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Bicycling in Toronto: Interview with Carla Wintersgill 22

Carla11

Photo of Carla Wintersgill courtesy of Yvonne Bambrick for The Urban Country

While pedaling to a client’s office one morning in May I witnessed a driver hurriedly squeeze past a cyclist ahead of me, missing the cyclist by mere centimetres. The woman on the bicycle shook her head but kept riding on.

I pulled up beside the car at the next intersection and asked the woman behind the wheel if she knew that she almost hit the lady on the bicycle:

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This incident came on the heels of my return from a four-month stay in China where I didn’t experience a single incident while riding my bike each day. The tension and road rage I was seeing on the streets of Toronto was oddly making me homesick for China.

After arriving at my client’s office that day I noticed one of the employees, Carla, had also pedaled to the office that morning. I decided to share my story with Carla and I asked her about her commute. Carla told me that she has a pretty smooth commute to the office, and she rarely encountered situations like I had witnessed.

Carla’s feedback illustrates how one commute in Toronto can drastically differ from another just based on the route chosen.

I decided to interview Carla – a Marketing and Communications Coordinator – and share her experiences and perspective about bicycling in Toronto.

How long have you been using a bicycle as transportation in Toronto?

This is my third summer biking in Toronto. I usually bike from May to October every year.

What are your earliest memories of bicycling?

I still remember the day I got my training wheels off! When I was little older, I would ride my bike to and from elementary school in Victoria. On band days, I would strap my trumpet to the back of my bike. It was a heavy load for a little kid!

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Photo of Carla Wintersgill courtesy of Yvonne Bambrick for The Urban Country

What does your typical bicycle commuting attire consist of?

I usually just wear what I’m going to wear to work, but when it’s really hot out, I’ll wear shorts and a t-shirt and then change at work. And I wear a helmet!

What does your daily commute look like?

I live in East York, so I bike along the Danforth and then down Parliament to Yonge and Wellington. There’s no bike lane on Parliament, but the road is much smoother! The trip takes 30-45 minutes, depending if I’m going to work (downhill) or home (uphill).

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Photo of Carla Wintersgill courtesy of Yvonne Bambrick for The Urban Country

Do you feel a lot of animosity on the streets in Toronto? If yes, what do you think can/should be done to address this animosity?

No, I haven’t felt a lot of animosity on the streets. Once, a car tried to sideswipe my boyfriend and I while we were riding in the Jarvis bike lane. I think he was making a point about his displeasure over bike lanes. But those types of incidents are very few and far between. I don’t think a few idiots represent the majority of drivers in Toronto.

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Photo of Carla Wintersgill courtesy of Yvonne Bambrick for The Urban Country

What are the top improvements that you think Toronto could make to make bicycling better in the city?

More bike lanes! They make cycling safer and eliminate stress for bikers and cars. I would also like to see some kind of “Share the Road, it’s the law” signage in some of the more congested downtown areas. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about cyclists’ legal rights to the road. I’ve been yelled at to get off the road, but the fact is, it’s within my legal rights to be there. I don’t have to ride on the side, I could take up a whole lane if I wanted to (which I don’t because I want to share the space).

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Photo of Carla Wintersgill courtesy of Yvonne Bambrick for The Urban Country

What advice would you have for somebody who is thinking about starting to use a bicycle for transportation in Toronto?

Go for a test run with a friend who has experience to gain some confidence and learn your hand signals. For your own safety, it’s important to be assertive (not aggressive) while cycling by clearly indicating your next move. And then go for it! You’ll never want to be on the subway during rush hour again once you start cycling.

Thanks Carla for sharing your perspective with our readers! And thanks to Yvonne Bambrick for the great photos!

Would you like to be interviewed to share your experiences as a bicycle commuter? Send an email to contact@theurbancountry.com and tell us a bit about yourself.

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

i share the road

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  • http://www.fullfat.ca Octavian

    Good article. I really like the last comment about public transport. It’s surprising that so many people would spend that much money on a transit pass to be squished like a sardine, when they could just bike.

  • http://www.fullfat.ca/ Octavian

    Good article. I really like the last comment about public transport. It’s surprising that so many people would spend that much money on a transit pass to be squished like a sardine, when they could just bike.

  • Ian Flett

    What a class act!

  • Ian Flett

    What a class act!

  • Snuzzled

    If indeed the cyclist was wobbling, the driver should have given her MORE room, not LESS! Some people’s children.

  • Snuzzled

    If indeed the cyclist was wobbling, the driver should have given her MORE room, not LESS! Some people’s children.

  • MaryL

    So if she typically wears a helmet, why were all the cycling pictures taken of her helmet-free? She’s an attractive woman and keeping her helmet off lets you see that more easily, but could not one photo show how she actually rides every day in Toronto instead of treating her helmet as a precariously dangling prop on her handlebars?

  • MaryL

    So if she typically wears a helmet, why were all the cycling pictures taken of her helmet-free? She’s an attractive woman and keeping her helmet off lets you see that more easily, but could not one photo show how she actually rides every day in Toronto instead of treating her helmet as a precariously dangling prop on her handlebars?

  • Jean

    If she says she wears her helmet, the she should wear it for the photos. What’s the point of..pretending for photos?
    Sorry, I was back visiting Toronto (where I lived and cycled for 13 yrs. before moving to western Canada), this past summer to see my family and there’s a blend of cyclists helmetless and wearing helmets. A cycling blog isn’t going to have less “stature” if there are photos of some cyclists wearing cyclists.
    Let’s get a grip on reality.
    @ http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com

  • Jean

    If she says she wears her helmet, the she should wear it for the photos. What’s the point of..pretending for photos?
    Sorry, I was back visiting Toronto (where I lived and cycled for 13 yrs. before moving to western Canada), this past summer to see my family and there’s a blend of cyclists helmetless and wearing helmets. A cycling blog isn’t going to have less “stature” if there are photos of some cyclists wearing cyclists.
    Let’s get a grip on reality.
    @ http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    The photographer and Carla decided to do the shots sans helmet. I would have been fine to post the photos either with or without the helmet on.

    In fact, here are a couple interviews I have done in the past with helmets on the interviewees:
    http://www.theurbancountry.com/2010/10/australia-newcomer-cycle-chic-interview.html

    http://www.theurbancountry.com/2010/08/interview-with-cycling-newcomer-kerri.html

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