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Toronto’s New Anti-Bike Mayor 32

Mayor Rob Ford

Photo of Mayor Rob Ford by Shaun Merritt

A man once said,

“I can’t support bike lanes. How many people are riding outside today? We don’t live in Florida. We don’t have 12 months a year to ride on the bikes.

And what I compare bike lanes to, is swimming with the sharks. Sooner or later you are going to get bitten. And every year we have dozens of people who get hit by cars, or trucks. Well no wonder, roads are built for buses, cars and trucks. Not for people on bikes.

And you know, I feel, my heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed. But it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

That was 2007.

On October 25th, 2010, the city of Toronto elected this man – one Rob Ford – to be our mayor. Yes, this Chris Farley look-a-like, Sarah Palin sound-a-like is the honourable leader of our city of 2.5 million people, managing a budget of over $10 billion dollars a year.

While other great cities around the world are electing mayors that realize that automobiles take up too much space and are progressive about providing people with great alternatives, Toronto has elected a mayor whose viewpoint puts us in a time machine back to the 1970’s.

Head to your closets and pull out those bell-bottom pants and go to your garage to dust off your AMC Gremlin. The next four years could be a flash in the past.

But not everything is doom and gloom. At the end of the day, Mr. Ford needs to keep his people happy, and he has plenty of progressive bike-friendly Councillors to help keep him in line.

In Mr. Ford’s transportation plan, he has at least acknowledged that we need to provide a better network for bicycles in the city.

Unfortunately, his proposal to add new bicycle infrastructure is exclusive to ravines and hydro corridors. If only we all lived and worked in ravines. Not only would we be closer to nature, we’d also have great bicycle infrastructure. But this isn’t reality.

Ravines are great for recreational bicycling, but what Toronto really needs is better bike infrastructure for people traveling to work, to the store, or to a restaurant. This is what Mayor Bloomberg is doing all over New York City. This is what Mayor Gregor Robertson is doing in Vancouver, and we hope that the newly elected Naheed Nenshi will do the same in Calgary.

In a mayoral debate in March, Mr. Ford clarified his perspective on bike lanes:

Ford points out that bike lanes don’t make sense out in the suburbs where there are 18-wheelers pulling in and out of factories. But if he lived downtown, he could see bike lanes making more sense.

Mr. Ford brings up a really great point. Canada has jumped on the “bike lane wagon” without proper analysis on whether bikes lanes actually make sense or not.

Just last weekend I was out in Vancouver and we headed about 70km north of Vancouver to climb a mountain. On the Sea-to-Sky highway there were bike lanes on some stretches of the road. The bike lanes had no physical or painted buffer between automobiles traveling at 100km/h+.

This makes absolutely no sense. Bikes don’t belong two feet away from automobiles that are traveling over 100km/h. It’s neither comfortable nor safe to do this. Thus it was no wonder that I didn’t see a single bicycle in this bike lane.

The  interesting part about the Sea-to-Sky highway bike lane is that there is a concrete barrier to the right of the 3-foot bike lane. So it’s puzzling why they didn’t move the concrete barrier three feet to the left, and let bicyclists ride on the opposite side of the barriers.

The answer is simple – the bike lane is merely a highway shoulder splattered with some paint.

This is where Mr. Ford is absolutely right. Bike lanes that are nothing more than a line of paint aren’t necessarily doing any good. What we need is physical segregation where it makes sense – on roads where there are fast-moving automobiles and transport trucks.

Toronto has experimented with physically segregated bicycle facilities in the suburbs – on Eglinton Ave. These physically-separated bike paths provide a comfortable, direct path along a major suburban arterial road. This is what the suburbs need more of.

Unfortunately, the Eglinton Ave. path is mostly disconnected from other safe bicycle routes, so riding along fast-moving traffic is almost inevitable – unless one wants to take a winding, indirect recreational route.

If nothing else, Ford and I can at least agree on one thing – that bike lanes aren’t a one size fits all solution.

But Ford will nonetheless be hearing plenty from me in the next 4 years. Hopefully he will start to realize the importance and viability of bicycles as a mode of transportation now that he is representing the whole city instead of a small suburban ward.

