The Toronto cycling community was blindsided when anti-bike Councillor Rob Ford was voted in as the city’s new mayor scheduled to take office 1 December.
A Youtube video of the mayor-elect announcing his transportation policy surfaced during the recent election that left cycling advocates wondering about the grim future of active transportation in Canada’s largest city.
Ford’s transportation speech at the 2007 Capitol Budget and 2008-2011 Capitol Plan went viral last month during Toronto’s mayoral campaign. His brutally frank comments about cyclists and bike lanes made the headlines of every national news outlet and cycling advocacy blogs when he stated, “I can't support bike lanes. Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it's their own fault at the end of the day."
Toronto Cyclists Union is the city’s leading cycling advocacy organization that works with citizens, community groups, bike shops and the City towards the common goals of ensuring that cycling is a legitimate, accessible, and safe means of transportation.
“It’s hard to know what changes there will be for cyclists or what the feeling is of him [mayor-elect Rob Ford] being in office until after he’s been in office,” said Andrea Garcia of the Toronto Cyclists Union. “We weren’t happy with that statement. How could we be happy with that? The truth of the matter is that he was elected by a huge margin of victory and by a huge mandate and we have to be prepared to work with him. Continuing to dwell on that statement is not going to do anything for the quality of cycling infrastructure in Toronto.”
Rob Ford: "Cyclists are a pain in the ass"
A second Youtube video surfaced from the Jarvis Street Streetscape Improvements Class Environmental Assessment Study where Ford further cemented his stance against cyclists when he said they were “a pain in the ass.”
Ford’s transportation plan left much to be desired for cyclists who ride their bikes as a mode of transportation within the city. The plan calls for major improvements to automobile transit, express highways, widening roads, removing public streetcars and unclogging city traffic congestion.
The best cyclists can hope for — within the terms of Ford’s plan — are bike lane installments on sidewalks and streets in those communities that show an interest in supporting them but only on the condition that the bike lanes do not obstruct automobile traffic flow. The plan does include building 100 km of off-road bike paths along hydro and rail ravines and corridors surrounding the city. However, few of those installments will connect to places people need to go.
“We think it’s great that he wants to build out the trail system,” Garcia said. “Although his transportation plan is heavy on the trails, it could use some improvement to the on-road connections. He said he is open to including that with community support so I think it is up to us to find that community support to make sure the bike lanes get installed on the roads as well. We are interested in continuing to fight for good infrastructure for cyclists and we think we can work with him.”
Ford received 47-percent of the votes out-pacing other candidates by a landslide margin including the city’s current mayor George Smitherman. The right-wing councillor was a favourite to win the election based on his promise to cut taxes, remove streetcars and eliminate wasteful government spending.
“There is no doubt about it that many Torontonians were happy to see Rob Ford in office and the bike community is not going to challenge that,” Garcia said. “Our stance is that we will work with him. I believe that we can find some common ground with Rob Ford.”
Despite Ford’s vocal anti-bike position, the Montreal bike-share system BIXI is already scheduled to bring 1000 bikes to the City of Toronto in May 2011. The bike-share system is expected to be a success having already sold more than 1000 annual membership.
“It’s important for BIXI to come to the city because it will be a great way to get that community support that we need to get better bike infrastructure,” Garcia said. “The amount of people that you see on bikes on the road is going to increase significantly. BIXI provides opportunity for people to start using bikes to get around. Hopefully we can get people on bikes that otherwise would not have used them for transportation.”
Cycling should remain a large part of Toronto’s culture. The city currently has nearly 200 km of bike lanes and plans on increasing that to 800 km, according to the 2001 Toronto City Bike Plan. There are also 225 km of shared roadways and 270 km of off-road paths, with plans to expand to 400 km.