By Val Dodge, March 3, 2010 3:53 am
What we’ve done so far
Ward 29 Bikes had a busy and successful 2009. Our volunteers engaged with the local community by holding two public meetings, participating in numerous community events, helping with the work of other groups, and raising the profile of cycling in our neighbourhood and across the city. Here is a summary of some of the activities that we undertook in our first full year of advocacy:
Bloor Viaduct Safety Report
One of the most pressing issues in our ward is the safety of the Bloor Viaduct for cyclists. The bike lanes on the Viaduct suffer from several deficiencies that introduce a number of conflict zones between cars and bikes. We highlighted the worst of them in a report we prepared in late 2008 and presented to the Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee and city staff in the winter of 2009. As a result of our work, city staff examined various options for improvements and consulted with us on the changes before finalizing their plans. The lanes are scheduled to be repainted this spring and we expect that the Viaduct will be safer for both cyclists and motorists as a result.
Meeting with Councillor Ootes
In March, Val Dodge and Vincent de Tourdonnet met with Ward 29 Councillor Case Ootes at his constituency office at the East York Civic Centre. His executive assistant, Sunny Petrujkic, had encouraged Mr. Ootes to meet with us. Ootes was polite and pleasant. Near the beginning of the meeting, he acknowledged his reputation as being publicly opposed to some of city hall’s biking plans. He stated that “You aren’t going to get people to give up their cars and ride bikes.” When Val and Vincent said, “We have,” Petrujkic quietly added, “Me too.” Turns out Ootes’ own assistant is an avid cyclist who found parking to be too expensive and troublesome, so he now rides.
Councillor Ootes conceded one major point: he felt that bike lanes along Danforth are worth studying since there is a subway line there. He feels that good transit must be in place before bikes can be a viable alternative to cars.
We left Ootes and Petrujkic a copy of Luke Siragusa’s Bloor Viaduct report, which they subsequently reviewed and submitted to city staff for an opinion.
Our meeting ended on a positive note, with Ootes telling us about the high-end mountain bike he won in a contest. When we worked through Sunny to secure meeting spaces for our June and November public meetings, Ootes approved them without hesitation.
Diefenbaker Public School Outreach
On 30 April, Ward 29 Bikes ran a cycling information exhibit at Diefenbaker Public School as part of the school’s Minds and Bodies in Motion after-school event. Ward 29 Bikes Member Tom Flaherty organized our table and coordinated the volunteers. Our team included Brian Betsworth (a member of Cycle 26), Luke Siragusa, and Val Dodge. Constable Roger Mayers, a bicycle police officer with 54 Division, was also on hand to talk about safety and impress students (and parents, and us too) with his fully-equipped police bike.
We spoke with 70 students and their teachers and parents about all things cycling, answered safety questions, demonstrated a variety of cycling gear, and pointed out local trails, bike lanes, and parks that offer safe and fun riding for all ages.
First Public Meeting
Our public meeting in June was a big success. Fifty people packed the main room at the East York Community Centre on a rainy evening to discuss cycling issues in Ward 29. Presenters included City of Toronto cycling staff Dan Egan and Christina Bouchard, the Toronto Cyclists Union‘s Yvonne Bambrick, Donald Wiedman of Bikes + Transit, and Cycle 26‘s Brian Betsworth. Attendees discussed the Bike Plan, bike lanes on Danforth, local cycling advocacy, and many other topics over the course of the evening. Best of all, the meeting brought three new active volunteers into our fold: Paul Charbonneau, Kathy Chung, and Charlotte Young.
Taste of the Danforth Public Outreach
During the 7-9 August weekend, 29 Bikes took the opportunity of the Taste of the Danforth to further its outreach to the public. We introduced ourselves via posters and flyers in local libraries and businesses, as well as flyers attached to bicycles parked along the Danforth during the weekend. Volunteer Kathy Chung, sporting our designer 29 Bikes T-shirt, successfully canvassed individuals (including attendant fire fighters and police officers) on the streets during the festival, introducing 29 Bikes and seeking their support for our advocacy objectives.
