By Georgina Wilcock, Area 9 Coordinator
What is it, with all these cyclists clogging Toronto’s roads? Three lanes of fast moving SUVs, bitterly cold winds, snow and ice, angry missives in the Sun yet nothing seems to deter these vulnerable, wobbly two wheeled vehicles.
Why do people risk their lives with such reckless pursuits?
I will try to answer from my own perspective, that of a middle aged, middle class, female professional living in Don Mills.
I started bicycle commuting on a point of principle. In April 2010 the Deep Water Horizon had just blown up. By the time it was capped in July, 4.8 million barrels of oil had spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. I remember watching that ongoing spill and its terrible impact and decided I had to change my mode of transportation. I dug out one my children’s old bicycles and set off, wobbly and, I will admit, a bit smug.
After a very short while I realized I was riding my bike because it was fun! I loved the speed and the feel of freedom. For me the experience was the closest thing to flying. I lost weight, I certainly gained fitness, I had casual chats with people in the streets, and I no longer paid for parking and never once sat in traffic. In the summer I could use off road paths. I saw deer and birds on my way to work. Many studies conclude that cyclists are the happiest commuters. I came to understand why.
As the first winter came, I encountered more obstacles. I could no longer use the paths as the ice was not cleared. Reluctantly I ventured onto the busy roads, Lawrence East or Ellesmere, to get to work in Scarborough. That is when I started to lose my nerve. Crossing the exit to the DVP on Lawrence by bicycle is not for the faint of heart; in fact it’s really not for anyone except the suicidal. I had many a close encounter with fast moving cars. I was screamed at for being on the roads. I became aware of the kill rate of vulnerable road users in Toronto, not only cyclists but pedestrians as well. I thought about my mortality every time I left the house. I will admit I often bailed onto the sidewalks. I joined cycle Toronto Cycle TO (cycleto.ca) an organization that advocates for cyclist safety in our city.
I now know that cycling is not just fun but provides a solution to many urban problems. Communities supportive of active transportation create more desirable neighborhoods. Safe cycling infrastructure allows children the independence to travel to school and activities. As we age we will want more walkable streets. Roadways engineered for cyclists have been shown to provide more protection to pedestrians: all vehicular accidents on St George Street decreased by 40% with no decrease in car volumes when it was redesigned to better include cyclists and pedestrians. (completestreetsforcanada.ca)
Our city and citizens are facing a crisis of obesity, congestion and pollution. Don Mills has some of the highest particulate pollution in Toronto.
I believe that if we reconstruct our cities and neighbourhoods for bicycles we will create more walkable and more livable neighborhoods. Don Mills was created to be a green suburb, but unfortunately it has become a collection of little islands of green isolated by wide, fast moving roads built only for the cars that speed through. As population density increases, the old ways will only worsen the congestion and pollution. We need to find innovative solutions.
Ideas about safer transportation abound and there are fun cycling activities throughout the year in our city and neighbourhood. Now is the time for dialogue and imaginative ideas on how to improve the way our city moves. If you have ideas or thoughts please contact me through the DMRI.