Either way, we will certainly have our work cut out for us. It’s going to be a wild ride.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at

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32 thoughts on “Toronto’s New Anti-Bike Mayor

  1. Ryan Oct 28,2010 12:59 pm

    I wouldn’t say Toronto is back to the 70’s with his viewpoint.

    My Dad was born and raised in Toronto (actually Etobicoke) from the 50’s –> 70’s. As a child he would ride all over the place.

    As an adult going to work he would usually walk or ride a bike. Because of his job he did eventually get a car but it was mostly FOR work rather than getting to it.

    There were no bike lanes however the people then did not have the anti-bike attitude they have today. People had a greater respect for people on bikes.

    Look at some of the suburban councilors that were elected. Michelle Berardinetti put out pamphlets against bikes and bike lanes.
    Mammoliti doesn’t want any bike lanes and wants bikes to be licensed and insured.

    If you could mix the bike infrastructure of today with the peoples attitude of yesterday, you’d have the perfect Toronto.

  2. James D. Schwartz Oct 28,2010 1:29 pm

    @Ryan, it’s true that there wasn’t polarization between motorists and cyclists in the 1970’s, but the 1970’s (and 60’s for that matter) was an era where the car was king. Roads were expanded at the cost of communities, public space, sidewalks, etc.

    This was the turning point when the Netherlands decided to take one path (build out the cycle routes), and North America decided to take another path (build out highways and expand roads).

    The result 40 years later is evident when you compare the Netherlands vs. North America.

    Ford’s view that car is king, and we must do everything to accommodate motorists was the prevailing view at Toronto’s City Hall in the 1970s/60s.

    Things have changed since the 70’s though. We don’t have space to accommodate everybody owning automobiles with our increased population, and more people are more conscious about the social impact of driving than they were in the 70’s.

  3. PaddyAnne Oct 28,2010 1:56 pm

    Rob Ford must be a some sort of relative to Henry Ford!

  4. Ryan Oct 28,2010 6:18 pm

    That was definitely an issue back then. The ever growing expansion of roads while taking public/green space away.

    Of course this is still an issue today. Look at the mid-pen highway that so many people want.
    This new highway would connect from Mississauga to Fort Erie. It’s going to take away a lot of green (farm) space.

    I suppose my main point was simply there was a greater respect for one another back then, no matter how you got around.

  5. Anonymous Oct 29,2010 3:38 pm

    Haha, were not in Florida!

    I’m from Oulu, Finland. Located at 65 degrees north, 200 km south of the arctic circle. So the days get rather short in december 😛

    Luckily the Gulf Stream brings warm seawater from Florida to Scandinavia, so our winters are not very cold. Monthly average temperature in Jan and Feb is slightly below -10C. A little colder than Toronto.

    We got 21% of all trips by bicycle, all year average. Eat that, Mr. Florida!

    Cycling low in winter is about a quarter of cycling high in summer. Most winter cyclists will cycle if it is warmer than -20C.

    We get 21% rates because we have plenty of physically separated bikeways and use lots of other tricks to make cycling a good choice for short trips. We have built for the “Interested but Concerned” cyclists.

  6. Not2NearTo Nov 15,2010 10:27 pm

    The poor behaviour of the Toronto cycling community, at least the irresponsible part of it, is partly responsible for the reaction from Ford and others considered to be anti-cycling.

    Fact is Ford represents a large population of disenchanted taxpayers unhappy with the appalling Miller administration.

    The political left represented by its unofficial voice, the Toronto Star, has been particularly abusive towards him launching libelous personal attacks and in doing so have indirectly attacked his constituency. No doubt members of this constituency are principally car drivers, many of who view members of the radical end of the cycling community as non-tax paying parasites.

    If Toronto cyclists want bike infrastructure then they better reach out to the majority who pay taxes and drive cars. They need to acknowledge that all road users have rights. Name calling is counterproductive.

    The responsible end of the cycling community need to disassociate itself from activists and put forward proposals that are accommodate the views of all road users, including motorists and the other group they apparently hate – experienced cyclists who do not see the need for cycling infrastructure.

    Ford’s a tough guy but fair. Having a bunch of unwashed hippie freaks barking abuse at him won’t work. He’d prefer to spend his time as a volunteer coach to a kids’ football team helping to keep them in school and off the streets.

