Name / Occupation / Age:
Justin Lafontaine, Project Lead and Founder, Toronto-Niagara Bike Train Initiative, 32
What do you use your bike for?
I use my bikes for everyday commuting, recreation, tootin’ about town (my favourite pastime) and folding bike rallies. This past year, I have also done several long distance, multi-day rides in Maine, Massachusetts, California, Germany and Austria. Travelling by bike is a fantastic way to explore new places and get off the beaten track – and you can work off those large servings of bratwursts and decadent pastries. I highly recommend it!
How often do you ride?
Daily, year-round except for heavy snowfall days (on those days I work from home).
How long have you been commuting by bicycle and what made you decide to do it?
I began commuting regularly by bike after graduating from university, prior to that I cycled mostly for recreation. With no drivers license and tired of sardine-like rush hour on subways and buses, cycling seemed like a good option. My roommate at the time gave me her old bike, and after a few weeks of learning the ropes (ie. avoiding spills on streetcar tracks, several near-miss car door incidents, and finding the more bike friendly routes) I was hooked.
Can you give a brief description of your route?
From my apartment near Carlaw and Danforth, I bike along Sammon Avenue to Coxwell, a block north is my office – my record time is 7 minutes door to door!
I also frequently commute to Union Station when I travel to Niagara for work. On those days, I take Broadview south to Don Jail Roadway, across the Gerrard St. bridge to River St., bike lane south to King, and then I cruise westbound to Bay, where I turn south to Front St. to catch my train.
What's the best thing about commuting by bicycle?
Where to begin…it’s free, healthy, relaxing (at times), fast, convenient, and cool!
Any new advice for new riders?
Begin by cycling your route on Sunday mornings or long weekends. Look for streets with bike lanes, slower traffic or residential street options. A good bell, bright lights and helmet will make you feel more confident as well.
What would you say to convince someone who is considering commuting by bicycle to get on board their bike?
It’s free, fast, convenient, you’ll look great and get healthy in the process!
Try a folding bike if you do not have space or secure parking at work or home. Rain or snow storm, no problem! Folding bikes allow you to get on the TTC, GO or VIA anytime! Plus, they can be better if you have to wear more formal work clothes.
What do you like about biking in Toronto?
It’s generally flat (I know there are ravines and ancient shorelines, but aside from those!), and the waterfront and neighbourhoods are great for exploring by bike! There are also tons of bike events and festivals held throughout the year.
What do you dislike about biking in Toronto?
Wind chills, snow, sleet, congested roads, cement and dump trucks, potholes, and the lack of bike lanes in and around the core.
Where is/are your favourite place(s) to bike in Toronto?
Toronto Islands, Cabbagetown, Little India and waterfront/Beaches.
What's your favourite cycling street in Toronto? Least favourite?
Broadview southbound – downhill with a fantastic view of the Don Valley and Toronto skyline (potential car door hazard if you are not paying attention though).
Bloor between Avenue Rd and Sherbourne – major traffic congestion, delivery trucks, construction, potholes and irate drivers are not a good mix.
Favourite bike stories?
3 fabulous drag queens (the B-Girlz), riding a “couch-bike” down Yonge St. during the 2006 Bike Week Group Commute. All of the media assembled for the politicians immediately turned their cameras towards them when they made their grand entrance at Yonge and Charles Sts. You really had to be there!
What is your favourite piece of cycling kit/clothing/gadget?
My favourite cycling gadget would be my rear bike rack. It allows me to effortlessly transport groceries, boxes, small furniture, camping equipment etc. – all you need is a trusty bungee cord! When my friends and I do long distance travel by bike, we tenderly refer to the mass of items/bags bungeed onto the racks as our “junk in the trunk”.
I am also becoming a big fan of kickstands!
How could the city help you enjoy riding more?
I would enjoy riding more if there were more bike lanes in the core, along Bloor/Danforth and to/from Union Station.
Scary bike story?
Lots, most involve bad car drivers or massive sinkholes near drains. Don’t like to harp on the negative though…cycling is fun!
What sort of bike do you ride?
I use my Marin hybrid bike for everyday commuting and long distance touring. My Dahon folding bike allows me to get onto VIA Rail when I travel to the Niagara Region for meetings. As there is no regional transit in Niagara, I use it to get around between Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines (saves me the $150 taxi bill for the day).
Helmet or no helmet?
Bikelane or no bikelane?
Bike lane, unless street is car free.
Why did you start up the Bike Train project?
I conceptualized the idea for the Toronto-Niagara Bike Train Initiative during a trip to the Niagara Region in April 2006. On that trip, I accompanied the Waterfront Regeneration Trust and several others from the region on their annual Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail cycle tour from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Grimsby. Impressed with the many trails, diverse landscapes, towns, cities and attractions, he was quick to begin planning another trip to the region.
When discussing the opportunities for cycle tourism with a fellow rider, I discovered that there was no convenient transportation option with bike transport capacity to the Niagara Region for cyclists without access to a car (this train route does not usually have any baggage capacity, and the bus services often require bikes to be boxed prior to loading). This led me to VIA Rail Canada and other partners to discuss the potential to introduce a Bike Train service – a concept that quickly garnered support from government contacts, tourism organizations, small businesses, media and the public.
A project proposal was subsequently developed for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism - Investment Development Office and funding for the Pilot Year of the Toronto-Niagara Bike Train Initiative was announced in January 2007.
What is next for you?
I am currently working with the project partners to expand the Bike Train Initiative in 2008, increase service between Toronto and Niagara, as well as launch a new pilot route. Stay tuned to www.biketrain.ca for updates.
I also coordinate semi-regular folding bike rallies. A group of us get together, dress to impress (ie. guys in suits, ladies in pumps) and we bike around the financial district during the lunch hour, randomly stopping to fold and unfold our bikes. The next rally will be held in November – date TBA. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for info.