ActiveTo is one of many programs put in place by municipal governments to keep Canadians safe during their commutes. With public health guidelines calling for 2 metres of space between people to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, cities are looking for ways to modify infrastructure to allow for this. One critical development has been expanding the active transportation network for non-vehicular travel.

Artistic rendering of the proposed Complete Street with people cycling in protected bike lanes, people driving in travel lanes and people enjoying curb lane CaféTO patios at Yonge St. and Woodlawn Ave. E. looking southbound. Source: toronto.ca

ActiveTO Changes

Creating the ActiveTO program has brought three positive changes to the city; the Quiet Streets Program, closing major roads on weekends and expanding the cycling network. The Toronto City Council recently announced they would be expanding the ActiveTO program for the 2021 summer.

However, the Quiet Streets program will not continue forward. A staff report produced by the City of Toronto’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee proposes alternative speed and traffic management systems. These systems include a variety of safety zones, Automated Speed Enforcement, and the instalment of neighbourhood cycling routes.

The cancellation of this program would be logical if the alternative speed and traffic systems were already in place. However, they are not. If neighbourhoods feels there is inadequate protection, their main options to request a Watch Your Speed Sign.

These signs rotate on a monthly basis, thus providing no security to the neighbourhood.

Budget Increases

The Green Party of Ontario has been fighting to create room in the budget for human-powered transportation since 2011.

Tim Grant spoke to Global Green News on behalf of the Green Party of Ontario about his ongoing push to create a holistic transportation system.

In 2011, 0% of the budget was allocated to cyclists and pedestrians. Now, approximately 6% of the 2020 municipal transportation budget was dedicated to active transportation.

Grant, however, encourages citizens to look past the numbers. “The importance…is not so much the money, it’s the fact that if the Department of Transportation is only thinking about transit and roads, it’s not thinking about the whole picture.”

Pedal to the Metal

Green parties do however have some cause for celebration. In 2020, “The ActiveTO cycling network contributed to the city’s largest on-street cycling network expansion in one year,” as per the city’s news release.

Moreover, a pilot project will launch this summer on Yonge Street – one of Toronto’s major arteries. The expansion will increase North-South mobility, better connecting the cycling network. This marks another success for the Green Parties.

The loss of the quiet streets program is unfortunate. However, it is only one aspect of the active transportation battle and a temporary fix at that. The more pressing matter is the lack of an adequate cycling network.

By comparison, Montreal is adding approximately 200 kilometers of active transportation space for cyclists and pedestrians without any 2021 expansions.

“Toronto is pretty far behind Montreal,” Grant noted. Canada’s largest city needs to set the example for the rest of the county, not be two steps behind.

[If] you have more cyclists, that creates more demand for more cycling lanes. That brings more cyclists, and then you have more demand and it just grows and grows. It’s an unstoppable force.”

Tim Grant to Global Green News

Needed Public Transportation Alternative

The cycling network needs to be seen as more than a fun, summer bonus in Toronto. It is needed to provide safety and create the option to cycle instead of drive.

Toronto’s chief medical officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa, has expressed support for active transportation, including cycling, during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the benefits from implementing a good cycling network go beyond health and safety measures.

The pandemic has severely decreased public transit ridership globally. However, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has stated they expect ridership to be up to 70% capacity by the end of 2021. They have also stated that even at 30% capacity, there is no guarantee of two metres of space.

“It will be critical to give people an alternative”

Barbara Gray, Toronto’s general manager of transportation services.

To help prevent ridership from reaching the projected 70% and keep car usage down, the bike lanes need to be not only reenforced, but expanded.

New Kid on the Block: E-bikes

Enter electric bikes. According to the NPD Market Research Group, e-bike sales skyrocked to a 190% increase from June 2019 to June 2020.

With the ability to go just under 75 kilometres on a single charge, and up to 150 kilometres when you assist with the peddaling, e-bikes have the potential to revolutionize urban active transportation.

Grant also noted that “one of the big problems with bike lanes that we have in time trials [is the lanes are already] too crowded.” These trials are done to measure true demand for the lanes, and constantly prove the citizens would benefit from their implementation.

The demand is here for enhanced bike lanes and with the increases seen with e-bike sales, the next step is to connect the suburbs and the downtown bike paths.

With the ability to get to and from the office on a single charge, e-bikes would drastically reduce both cars on the road and public transport congestion.

Looking Ahead

In the 2020 installment of ActiveTO, twenty-four (24) km of new cycle tracks and lanes were installed, using temporary materials. Establishing these lanes was initially temporary but the City of Toronto has since renewed the plan.

Mayor John Tory spoke to the benefits and importance of the longevity of the program and citizens can only hope his words hold true.

“ActiveTO has been a successful and popular program that will continue to help us through the pandemic as well as contribute to the future livability of our city.”

John Tory, Mayor of Toronto

Toronto still has a long way to go to catch up to other major cities and ActiveTO is a program that needs to stay long after the pandemic.

Emma Fingerle

Emma Fingerle is a passionate, aspiration, and a confident second-year student at McGill University, working towards a B.A. in Political Science and Environment. She is looking to bridge the gap between Green Party news and research and the public sector to create a more encompassing political narrative. Having worked at a nature-driven summer camp during her teenage years, Emma happens passionate about educating young people on environmental issues. She is also passionate about equity and diversity advocacy, environmental policy, and indigenous rights. The development of ESG practices pique Emma's interest, and she is determined to better the sustainability of corporate practices.

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