WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, April 29

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.



WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, July 17th

 A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

How-To with Laura Pin: Setting the Wheels in Motion for Community Change

This is part of a new series on the WiTOPoli blog: a series of How-To posts with women who have made change in their communities by working with (and sometimes fighting against) the institutions that make our city work. These women inspire us and remind us that though the challenges to having our voices heard are many, they are most certainly not insurmountable.

By: Talia Bronstein

Laura (right) with members of the Cycle Toronto's Ward 14 Advocacy Group.

Laura (right) with members of the Cycle Toronto’s Ward 14 Advocacy Group.

“When I first moved to Toronto, I considered myself to be a cyclist, but not a cycling advocate.”

It was experiences of feeling unsafe and marginalized on Toronto’s chaotic streets that led Laura Pin to start volunteering with Cycle TO, a member-supported organization that advocates for a healthy, safe, cycling-friendly city for all.

Nowadays, Laura proudly identifies as a cycling advocate, serving as both the co-founder and current co-captain of the Cycle TO Ward 14 Advocacy Group, which brings together energetic, passionate community residents to promote and advocate for cycling in their community.

After successfully pushing for bike lanes to be installed in her neighborhood, Laura walks us through the step she took to make the community change happen.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

Laura notes that while her neighborhood of Parkdale/High Park “has one of the highest concentration of bike commuters in the city, it has very little infrastructure to support these cyclists.” The lack of bike lanes in the area left cyclists with limited options: either battle the traffic on Queen or King, or meander through disconnected one-way neighborhood streets, sometimes against the flow of traffic. The result? Unsafe conditions that could lead to collisions.

Step 2: Understand the Problem

Laura and her Ward 14 cycling advocacy group began digging to try and understand why there were so few bike lanes in the neighborhood. They discovered that there was a municipal plan for the area that recommended a series of contraflow bike lanes (bike lanes on quiet residential streets that flow in the opposite direction of traffic), but that the plan had never been implemented.

They then turned their attention to uncovering the reasons behind the government inaction.  Through meetings with staff at the City of Toronto, they learned that the city did not want to build any new contraflow bike lanes (even though several had already been instituted) because there was some ambiguous language in the Ontario Transportation Act about whether contraflow bike lanes were legal in the city.

Step 3: Show Up and Be Heard

Once they understood the root of the problem, Laura says, the advocacy group teamed up with the staff at Cycle TO and began to “talk to absolutely everyone – our city councilor, our MPP, city of Toronto staff,” to discuss the importance of contraflow bike lanes in their community and to brainstorm how to make them happen. By educating and raising awareness amongst their elected officials, the group was able to build political support.

In 2014, a major opportunity arose: The Ontario Transportation Act was opened up for amendments.The Ward 14 Advocacy Group and CycleTO HQ jumped on this chance to have their voice heard. “We made sure to be at those public consultations and participate in the dialogue,” Laura explained, in order to educate policy makers and push for them to clarify the language about contraflow bike lanes in the Transportation Act.

Step 4: Celebrate your Victories!

After successfully advocating for the Ontario Transportation Act to change its language to allow contraflow bike lanes in the city, the advocacy group continued to meet with municipal politicians and staff to ensure the bike lane plan was actually implemented in a timely manner. Parkdale/High Park welcomed its first contraflow bike lane into the community on Fermanagh Avenue and additional contraflow bike lanes are scheduled to be built in summer 2015.

Step 5: Reflect on Lessons Learned

Laura suggests that when it comes to meeting with elected officials and government staff, be sure to do your homework beforehand. “Confidence goes a long way. You know your stuff. Don’t psyche yourself out! You have something important to say.”

For anyone trying to make a change in their community, Laura recommends connecting with the local groups in your neighborhood. Most communities have resident associations and other established advocacy groups who can offer support and help navigate the system.  “The most significant thing is to get organized. It’s not just about policy change; it’s about building a sense of community and bringing people together.”

Ask Your Candidate: Cycling

By: Heather Jackson

For women, safety is big part of the decision to cycle. Safety is an even bigger concern if they have children. According to Toronto’s 2010 Bike Count Summary, woman cycle less than men (62% of cyclists are male, 38% are female). However, where there’s a bike lane, the gender gap between riders narrows to 59% male and 41% female. And that’s just painted bike lanes; not even separated! Also, only 0.3% of cyclists in Toronto had passengers in a child seat or trailer. Parents concerned for children’s safety often stop cycling and drive instead, which only adds to Toronto’s traffic congestion.

So for women who want to cycle but may be discouraged by the lack of cycling infrastructure in Toronto, here are some questions to ask the candidates in your ward:

1. Do you support completing the Toronto Bike Plan?

Did you know Toronto created a roadmap of cycling routes to be installed in the city – called the Toronto Bike Plan – all the way back in 2001? Almost 500kms were promised, but 13 years later only 111km have been built. Check out Cycle Toronto and the City of Toronto website for more info. If the candidate doesn’t support implementing the Toronto Bike Plan, ask them why and what alternative they propose.

2. Do you support the expansion of Bike Share Toronto?

Bike Share Toronto (formerly BIXI) is in need of expansion to become viable. Last year Councilor Kristen Wong-Tam persuaded three condo developers in her ward to invest in BIXI stations in exchange for not having to build parking spaces that go unused in their buildings, and believes other wards could do the same thing. Read more here. What do the candidates think of this idea?

3. Should more city resources be allotted to cycling infrastructure?

Cycling infrastructure is relatively cheap and fast to build, and would reduce congestion on Toronto’s overcrowded roads and maxed-out transit system, so why doesn’t the city invest in it? I couldn’t find any recent figures online (the City of Toronto’s own website seems woefully out of date in regards to its cycling information, stating data from 2006 and a Coroner’s report from 1998 even though a new one came out in 2013), though I did find an article citing that Toronto’s Transportation Services employs over 900 people, but only 11 work on transportation issues related to cycling.

Most importantly, because cycling seems to be such a divisive issue between councillors, ask the candidates how they propose to work with other councillors who represent areas of the city that have different wants and needs than their own. Fighting over bike lanes, putting them in and then tearing them out, does nothing but waste money and certainly doesn’t improve Toronto’s transportation problems. Will the candidate help bridge the divide or exacerbate the situation?