Cycling comes with a feeling of freedom that walking doesn’t offer. The experience of gliding down a hill is one of the happiest feelings in the world. The best meeting I ever attended as a Member of Parliament was on a bicycle.
Cycling every day in Toronto kept me in shape but I’m a little less fit now that I’m in Ottawa. There are few bike racks on Parliament Hill and MPs are shuttled around in buses. They spend a lot of time commuting, sitting in the Commons for hours on House duty, and then sitting again in committee meetings. It’s a sedentary lifestyle in which few meals are eaten at home. The combination is not great for the waistline.
We’ve set up an all-party bike caucus of MPs. At our first meeting we rode along the Ottawa River from the entrance locks of the Rideau Canal to Victoria Island to discuss cycling issues. We talked about bike safety and active transportation.
Cycling has always been a part of my life. My riding of Toronto Danforth is compact and urban so cycling is really the easiest and fastest way to get around. I cycle just about everywhere. As a young adult I was an avid mountain biker. My family cycles along Toronto’s waterfront and we even plan some summer vacations around cycling. It’s a chance to talk while we’re outside where we can be active and together at the same time.
One of my best memories is biking my daughter Phoebe, 2, to daycare in downtown Toronto. When we made the trip by subway everybody returned home tired and grumpy from being pushed around. I purchased a bike chariot so my daughter would be comfortable and cozy with snacks and toys while enjoying the ride. It was a chance for me to get some exercise and clear my mind after a day of work.
When my daughters were older I took them cycling downtown and taught them to go slow and watch for car doors. In Toronto, you have to be careful not to get your tires stuck in the street car tracks. Still, there are parts of the city where it doesn’t feel safe and I’m not comfortable having my kids on the road.
When I see the ghost bike shrines set up around the city as memorials to people who’ve died in accidents, it reminds me of my vulnerability as a cyclist. It’s heartbreaking and a warning to be even more cautious. Canada is behind other countries in developing proper bike infrastructure so we can all feel safe. There is tension between cyclists and drivers.
If you’re in a car, it seems like that bike just popped out of nowhere. If you’re cycling, drivers sometimes fling their door open in your path. Proper infrastructure would separate bikes and cars, eliminating tension between the two.
Blaming each other really doesn’t get us any further towards a solution. We need to do a lot more to make cycling safer because if people think it’s dangerous, they are less likely to get into the habit of cycling. Remove the danger, cycling represent a healthy lifestyle and a way to help the environment.
(Editor’s note: the author is Liberal MP for Toronto-Danforth)