Ontario Bike Summit 2012

On April 25th I had the opportunity to attend day 2 of the 2012 Ontario Bike Summit. I had to put a slide together for my cycling user group at work. Below is similar to the presentation I gave. For those of you who know me, picture me being super energetic and passionate about something I care so deeply about!

Share the Road.

We could all do a better job. Pedestrians. Cyclists. Drivers. Truck, bus and automobile drivers. We could all show each just a touch more respect. On April 24th and 25th Share the Road hosted the 2012 Ontario Bike Summit at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown TO. Do you know Share the Road? Check out Sharetheroad.ca to learn about their mission and values. In a nut shell Share the Road advocates for safety on behalf of both commuters cyclists and recreational cyclists. Founded by Eleanor McMahon Share the Road advocates for all cyclists.

70% of cyclists are drivers.
Or so they said in the presentations! 70% of Ontarian’s who cycle also use a car. Good or bad? That’s not for me to comment on. I’m one of the 70% of cyclists who own a car, and more importantly, use it regularly. But  if you are one of the 70% it should give you an appreciation for the other. More importantly 100% of people who cycle or drive walk. Even if you just walk to you car, you have to navigate the parking lot to get to your car. We’ve all had those close calls with cars. So remember that when you’re driving your car, remember that pedestrian crossing the road as you’re turning through an intersection.

4% of Ontario commutes via bicycle to work each day. I wish I was one of those. I choose to ride my bike when it’s practical. The majority of the time I take transit due to weather or due to a running workout at the end of the day with my team. (I call myself Old Lady Legs so I have to protect the limited energy they have!). For some people cycling to work is not practical. Some examples, but remember these are only a few. The family who lives equidistant between two jobs. The one dropping the kids off at school with soccer gear, musical instruments to finish their day and come back for the kids. The person who has no bike lanes or safe roads to travel along. etc. In general unless you live a few kilometers (up to a maximum of about 10) from work, and you have safe roads and/or infrastructure to commute on, most people are unlikely to commute via bicycle to work.

25% of Ontario rides a bike once a month for recreation, to commute, to hang out with their kids. In the presentations it was quoted from the Heart and Stroke society that if 25% of the population rode 1 mile each day that annual health care costs would decrease by $250M! I write this on my blog when the Provincial Government has announced a cut to doctors wages estimating to save $338M this year alone (great another short terms solution to another long term problem).

$25 Million
Eleanor McMahon, president and founder of Share The Road, asked the Ministry of Transportation to commit $25M of their budget to building and improving cycling safety and infrastructure in the province. She claimed that $25M represents one-eight of one percent of the province’s transportation budget of $2.4B. Was curious where that number came from, the ministry of finance reports out on all Ministries expenses, which can be found here. Ok I’m going to argue the rounding error would make it $2.3B but what’s a cool $100M!!

Lots of talk about collaboration, people working together. Different teams working together. Areas of government working together. Municipal, Provincial and Federal governments working together. Lots of discussion around people and divisions acting in silos. Ok so go back to this $25M. Why is Share The Road only asking Transportation for the money? Why are we not asking all levels of government to contribute? I went through the list of Ontario Ministries; why aren’t we asking the ministry of children and youth services, community and social services, economic development and innovation, education, environment, health and long-term care, infrastructure, municipal affairs and housing, and tourism, culture and sport for the money too. Cycling helps all of these Ministries too. Ok now we have 10 ministries in the mix, that’s $2.5M per ministry. That’s a lot less to stomach per ministry (and yes the budgets of the ministries are not equal, perhaps apportioning it appropriately would be the answer).

Now that we have the government working collaboratively lets bring in the private sector. We have the 4% who commute daily in Ontario via bicycle I’m sure they would be willing to help. According to CAA 60% of Ontario wanted to see more done for cycling. The population of Ontario is approximately 12.8M people. If each one of the 60% of Ontarian’s who wanted more for cycling donate $1 there would be $7.7M. That’s about 30% of the $25M that McMahon is looking for. Let’s collaborate and do a fundraiser, online, traditional mail in or at the bank, donate through your phone and/or lets throw a party in cycling. Let’s see if working together we can raise half of that $25M, $12.5M! And then ask the province the help with the rest. Those 10 ministries listed now need to donate just $1.1M, less than half a percent of the original ask of the Ministry of Transportation. Collaboration at its greatest.

