Though they were among Toronto’s darkest days, the emergency phase of the pandemic also heralded some of city council’s quickest responses to increase safe cycling access, efforts which have slowed as the life in the city returned to a relative sense of normal.
Global News spoke with an advocate, infrastructure expert and legal defender on what the city’s next leaders should focus on when it comes to prioritising safe, active transport into the next four years.
“The cycling lanes on the Danforth had been in the plans and been debated for decades, literally, and in the pandemic they got implemented within a matter of months,” said Matti Siemiatycki, director of University of Toronto’s Infrastructure Institute. He said the need for more space to travel safely shouldn’t be ignored now that the worst of the pandemic is behind the city.
Siemiatycki said safe infrastructure encourages people to cycle and makes it a viable option, year-round with the right winter maintenance. “If we want more people cycling and using active transportation as part of their travel trip, we’re going to need to make it much more accessible and putting in the infrastructure is a key part of that,” he said.
Cycle Toronto, an advocacy group promoting safe and active transportation in the city, is among those who want the next city council to focus on continuing to expand the network of bike lanes. Advocacy manager Alison Stewart said that will require focusing on areas of Toronto that have been traditionally neglected.
“While we’ve done a lot to build a minimum grid for those who live in the downtown core, we still haven’t done much to getting our grid connected to Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke,” said Stewart. “Quite frankly, their roads need even more love than downtown Toronto.”
Stewart said 65 per cent of mayoral and council candidates responded to its survey asking candidates to commit to several priority areas and the results were generally encouraging. “We received unanimous support from all the mayoral candidates who responded for building complete streets, for focusing on vision zero, and we generally received really high approval rates from our councillors as well,” she said.
Along with supporting infrastructure to improve safety, there are also calls to focus on the worst behaviour putting cyclists at risk. David Shellnutt’s legal practice focuses on clients who have been harmed while biking. Unfortunately, he said, the amount of rampant negative interactions from motorists, including incidents of road rage, has kept him busy.
“What council could do is work with their provincial partners to get the ‘vulnerable road users act passed,'” he said. Shelnutt also said the city itself could be doing more to protect cyclists with bylaws and administrative penalties to deter dangerous driving.
“It doesn’t have to be violent, but negligent and dangerous driving is a big problem,” said Shellnutt.
Election day is Monday, Oct. 24 with polls opening in Toronto at 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.