On a sunny Friday afternoon in November, Peggy Nash, MP for Parkdale-High Park, got on her bike and set out to tour the riding with two west-end cycling advocates.
Laura Pin and Samuel Perry are Cycle Toronto Ward Advocacy Program captains for Ward 14 and Ward 13, respectively. On Friday November 15, they held a mobile meeting with Nash to show her first-hand the successful cycling infrastructure and also the cycling failures in the area.
“I think it is a really powerful thing to get someone out on a bike and experience all of the challenges about cycling in Toronto and also the sheer joy of it,” Pin said.
Cycle Toronto is a member-based cycle advocacy group, with 22 wards across the city actively represented, Pin explained. Funded through membership fees and some grants, Cycle Toronto advocates for a healthy, safe, cycling-friendly city.
With the caveat that local cycling issues are not within the federal representative’s jurisdiction, the pair pointed out safety issues and concerns for cyclists along the way.
“We tried to work in the spots where a lot of people in the area cycle and the spots that have some really good infrastructure and some places that are kind of tricky,” explained Pin, a Parkdale resident and year-round cyclist.
The pair took Nash on a bike tour of Parkdale–High Park, from Bloor Street West, down Roncesvalles to Queen Street West and up Sorauren Avenue, along the West Toronto Railpath and down Lansdowne Avenue.
“According to the 2006 census data, Ward 14 actually has the second highest proportion of cyclists and pedestrian commuters in the city with 26 per cent who either cycle or walk to work,” Pin said. “There are so many cyclists, yet very little infrastructure.”
They talked about the feasibility of bike lanes on Bloor Street West, problems with cars parking too close to the bump outs on Roncesvalles Avenue. They also pointed out Queen Street streetcar tracks and the difficulty they cause cyclists in turning over them and the need to expand the West Toronto Railpath.
The pair also had some specific advocacy goals they brought up during the trip: a national cycling strategy to set direction for municipalities and provide funds; and, secondly, side guards on trucks.
“Direction from different levels of government saying ‘this is important’ can have a really big impact,” Pin said. “Other countries that are serious about cycling – the UK and Australia – are developing national strategies or already have them.”
Queen’s Park and Ottawa should also be providing support in the form of money and promotion of urban cycling, said Perry.
“The municipalities are doing the best that they can, but they are not getting support from the province and the federal level of government.”
Perry lives in the Junction and said he believes the bike is by far the best way to get around areas the size of your typical federal riding. However there are safety measures that should be in place, that are not, he added.
“The case with Lansdowne (Avenue) is it has actually had bike lanes approved by city council, but they have not been installed,” Perry said. “So we wanted to highlight how unsafe it is to bike on it now.”
Nash does use a bicycle to get around sometimes, but she did see some things and places she hadn’t and with the information and insight she received Nash said she plans to speak with NDP transportation critic Olivia Chow to discuss a national biking strategy.
“What was impressed on me was that if you have an impetus at the national level and a vision that you want to create more cycling friendly communities a little bit of money can go a long way,” Nash said. “So the federal government for a fairly minimal investment can help communities enhance their cycling infrastructure.”
Nash said she is also going to look into concrete examples of assistance other countries offer to improve cycling to see if Canada has anything to learn.
“I have been to Copenhagen and I have seen the phenomenal infrastructure they have,” Nash said. “Did the Danish government lead the way on that, did they have a vision, what kind of resources did they put in?”
Pin and Perry said they are going to try to arrange to get other area politicians out on a bike ride with them, which Nash said she would recommend.
“Usually on a Friday I am at events or meeting with constituents, but to have a couple of hours where we were out in the fresh air and just enjoying our neighbourhood, talking and reflecting on the state and benefits of cycling,” Nash said “I would recommend it to anybody, but particularly to my colleagues in political office.”