On October 5, TCAT co-hosted a series of three panels on the state of cycling practices and policies in the GTHA, along with the Infrastructure Institute at the University of Toronto, and McMaster University. These panels explored where cycling is at in the GTHA, where we are going, and what we need to do to get there. We are pleased to share the recording of each panel:
Cycling in the Shadow of Car: infrastructure, road safety & urban redevelopment beyond downtown – In recent years, cycling policies have come of age in the GTHA. Once a fringe policy initiative limited to pre-amalgamation ‘Old Toronto’, ambitious plans and policy objectives pertaining to cycling, including Vision Zero, Net Zero, and cycling network targets are now commonplace across the region. However, the realities of cycling practice and infrastructural conditions in large swathes of the GTHA remain sobering. The gap between policies and implementation seems to be wider than ever, with results on objectives ranging from network provision to road safety often lagging far behind targets. Across the GTHA, but particularly in inner and outer suburban areas, the obdurate car-centric infrastructure and urban form pose a significant barrier to both daily mobility by bike as well as to policy initiatives to achieve vision zero and net zero targets. As cycling networks expand beyond urban cores, and the limited spatial distribution of good conditions for cycling is questioned from an equity standpoint, the particular challenges and opportunities of the inner and outer suburbs have become highly salient to the success of cycling policies and sustainability transitions. This session examined:
– To what extent are differential approaches to cycling promotion and infrastructure provision used, and warranted, to respond to the particular context(s) of the urban core, inner and outer suburb, and urban fringe? Which cases of good practice can be identified in particular contexts across the GTHA?
– To what extent does the improvement of conditions for cycling involve the reconfiguration of automobility? Has the need for ‘push’ measures been overshadowed by a focus on improvements that do not impinge on motor traffic?
– How do processes of (re)development and intensification relate to the promotion of cycling, and how can risks of gentrification in inner suburbs be mitigated?
Pilots, the ‘evidence base’ for cycling, and democratic oversight of planning in the GTHA – Supported by an increasingly broad ‘evidence base’ on the benefits of cycling and the need for protected infrastructure, the implementation of projects and programmes to support cycling would seem to be straightforward. However, this has not been the case in the GTHA. Amid wider controversy around the implementation of cycling-inclusive policies, calls for ‘more studies’ or ‘better data’ continue to characterize conflicts around the expansion of cycling networks and the redesign of roadways. In many cases, the validity of the data itself has become a central issue of contention. Equally, many cycling projects pass through extensive ‘pilots’, a practice accelerated and expanded during the Covid-19 pandemic, even when such facilities or programs are supported by extensive evidence bases and policy frameworks. In theory, these processes enable staff to test and evaluate projects before scaling up and making them permanent, but they also open the door to deferral, delay, and entrenched opposition. Through this panel, we looked into:
– How does the ‘evidence base’ on the benefits of cycling relate to specific projects and instances of policymaking and infrastructure provision in the GTHA?
– Does the common practice of piloting infrastructure projects in the GTHA facilitate ‘experimentation’ and innovative solutions, or does it constrain and slow down change?
– What aspects of cycling practice and infrastructure design are under-studied or ignored in processes of ‘data-driven’ evaluation of projects and policies?
– What potential exists for new technologies and techniques to contribute to improved data collection, analysis for planning, and community outreach?
The Just Cycling City: inclusive cycling promotion, lifestyles & urban transformation – As GTHA residents increasingly opt to use the bicycle for various trips, some areas seem close to achieving a ‘critical mass’ of cyclists. Nonetheless, many barriers remain before cycling can fully enter the ‘mainstream’ as a normal and everyday transport mode. Inequalities in cycling rates along dimensions of gender, race, and age, continue to limit the potential of cycling. Suburban areas, where a majority of GTHA residents live, have also seen much less comprehensive improvement for cycling. The GTHA cannot achieve a critical mass of cyclists if it ignores barriers to cycling specific to these populations and places. Cycling promotion must be inclusive and consider a diversity of lifestyles to foster the just cycling city. These significant obstacles to the mainstreaming of cycling across the GTHA demand a holistic approach that goes beyond infrastructure alone to consider culture, economies, and lifestyles. One key aspect to consider is whether the significant urban development and intensification occurring across the GTHA could be better leveraged to facilitate cycling, rather than pricing potential cyclists out of centrally located and more bikeable neighborhoods. Key questions examined through this panel were:
– The determinants of inequalities in access to opportunities, activities, and destinations by bicycle, their variation across urban contexts, and the effectiveness of targeted interventions.
– How recreational and transport cycling relate to each other in different spatial contexts, and what synergies can be leveraged? Is a focus on recreational facilities in suburban contexts limiting the possibilities for transportation cycling?
– How upcoming technologies, such as electric micromobility, and future-oriented infrastructural policies could be leveraged to overcome barriers to the mainstreaming and facilitation of winter cycling.