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Get your ride on!
They aren't blocking traffic, they are traffic


BY KATE WELDON


darren stehr

Air pollution is taking over city skies and congestion may be making it nearly impossible to get anywhere quickly, but some people have an answer to these big city woes: cycling.  And they aren’t just doing it alone.  The last Friday of every month, these cyclists and advocates of public spaces meet at the corner of Spadina and Bloor in downtown Toronto to take over the streets. People come to Critical Mass (CM) for different reasons, but all the participants share a common thread.  They are all cyclists who have felt alienated while riding along the city streets.  In some 400 cities world wide cyclists gather monthly, biking home as a giant group, some waving signs advocating cycling or reading ‘honk if you love bikes.’

Derek Chadbourne, a regular at Toronto’s CM since it began in 1995, says he loves the ride because, “there is no leader in critical mass, there’s no hierarchy.”   The first CM ride took place in San Francisco in 1992.   The story – perhaps apocryphal – is that a group of bike couriers were cycling home and decided to ride  together.  The phenomenon has been spreading ever since. “I think it’s important that cyclists take back their rightful place because the planet itself can ill-afford to carry on its addiction to automobiles,” Chadbourne says.“A lot of the medical problems and ballooning medical costs are really due to people’s inactivity and their willingness to get in the car and drive to the corner store for milk as opposed to even walking, let alone riding a bike.”


darren stehr
Chadbourne, who was a bike courier for many years, says cyclists have as much right as cars to be on the streets. “They deserve to be there . . . it’s important environmentally that cyclists feel safe to be able to ride in the city,” he says. “I think it’s good for public health, I think that if more people felt safer about riding their bikes in the city then more people would.”

Toronto’s CM has experienced many ups and downs over the past 11 years.  There have been confrontations with the police.  Moments of joy occur every Halloween when the ride reaches larger than normal capacity; decorated riders and bikes roll down the busy streets.   Chadbourne says that police sometimes have difficulty arresting or ticketing just one person. He says the police often inquire as to who is in charge and the group never has an answer . “I was tired of being treated like a second class person on a roadway that I had a right to be on,” Chadbourne says.

Toronto Public Space Committee advocate David Meslin says Torontonians don’t appreciate what cyclists do for their city and environment.  He spearheads the committee’s Thanks for Riding campaign, which distributes 500 posters throughout the city to thank cyclists for all the good they do and to tell cyclists that Toronto loves them.  The posters are primarily placed along hydro poles in the spring, so that cyclists can see them.  Meslin says he worries the city is sending the wrong message to its cyclists.  “The city and police give cyclists negative feedback all the time, we need to thank (cyclists).” That doesn’t mean all the news is bad.  Toronto has developed and designed a bike plan that is to be completed over the next 10 years with between $60 million and $80 million in improvements.  More than 1,000 kilometers of bike paths and lanes will be added throughout the city, bike racks are being added to city buses, bike lockers are being tested at City Hall and the city recently put in its 15,000th post and ring (for securing bicycles). 

Adam Giambrone, vice-chair of the TTC and chair of the Toronto Cycling Committee thinks that bikes are a big part of Toronto’s future. “The city is going to grow by a million people in the next 25 years and anybody who looks out at the traffic jams on the 401 and the Don Valley (Parkway) knows that,” he says. “If all those million people are driving everywhere by car, not only will no one get there because there will be total gridlock but the smog issue will continue to get worse.” Giambrone admits that the city isn’t perfect yet.  “We’re not there yet in terms of being a city that is fully integrated with a cycling mentality, but that’s the direction we’re going,” he says. “I think that if you’re a cyclist today you might have some concerns about not having enough bike lanes, not having a fully accessible public transit system . . . But our plan is if you come back in about 10 years when we finish the bike plan, it’s going to be a very different city.”

 

       
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