidates need to be connected with grassroots advocates. My experience as a former Ward 14 Co-Captain and current service to the Advocacy Committee can be that connection. I want to continue Cycle Toronto’s suburban outreach and actions on issues beyond bike lanes such as budgets and design guidelines.
Skills & Experience: My accounting experience has been used within Cycle Toronto by helping advocates get involved in Toronto’s budget process and calling for increased cycling funding. I formerly served on a not-for-profit board for two years as a treasurer. Finally, I have a proven record in establishing partnerships with like minded organizations and effective use of social media.

Regarding the grassroots, I heard from many Cycle Toronto volunteers over the years about some board members not being visible at Cycle Toronto’s events or other advocacy functions. Yes, Cycle Toronto requires their board members to sit on at least one committee – a common practice for corporate and not-for-profit boards – and attend at one event per year. However, having regular grassroots experience (e.g. ward advocacy, working groups, bike valet, get lit) gives board members a feel for the thoughts of other advocates and the public, which helps improve their ability to do the primary task of ensuring effective governance and holding staff accountable. One thing I call on all board candidates – successful or not – if they aren’t already doing so is to get involved in Cycle Toronto in any capacity they can. Especially with the provincial and municipal elections happening later this year.
Building partnerships is part of Cycle Toronto’s mission, vision, and values. Since I started volunteering with Cycle Toronto, I have been exposed to many other grassroots organizations. These include election campaigns (and elected representatives) at all three levels of government, resident associations, business improvement areas, special causes (e.g. No Jets TO, TTCriders), and other cycling organizations (e.g. Share the Road, Canada Bikes, Durham Region Cycling Coalition). I also had the opportunity to attend conferences such as last year’s Winter Cycling Congress in Montréal, which brought together over 400 cycling advocates and experts from around the world. Finally, my blog covered a wide variety of perspectives including pedestrian and accessibility advocates, road violence survivors, bike couriers, lawyers, and cycling in different places.

These kinds of partnerships will come in handy when it comes to fundraising, membership recruitment, factoring in new perspectives for bikeway design, and expanding Cycle Toronto’s suburban outreach. The latter is critical given last month's Reimagining Yonge setback.

Here is what you can do to support my candidacy:
1. Get a Cycle Toronto membership if you are not a member or your membership expired! Base memberships start at $30 per year, which gets you discounts at various bike shops and other places, as well as supports advocacy efforts across the city. If you join in March, you have the chance to win a bike. :) 
2. Attend the AGM on Thursday, March 22 (7 PM) at the Garrison (Dundas & Ossington). Only members can attend, though you can join at the door.
3. You can arrange for proxy votes if you cannot attend. Click here to get your proxy form, which needs to be filled out and sent to proxy@cycleto.ca by 6 PM on Tuesday, March 20.
4. Feel free to ask me any questions you have.

I look forward to seeing you on March 22 and wish the other candidates the best of luck.

Rob Z (e-mail

March 05, 2018

A Taste of Vaughan

Back in mid-December, the TTC opened the Spadina subway extension with six additional stops including the first ones outside the (amalgamated) City of Toronto. While I biked on some backroads in York Region (Stouffville) in 2013 and 2014 to train for the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, they were rural roads which had no cycling infrastructure except for some paved shoulders. Helen and I explored the new subway stops and did a brief bike ride in Vaughan last weekend to take care of both things at once.

Before biking in Vaughan, we locked our bikes at the end of the line; that being Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. Why couldn’t the TTC call the station “Vaughan Centre” to make things easier? Naming aside, Vaughan Centre left a good impression when getting off the platform. It easily connects to the VivaNext bus rapid transit line on Highway 7, while the station’s aesthetics were modern with the mirrors visible from the escalators and a dome shaped exterior. Ample ring-and-post bike parking was provided, while cycling infrastructure has been provided next to the station. (more on this shortly)
Arriving at Vaughan Metropolitan Centre

The other subway stations also displayed modern styling, though the placement of certain stations is questionable. Especially Highway 407 which doesn’t have anything within walking distance and exists only to connect GO buses to the TTC. Pioneer Village is almost one kilometre away from the real village, which may cause some to question the chosen name, though its wooden paneled exterior stands out.
York University station with its large courtyard
York University’s design is a double winged version of the one at Vaughan and along with a large courtyard, serves as a student gateway. Finch West is all about stripes and will connect with the future LRT. Finally, Downsview Park connects with the Barrie GO line and the nearby market is mediocre at best.