    A rethink in cyclist strategy is required in Toronto.

  7. Rob Nov 16,2010 1:46 am

    “The responsible end of the cycling community need to disassociate itself from activists”

    I’m sorry, did I read that wrong. Is it a joke? There’s nothing wrong with activism is there? Your advice is then that we quit complaining, shut up and take our medicine?

    The guy’s an ass. Here is a quote
    “My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.” Referring to cyclists who are killed by motorists.

    Are those words of a tough but fair guy?

  8. Anonymous Nov 16,2010 2:30 am

    Sorry Rob, he’s right. T.O. bike activists are a bit on the flower child and/or wonky side. We need a bike union like the one Not2NearTo describes.

  9. James D. Schwartz Nov 16,2010 2:41 am

    Now that’s funny. People prescribing how Toronto bike activists should behave and what platform they should be advocating.

    While we’re at it, why don’t we all wear matching Nazi uniforms and salute thy master Ford?

    No thanks.

    Advocates come in all shapes and sizes – and viewpoints.

  10. Rob Nov 16,2010 2:46 am

    Yeah, but in Nazi Germany, they used their real names.

  11. Not2NearTO Nov 16,2010 4:04 am

    Schwartz’s reaction represents exactly the problem I described. Anyone with a different point of view is a Nazi.

    Nothing like choosing the path to nowhere. There’s nothing to be gotten from going nowhere.

    Car is king because those countries that adopted it as a means of transportation have the highest standard of living. It’s that standard of living that allows many like me to choose cycling as the principal, but not exclusive, means of transport.

    It would only be a person with Nazi tendencies who would deny other people to prescribe “how Toronto bike activists should behave and what platform they should be advocating.”

  12. Bill Nov 16,2010 2:14 pm

    Road upkeep costs are built into property taxes…

    Cyclists pay taxes for roads just like everyone else.

  13. Anonymous Nov 18,2010 5:21 pm

    @Not2NearTO The Nazi comment, from what I can see, is in regards to your call to getting activists to shut up and to have the so-called “responsible” wing of the cycling community (i.e. those that don’t make any noise or complaints) to disassociate themselves from those who are vocal.

    So far from being a label put on someone with a different viewpoint, the Nazi label is about someone who has a problem with people expressing their opinions and for using their right to protest.

    As cyclists that are constantly marginalized by the mainstream media and by the powers that be, your comments are offensive, short-sighted, and don’t reflect reality. When 99% of the transportation funds go to cars, when 99% of the roads are allocated to cars, this call for “learning to share the roads” is pure bullshit.

  14. Anonymous Dec 9,2010 2:49 am

    Rob Ford a Chris Farley look-alike? Perhaps – I always thought he looked like the Shopsy’s guy.

  15. Bikelanes Jun 26,2011 11:33 pm

    Bicyclists have always been physically segregated. They are from the poor neighborhoods where they are their neighbors don’t own cars. So it does make sense that the lanes should be the same.

  16. Bikelanes Jun 27,2011 4:33 am

    Bicyclists have always been physically segregated. They are from the poor neighborhoods where they are their neighbors don’t own cars. So it does make sense that the lanes should be the same.

  17. Glenda Aug 1,2011 9:06 pm

    Biking causes less traffic and less oil consumption. Did he realized the benefits of using bike for transportation?

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  18. glenngrant Aug 2,2011 2:06 am

    Biking causes less traffic and less oil consumption. Did he realized the benefits of using bike for transportation?

    new homes for sale ny

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  32. Shylynn Sep 25,2013 2:26 am

    Perhaps Ford should have his car keys taken away and have his fat ass put on a bike for his term in office. I bet the infrastructure would improve fairly rapidly! Not to mention his health! Idiots like him really tick off those of us who know better….. Build safe infrastructure and the cyclists will come. Not to mention the economy will pick up because people will have more money for other things that support local businesses, we will contribute to reducing the emissions, improve health = less of a burden on the medical system….yadda yadda yadda yadda! I think with even a little common sense that we get the point of all the positive spinoffs that result when the heavily burdened taxpayers receive safely built and properly engineered infrastructure that would allow safe cycling to take place! C’mon Canada wake up!!!!

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