Meeting with Peter Tabuns
On 8 September we met with Peter Tabuns, NDP MPP for Toronto–Danforth, former Greenpeace Executive Director and former Toronto City Councillor. Although not a cyclist himself, Tabuns was most generous with his time and advice about how to effect change. He emphasized the importance of working with city councillors. One project put forward regarding provincial roads was the notion that no new highway construction or replacement should happen in Ontario without a paved shoulder. He said he’d be willing to put forward a private member’s bill on this if we wanted to work with him.
Withrow Park Farmer’s Market Outreach
On 12 September, 29 Bikes participated in A Celebration of Local Living, hosted by the Withrow Park Farmers Market. It was a glorious late summer Saturday morning and Ward 29 Bikes members Luke Siragusa, Kathy Chung, Paul Charbonneau, and Charlotte Young, along with Toronto Cyclists Union representative Roberto Garcia staffed a table between an organic coffee vendor and a solar energy group. We had the opportunity to chat with visitors to the park and farmers market about our advocacy work and listen to their observations and ideas about cycling in the neighbourhood.
On 21 September, Tom Flaherty formally introduced Ward 29 Bikes to the Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee. The purpose of this presentation was to explain our strategy, review our objectives and, in general, raise our profile within the cycling community and at City Hall.
The presentation covered our public engagement, Viaduct Safety Report, Cycling Survey, and our desire to advance public opinion in the interest of cycling.
We were received very well overall, and committee members noted that we were articulating our concerns professionally with a focus on public engagement, and not simply shifting blame to the City Hall.
On 6 October, 29 Bikes deputed at the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in support of the Update to the Toronto Bike Plan. Again, the presentation was positively received, and we were referred to as “the new face of cycling advocacy” by Committee Chair, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker.
On 17 October, Tom Flaherty attended the Toronto Cyclists Union’s Bike Camp on behalf of 29 Bikes, where he led two workshop discussion groups on Ward Based Advocacy. The event was an excellent learning and networking opportunity. Interest in subjects proposed for discussion by attendees was measured using a Dotmocracy system and registered strong support for Ward based cycling advocacy.
November 2009 East End Bike Meeting
On the evening of 3 November, Ward 29 Bikes and the Toronto Cyclist Union hosted a get-acquainted meeting for Toronto East End cyclists at the East York Civic Centre. More than 40 cycling enthusiasts from Wards 27, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 42, and 44 attended, in addition to City of Toronto staff and representatives from 54 Division of the Toronto Police Service. Yvonne Bambrick, Executive Director of the Toronto Cyclists Union, spoke about the importance of advocacy activities in each ward. Participants then heard from several members of 29 Bikes about activities in which 29 Bikes has engaged. These remarks set the stage for others from the east end to talk about bicycling in their respective wards. In smaller groups organized by ward, participants discussed local activities and issues, as well as priorities and strategies for improving cycling east of the Don Valley. Each group had time to share highlights with everyone present. Several groups, notably in wards 30 and 32 south of Danforth, began advocacy activities following our meeting.
Bike Lanes on Bloor and Danforth
Members of Ward 29 Bikes have long advocated for cycling infrastructure in areas adjacent to our ward, particularly along Bloor Street downtown. Most notably, we actively encouraged cyclists to push their local councillors to include bike lanes as part of the Bloor Street Transformation Project in the summer of 2008. While we were disappointed that the initial project approved by Council didn’t include dedicated bike lanes, the City has installed sharrows on Bloor between Avenue Road and Church Street and Council is ordering a study to examine establishing a bikeway along all of Danforth and Bloor. We continue to watch developments and work with neighbouring groups to ensure that the interests and safety of cyclists are considered in any upcoming changes to this important cycling corridor.
What’s ahead in 2010
So that’s what we’ve done so far, but what are we doing next?
2010 Toronto Municipal Elections
With Councillor Ootes’s announcement that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election this year, the race is on to succeed him in October’s election. Ward 29 Bikes will be meeting with all local candidates to ensure that cycling infrastructure and sustainability are part of the electoral agenda. Our strategy will also include launching an awareness campaign and developing resources to help voters make their choices on election day.
Our core group of volunteers has been meeting every two weeks since 2008, and we’ll be continuing that tradition throughout this election year. Meeting dates and locations will be posted on our web site, and all interested volunteers are encouraged to come up and join us.
In addition to our regular meetings and our focus on the municipal election, we’ll also be holding more public meetings, organizing some social events, and taking part in fun activities like East York’s Canada Day Parade. Keep up with us!