Friday, August 26, 2011

The Layton Cycling Legacy by Hamish Wilson

Jack Layton's contribution to better biking in Toronto is substantial, and has occurred through many, many years. I am finding out more bits and what follows isn't necessarily comprehensive, though I'm trying for accuracy. And what follows needs more tidying up/editing, but I hope it offers useful info and perspective.

While Jack wasn't the only politician who boosted bikes in past decades, as Bill Kilbourn, John Sewell, Allan Sparrow, Joan Doiron and Dan Leckie all helped by riding down to talk and advocate, Jack's given the City pragmatic help like the post-and-ring parking many of use, to a great amount of behind-the-scenes dry committee and Council work to preserve bike budgets and at times expand them, while pushing for more bike lanes.

Twice, he's been instrumental in saving Cycling Advisory Committees, a trait being shown again in son Mike. While the first City Cycling Committee was established in the mid-70s, when a revamped CCC newsletter sallied forth in Spring 1984, Jack had a small column headlined 'Speak Up!"

Like some other writers in this edition who bemoaned the near-endless recycling of discussions with little change, it's somewhat amusing in a wry way to read this 27-year-old copy...

"Thousands of Torontonians make sort trips to work, to shop, to friends. The fastest, cheapest, most environmentally sound, and most energy efficient way to make these trips is by bike! In a sense, the bicycle is the revolutionary vehicle of the future.
   Imagine the pollution which could be reduced if thousands of car drivers switched. Imagine the energy savings. Imagine the health benefits of folks getting regular exercise. Imagine the land which coulud be put to better use (at the moment 40% of all land in the City is devoted to the car)!
  The problem is that the City has been designed to serve the car....Many potential cyclists stay off the roads because they are terrified of what might happen in heavy traffic..

One of his early efforts for better biking was to get the hazards of wheel-catching sewer grates changed, which gained momentum after the death of Dean Pace in August 1984. An earlier effort was rebuffed by Council, but a combination of protests, pressure from the provincial Attorney-General Roy McMurtry and the boy's death prompted the old Toronto Council to improve its catch basin replacement program, though there are no signs of the diagonal street markings apparently approved at the same time, and there are still some wheel-catchers around, let alone the inability of works crews to put grates back the right way.

The old City of Toronto was smaller than the current one, and the major roads were dominated by the former Metro level, which tended to be more auto-cratic ie. it was a rule by automobiles. The Metro roads, while direct, were felt to be carterials, and not bikeable, and indeed, hearkening back to one of the first fights in the City, a move by Metro to ban bikes on the Metro roads in 1974, which was beaten back and helped catalyze the early CCC in the mid-70s and thanks to Kilbourn and Sewell for their helps. When the CCC was established this policy: It is the policy of Council to implement programs which facilitate and support greater and safer use of the bicycle as a mode of transport." and listed six actions which are still being worked upon.

As one example of Jack's leadership, when there was a proposal to do away with the Cycling Committee in 1988, 13 years after its inception, Jack was leading the charge for its retention it seems (Ex Cttee No. 35/Sept. 25/88), and ten years later he was guiding cyclists through the amanglemation to get the door open in the new city structure for pedestrians and cyclists. He also had a warning that if there wasn't a Cycling Committee at the big city level, cyclists would be lost and things would deteriorate for us.

The tensions between Metro and the City level remained through the time of Mr. Layton first being elected to the "amanglemation" and even now, there's differences between the car-driving suburbs and the more bike/transit/ped friendly core. But as part of the fussing about the rebuilding of wide Spadina - a Metro road - without bike lanes, Layton said in a Sept. 4/97 NOW mag "We weren't even able to get bicycle lanes on Spadina, which is unbelievable. It's the widest road we have, next to University."

A year earlier, in response to two sad deaths in August 1996, Jack, as Chair of the Metro Planning and Transportation Committee, put out a clarion call for a proper bike network on the Metro Roads of a full 1,000kms - a figure which remains the base of the now undercut, tepid and delayed City's Bike Plan, supplanted to a large extent now by Mayor Ford's Bike Scheme which does far less for urban commuter cyclists than the hype suggests, but promises large sums for more remote paths in the midst of an apparent funding crisis.

The Jan. 18/99 eye mag, there was a citation of a "proposal by councillor Layton to build 1,000 kms of bike lanes across Toronto:"..and bike planner Dan Egan wanted to have core bike lanes so that citizens will "always be about 500 metres for the nearest bike route" (Feb. 19/99 eye)

That same issue quoted Jack as saying he and his family has had "17 bicycles stolen or trashed in the past 30 years".

Bikes were never the "only" issue for Jack Layton, and the establishment of the new TCC and the Bike Plan laid out a course for action that allowed him to devote more time for other causes. The languishing of the Bike Plan, its supplanting by the Ford Bike Scheme, combined with a huge hole west of Bathurst and south of Bloor, means that one real tangible way to remember Jack is to just do the Bike Plan, though it's been inadequate from the get-go, and it likely needs to be presented in a court as an exhibit to really get it going in Fordoronto.

A fund-raising letter from Gerard Coffey for Jack's Mayoral compaign in 1991 listed some of his other efforts as:
- calling for police on bikes, deriving from his 1984 chairing of conference Cycling and the Law
- completion of the Lower Don trail
- bike lanes on Queen's Quay and the Viaduct
- ending the discretionary ability of TTC collectors to deny access to the TTC system in non-rush-hour
along with some other items mentioned as above.

I also think he enabled the repainting of the Danforth for a bike-friendlier road design with wider curb lanes between Broadview and Pape c. Aug 1994

Along with substantial efforts in many other realms, he and his staff, combined with others, enabled so many things that we cyclists now take for granted, and if he didn't actually get things done, he likely pitched as many other things that didn't fly.

We owe him a lot!   (photo: Wendy Lucas)

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