"Bicycle Jack": 1950-2011. A progressive politician dies

Source: Toronto Star

It's all over Canadian news that Jack Layton, Official Opposition and NDP Leader, former Toronto City Councillor and cycling advocate, died this morning, after fighting a recurring cancer.

I'd like to comment on what Jack has done for cycling in this city. See a fuller timeline of all of Bicycle Jack's accomplishements at the CBC. Thanks to Sue-Ann Levy for the title, "Bicycle Jack". It's not really derogatory you know.

I first met Jack and Olivia a few years ago as they road their tandem bike together up to Downsview Park from City Hall to support the SARS concert, and I was riding along as a Cycling Ambassador, working for the City. They could really fly on that bike as we took over the closed off Allen Expressway. When Olivia was councillor I would regularly see her bike on her way to work. Jack was a dedicated supporter of cycling and sustainable, equitable transportation. He saw it as integral to social justice, and was passionate about cycling issues just like he was passionate about homelessness, support for seniors and children, and other environmental issues.

As City Councillor he chaired the Toronto Cycling Committee before it was officially supported by City Hall. Now that Mayor Ford has disbanded all citizen committees, Jack convinced his son, Councillor Mike Layton, to chair the Toronto Cycling Committee out of his own office. The committee now meets regularly with Toronto Cyclists Union and other cycling organizations advising the city through this backdoor but effective route.

As chair Jack presented Wayne Scott with an award for his "food as fuel" so that couriers could get a tax credit for their food purchases during the work day.

Source: Ottawa Citizen

Jack was a big supporter of the Community Bicycle Network's Bikeshare program. I attended an early meeting in 2000 where housemate Todd Parsons presented the plan to an enthusiastic Jack. Bikeshare eventually got funding from the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and helped to inspire Bixi Toronto.

Cycling wasn't just policy-making for Jack and Olivia. They got around everywhere by bike, in Toronto and Ottawa. In winter as in summer.

Thank you for carrying on the spirit of Tommy Douglas, Jack.

jacks-final-letter.pdf117.55 KB


Beyond his energy, courage and humanity, Jack Layton was also one of too few national politicians with an urban vision for a 21st century Canada. He will be missed but I hope his message inspires others to build a great nation, a great urban infrastructure and livable (and bike able) cities.

Jack "taught" other new politicians the good they can do. Too bad some don't use what he taught for good.

To bridge some knowledge gaps perhaps of Jack Layton's contribution to Toronto's cycling infrastructure, here are some highlights from Layton's co-chair Jack Becker, who worked with Layton for several years in the 1990's:


Becker is now based in Vancouver (and heading up the Velo-city Global 2012 Cycling Conference in Vancouver and has been/continues to be on the Bicycle Advisory Committee in Vancouver, a committee sanctioned by Mayor and Council). So it might explain abit of historical knowledge gaps.

I lived and cycled in Toronto for over a decade before I moved to Vancouver in 2002. But still visit and bike Toronto whenever I visit family and friends.

It is hoped that Toronto's cycling advocates stay organized and persevere for the long struggle ahead. Stay focused, provide evidence, and network with your cycling advocates equivalent in Vancouver, Montreal...for support and ideas also.

Jack Becker did another Huge Amount of tenacious detailed unpaid slogging for many years in TO - and I think he must have gotten extremely frustrated with the Motoropolitan level too, as he did great work for a few years, then went west for a variety of reasons likely, but carrupt officialdumb likely got to him.

Jack Layton persevered though, and we're definitely better off for it.

I dug through old papers and put some bits together for a rough email, put up on bikelanediary.

One salient thing that Jack Layton did 15 years ago, after the death of Erin Krauser and then another woman shortly after, he called for a full 1,000 km network of bike lanes on Metro Roads which formed the basis of the Bike Plan, and it was always a 1,000, not 800kms as the Star reported today.

It seems that Jack's dream got toned down in to the Bike Plan, and now the Bike Plan seems to be replaced with the Mayor's Bike Scheme, and I don't really regard a gold-plating of some existing routes with separations really as beneficial as far more linkages and connections to get us to a network, combined with basic road repairs etc. (I'm also thinking that putting some millions into more remote parks and paths is basically inequitable if nothing much is done for on-road cyclists; and I also think that the funding crisis will quickly pop the promises of Fords for millions for off-road paths, and it seemed to have taken just a day or two for the KPMG report to help us puncture putting money into biking, though repainting a street like Bloor is only $25,000 a km - so the removal of the Scarborough lanes or the Jarvis lanes could likely repaint 8kms of core Bloor.

As part of the digging through old boxes, it's become really apparent, at least in the west end core, and not the east end core where Jack was (with friends and a friendlier street grid) that the City is really unable or unwilling or simply uncaring to really give us safe east-west biking.

There may be some interest in hitching a legacy to jack Layton to some bike projects - and this is good. The Bike Plan could be one, and maybe we could do something on the Danforth too.