It's a bit endearing to see a councillor be willing to look silly to support a proposal for the media. Perhaps cycling is now enough of a wedge issue that even a councillor that thought the Jarvis bike lanes were a "war on the car" is willing to play his political cards in support of an ambitious bike proposal. Cyclist and journalist Catherine Porter went on a Bixi ride with Councillor Minnan-Wong to check out the proposed protected bike lane network. As they biked around, with Minnan-Wong very shaky on his Bixi, they explored the proposed network. Porter tried to plumb the reasons for this strange alignment of a right-wing politician and cycling infrastructure.
The newest champion for cyclists in Toronto only learned how to ride a bike two years ago, on the quiet, leafy streets of his Don Mills neighbourhood. He had never “ever, ever” cycled downtown until this week — which means he had never “ever, ever” pedalled the five major streets he hopes will soon include physically separated bike lanes.
“Yeah, I’m nervous,” he told me after pulling out a Bixi bike from the station across from City Hall, which, incidentally, was smashed by a careening sedan three days after it went up. “There are a lot of cars.”
It’s a weird time to be a cyclist in Toronto.
For years, we had a pro-cycling mayor and an environmentalist who cycled 20 kilometres to work every day in charge of the city’s public works and infrastructure committee, who together built very few new bike lanes. Now we have a mayor who once said cyclists killed on the road got what they had coming, and a public works chair who drives to work every day, and we could see the city’s first marquee investment in cycling infrastructure since the Martin Goodman Trail was built in the 1980s.
“I see it as a pragmatic solution,” said Minnan-Wong, the public works chair, who will introduce his plan to the committee later this month. From there, it will go in July to council, where he figures he has the votes.
“The mayor has three principles when it comes to bike lanes: safety, community support and where they make sense. This downtown network, where we don’t have parks and ravines, meets those criteria,” he said.
There are other weaknesses: the plan adds new bike lanes on only one street: Richmond. The rest of the proposed network already has them. And, hearing the way Minnan-Wong snubs the Jarvis St. lane, I bet it will come at a cost.
The proposed loop of Sherbourne, Wellesley, Harbord, St. George/Beverley, John and Richmond uses a lot of the existing painted bike lane network. To those looking for new bike lanes this could be a seen as a drawback. And there is talk that in exchange for the protected bike lane network that Rob Ford would get his way of removing the Jarvis street bike lanes (not without a fight).
But, in my view, it would be worth it: a signature statement that cyclists have finally arrived in this city. Separated lanes would protect experienced cyclists, like my friend Andrea Scholten, who was struck by a car inside a bike lane. And that security would coax more nervous cyclists, like Minnan-Wong, onto their bikes.
The untold story here, as Porter and Minnan-Wong rode on Bixi bikes, is how much the Bixi bikesharing system is helping to push for a better network in the areas that it serves.