Planning and Partnerships
Create the right partnerships to make the right plan. I think above I’ve looked at many of the possible avenues for partnerships. If Ontario does get the $25M for cycling infrastructure it’s about using that $25M the right way. That means planning. Does it make sense to put bike lanes down the 400 series highways in Ontario? Of course not. Even if you argue the traffic moves so slow on them most of the time you’re safe, the smog and particulates from all those motors is off the charts. No thank you. Instead plan for linkages between cities, even better, within cities. Have areas where people can commute and people can ride recreationally. Create a national training centre so those training for the Olympics or Toronto’s 2015 PanAm Games have somewhere safe to train. So it all comes back to the same themes again. We need collaboration from the private side and the public sector to build the infrastructure needed to make cycling safe.

Create a lasting campaign that people will remember. That way when they are walking, driving or cycling they will remember to all work together. CAA is committed to an education campaign, start looking for their ads on TV and public transit and listen for them on the radio. More importantly CAA is doing what it can for cyclists. Did you know CAA created Bike Assist Program. Have a CAA membership? Good news, it covers you on your bike! “If you run into a problem that cannot be fixed on the spot, CAA will transport you and your bicycle to wherever.”

For pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to start to get a long better again we need an education campaign. It was suggested that there should be questions about cycling on the written driver’s exam. I agree. It was also suggested to do a bike education campaign in primary education. Again I agree. Start at the bottom and those children will carry that knowledge with them forever. And start changing things at the top. Maybe we can get the bottom and top to meet somewhere in the middle and have most of the masses educated about cycling.

Less than 15% of kids bike to school today

Kids go to school. And we’ve agreed to start educating them about safe riding and the importance of being active. Maybe the gap in cyclists today is simply from the decrease in the number of kids who ride their bikes to school everyday? In 1971 85% of children rode their bikes to school. Today that number is below 15%. Most of these children do not walk to school either. The majority of children either take a bus to school or are dropped off my parents. With decreasing physical education times it’s no wonder that over the same period from 1971 to today obesity rates rose 276%. So we’re trying to save health care dollars and we know that if 25% of the population rides 1 mile a day we save $250M annually. Obesity is a disease. It’s a disease that plagues our health care centres. Let’s get children to be part of that 25% and let’s teach them the importance of a healthy, active lifestyle. I’m sure in the long-term we’ll save more than $250M annually.

Safety and Infrastructure
Every presenter used these words. ‘If we build it they will come.’ When surveyed (and many presenters had their own surveys) individuals said they would cycle more if their was more infrastructure and cycling was safer. Build the safer cycling infrastructure and more people will cycle more regularly. Ok but that takes $$ and planning and collaboration. Back to the central theme. It’s the central theme of most projects. The attitude toward cycling is not going to change over night in Ontario.

Recreational cycling is growing in Ontario. Commuter cycling might be growing, but not at the same rate as recreational and competitive cycling. With more people choosing to cycle recreationally I hope to see a shift in the attitude towards cyclists. We recreational cyclists are happy to advocate for more cycling infrastructure in the cities to promote more commuters, recognizing that commuting isn’t for everyone. As the Enlightened Cyclists/Bike Snob says, we cycling people are generally a happy, go lucky, friendly sort of people (stay tuned for a book review. Just started but what an excellent read).

Advocacy. Build the Movement. Change the Communication.

I challenged the members of parliament on their current cycling strategy and education program. A lot of the discussion on Wednesday circled around the ‘war on cars’. (Remember the War on Cars Mayor Ford created because of the Toronto Car tax? I leave that for another day and another post!). I challenged the MPPs to move away from the polarized discussion of cycling commuters and cars. I asked why cycling as a recreation was not a part of their discussion. I tabled my question stating that I was an engineer, an environmental planner, occasionally a cycling commuter but I was asking the question as a recreational cyclist.
What I heard back? Recreational cycling used to be a part of the discussion, but cycling was not a popular sport at the time. The shift was then to commuters since they were the most visible. But no MPP answered the question! Share the Road Board Members and a few other key speakers really appreciated the question. The idea of bringing recreational cycling back into the conversation is on the horizon. Let’s see what happens next.

The little Venn diagram somewhat summarizes the conference. We HAVE to work together to get anywhere. We have to advocate for safety, for infrastructure, for dedicated funding. We should change how we communicate. Instead of using the small percent of angry commuting cyclists open up the conversation that includes the cyclists that are happy commuting, those of us who chose to ride a bike for recreation or sport. And we need to build a movement. Create champions. Create award programs and recognize the individuals or programs doing great work. Unite. Collaborate. Share. Create lessons learned. Harness what we’ve done well so far. CAN. Cycling Advocacy Network. Advocate for the right things. Advocate in a positive way. Work together to find a solution that meets most people’s needs. Remember the movie A Beautiful Mind? The Nash Equilibrium? Prisoners Dilemma? Use Strategic Interaction and find a solution that benefits the pedestrian, cycling and driving groups.

Happy Cycling Ontario. See you on the roads.