When Rob Ford was elected Mayor of Toronto in 2010, one might be forgiven for thinking that bicyclists’ time had passed.
As a councillor, Ford famously compared cycling in traffic to “swimming with the sharks,” adding, “Roads are built for buses cars and trucks, not for people on bikes. My heart bleeds for them when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”
At council’s inaugural meeting, the mayor’s chosen keynote speaker Don Cherry arrived in a hot pink suit, which he said he wore for “all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything.”
The new administration signalled early that it would take a very different route than the previous crew under David Miller, which favoured separated bike lanes on roads. In short order, city council had removed removed bike lanes on Pharmacy and Birchmount avenues in Scarborough at the request of the local councillor, and another, higher-profile bike lane on Jarvis Street despite the protests of the local councillor there.
The shift was a result of more than the will of a mayor more comfortable on four wheels than two. Since before amalgamation, cars and bicycles have had an uneasy relationship on Toronto’s streets.
Don Valley East Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who chairs the city’s works committee, said the conflict is only natural, “because there’s a limited amount of geography — pedestrians, cyclists and motorists are all competing for the same space.”
As works chair, Minnan-Wong has carriage of the Ford administration’s cycling plan, which in broad strokes is about separating motorists from cyclists wherever possible.
Ford ran on creating a Bikeway Network — which includes 100 kilometres of off-road recreational bike paths, Some of those paths running along Hydro corridors were approved by the previous administration.
Minnan-Wong has pressed the issue further, and the city embarked on a plan to make some separated bike lanes in the downtown — initially on Wellesley and Sherbourne Streets, and eventually along Richmond and Adelaide streets in the core.
“Everybody has a different opinion,” said Minnan-Wong. “But I think it makes for a safer arrangement for cyclists, and I think the majority of cyclists prefer it.”
Scarborough Centre Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker chaired the works committee during Miller’s term, and has made a point of making a 20-kilometre commute from his home in Scarborough to city hall by bicycle.
He said the separated lanes are a good idea — but maintains that the mayor’s plan focussing on off-road cycling doesn’t help the growing number of utilitarian cyclists in the city.
“Separated bike lanes are good, and every cyclist and driver should welcome them,” he said. “Those lanes are complicated things to do, I encourage the bike community and Denzil Minnan-Wong. But one kilometre of separated bike lane doesn’t make up for cancelling 100 kilometres of bike lanes on roads.”