Cy­cling has be­come so pop­u­lar in Toronto that to ride is to con­form – well, down­town, any­way. In the burbs, there’s still work to do.

“Build­ing bike cul­ture in any neigh­bour­hood takes time,” says Marvin Macaraig, a com­mu­nity health worker who also serves as co­or­di­na­tor for Scar­bor­ough Cy­cles bike hub.

The project, launched in part­ner­ship with the Toronto Cen­tre for Ac­tive Trans­porta­tion (TCAT) to of­fer low-cost ac­cess to tools, parts and me­chan­i­cal ex­per­tise to cy­clists – as well as to rally sup­port for trans­porta­tion on two wheels – has gained mo­men­tum, ex­pand­ing to three lo­ca­tions (Ac­cess Point on Dan­forth, Birch­mount Bluffs Neigh­bour­hood Cen­tre and Agin­court Com­mu­nity Ser­vices) since rolling into Scar­bor­ough in 2016.

Some 2,000 cy­clists have been served by the hubs and hun­dreds more turned on to bik­ing via the project’s group rides, which Macaraig says have been key to “nor­mal­iz­ing” cy­cling and build­ing bike cul­ture in the burbs. He says the rides have acted as “a pub­lic state­ment of com­mu­nity own­er­ship and be­long­ing” for cy­clists.

In 2016, Louise Gil­mour par­tic­i­pated in Bells on the Dan­forth, which was among the first rides pro­moted by Scar­bor­ough Cy­cles, and she says the event showed her that it was pos­si­ble for her to ride her bike to work.

“I had never thought I could bike the full length of the Dan­forth so I never tried bik­ing to work. Once I rode with the group, I re­al­ized it was re­ally noth­ing at all,” says Gil­mour, who has been rid­ing to work ever since and con­tin­ues to use the hub for ba­sic bike main­te­nance and to find out about what’s hap­pen­ing in the city.

The hubs con­tinue to grow in pop­u­lar­ity. So far this year, they’ve had over 550 vis­its, and res­i­dents have vol­un­teered more than 850 hours of their time to sup­port the group’s pro­gram­ming.

TCAT di­rec­tor Nancy Smith Lea says Scar­bor­ough Cy­cles “took a strate­gic ap­proach to in­cu­bat­ing cy­cling,” start­ing in a cou­ple of neigh­bour­hoods se­lected for their cy­cling po­ten­tial based on the num­ber of short trips taken by res­i­dents, car­free house­holds and ex­ist­ing cy­cling and walk­ing rates, among other fac­tors. The hubs have branched out to part­ner with dozens of other com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions to pro­mote bike cul­ture.

To that end, Smith Lea ap­plauds the city’s new Bi­cy­cle Chain pro­gram, which is open­ing com­mu­nity bike hubs in ver­ti­cal neigh­bour­hoods all across Toronto. As part of the pro­gram, Scar­bor­ough Cy­cles is launch­ing a new hub in east Scar­bor­ough (at 3939 Lawrence East) this fall.

But Macaraig says there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of build­ing bike in­fra­struc­ture in the burbs. “There is so much more that can be in­stalled quickly, and at a rel­a­tively low cost.”

For ex­am­ple, he points to long stretches of Stee­les, Finch, Shep­pard, Ellesmere, War­den, Vic­to­ria Park, Mid­land and Neil­son, which could ac­com­mo­date sep­a­rated bike lanes with very lit­tle im­pact on the cur­rent road­way.

“There is so much avail­able space along many of Scar­bor­ough’s roads that in­stalling bike lanes would have no im­pact on the num­ber of ex­ist­ing traf­fic lanes.”

He says the city should un­lock “la­tent de­mand” for bike lanes by con­sid­er­ing the widen­ing of ex­ist­ing side­walks so they can be bet­ter uti­lized as func­tional trails.

“There is so much side­walk cy­cling al­ready hap­pen­ing in Scar­bor­ough,” Macaraig says. “Peo­ple want to ride for lo­cal trips but are afraid to be on the road.”

In­deed. Traf­fic con­ges­tion is one of the most talked-about prob­lems in Toronto. So why not pro­vide peo­ple with safer op­tions to get around?

Macaraig points to the Dan­forth as an­other ex­am­ple of un­re­al­ized po­ten­tial. Sep­a­rated bike lanes on the stretch would ex­tend cy­cling’s reach far into the burbs, pro­vid­ing a “much-needed back­bone to the east-end cy­cling net­work [that] would in­crease the num­ber of cy­clists on con­nect­ing routes in a rel­a­tively short time frame.”

But is there the po­lit­i­cal will to make Scar­bor­ough the cy­cling mecca it as­pires to be?

“We have yet to find the coura­geous lead­er­ship nec­es­sary to en­act the change we need to keep Toronto mov­ing,” Macaraig says.

It’s time, Toronto. 3


Marvin Macaraig

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