Back at Vaughan, bike lanes could be found everywhere within a short walk from the station. Highway 7’s bus rapid transit route included buffered bike lanes from the start, though some progress has been made to protected bike lanes elsewhere in York Region per their latest cycling newsletter. They currently exist on Highway 7 from Town Centre Boulevard to Sciberras Road in Markham, while a pilot project from Town Centre Boulevard to Roddick Road using bollards was also done.
A raised cycle track on Millway only on one side

Millway Avenue has a proper raised cycle track next to the bus terminal just north of the subway station, which unfortunately covers only one block and one side next to the bus terminal. The remainder from Highway 7 to Portage Parkway consists of buffered bike lanes which were blocked by parked cars doing pick ups and drop offs. Maybe York Region should get their own Kyle Ashley to check this out? Raised cycle tracks were also present on Apple Mill Road from Jane Street to Millway Avenue, which ought to be extended west to Edgeley Road once construction has been completed. A suburban mini-Amsterdam?
Maybe York Regional Police needs their own Kyle Ashley?

The bike lanes disappear north of Portage Parkway, but it’s an industrial area with very few cars during the weekend. After Millway ends north of Langstaff, we then headed to Edgeley to Vaughan Mills. Unfortunately, no bike lanes exist for the rest of the trip, which lead to sidewalk riding on wider roads. Vaughan Mills does have some ring-and-post parking, but it is not the kind of destination to bike to with some sharrow markings surrounding the mall. However, the worst seen during our brief trip to just south of Major Mackenzie is the use of sharrows on Jane Street! What were they thinking, placing sharrows on a road designed for 80+ km/h which is fatal for people on bikes in the event they get struck? York Region later informed me protected bike lanes are planned on Jane near Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.
Sharrows on Jane Street north of Langstaff Road (via Google Maps)
Right now, Vaughan is in the process of updating their cycling master plan including a workshop on Thursday, March 8 for those in the area. The latest draft calls for a dense grid near Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, as well as bike lanes on Edgeley and Bass Pro Mills Drive to connect Vaughan Mills with the subway. Several regional roads (e.g. Jane Street) have been included which are York Region’s responsibility, while there are also a few proposed trails. My first impression revealed a few good first steps, but I will need to bring my bike to Vaughan (and York Region) a few more times to get a more complete picture of their cycling network.
These left turn boxes have been used across York Region
Rob Z (e-mail)

January 31, 2018

Let's Talk Road Violence

Despite Toronto city council approving the “Vision Zero” road safety plan in 2016 aimed to eliminate traffic fatalities, road violence has gotten worse. 2017 saw a record number of vulnerable road user deaths at 46 and the first fifteen days of 2018 saw five pedestrians killed. To help humanize the road safety issue, I spoke with Jess Spieker who survived a collision when riding a bicycle in May 2015 and volunteers with Friends and Families for Safe Streets.

January 23, 2018

Bike Painting at Toronto Island

Until this past weekend, I never considered the idea of visiting Toronto Island during the winter. When Artscape Gibraltar Point organized a bicycle painting event called the Bike Island Mural Project, Helen and I felt we had to check it out. We set out on Saturday to Ward’s Island – the only destination open year-round – and were greeted by a vintage bus.

January 15, 2018

Budget Balancing Blues

This year’s Toronto budget is an opportunity for Mayor John Tory and City Council to set the stage for this fall’s election with $11 billion in operating expenditures and $25.7 billion in capital projects at stake. Unfortunately, the current plan fails to account for various council-approved initiatives such as low income passes and two-hour transfers for the TTC, as well as the TransformTO climate action plan. All this disappointment to satisfy the Mayor’s desire to limit property tax hikes to inflation. Social Planning Toronto has a good write up on some of the other unfunded priorities, though I will elaborate on the budget’s impact on cycling.

January 05, 2018

Ring the Post on Bike Parking

The first thing that comes to mind for many people regarding cycling advocacy is bike lanes. But what use would a connected bike lane network have if you don’t have a safe place near your work, school, or errands to lock your bike? The lack of bike parking is a challenge many Torontonians face, as do cities around the world. Let’s look at where Toronto stands with bike parking and what lessons can be learned from elsewhere.
Toronto's iconic ring-and-post bike parking

January 01, 2018

2017 … The Calm Before the Storm

A new year has started which will become pivotal for Toronto’s cycling community. Not only is there October’s municipal election with three new council seats up for grabs and a mayoral rematch between John Tory and Doug Ford, there is the June Ontario election which may see the end of fifteen years of Liberal rule. Before worrying about the coming political storm, let’s take a moment to reflect on 2017.