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EcoChamber #6: Two wheels good

emily hunter

Bike lane, blurred from the speed. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0

[Editor’s note: every month, Eco-Chamber profiles an eco-group from Canada or abroad, called “Eco-Action.” Eco-Action takes a look at both the group and the actions they demonstrate towards their cause.]

Not many see bikes as a symbol for activism. However, that is just what the Toronto Cyclists’ Union is changing. They advocate for a more bike-friendly city to encourage environmental, social and urban sustainability.

bikeunion-logo-green“Think of us as the Canadian Automobile Association of bikes. Like CAA, 80% of our work is advocacy. However, instead of advocacy for the automobile, we advocate for bikes,” says Yvonne Bambrick, Executive Director of the Toronto Cyclists Union.

Two wheels are on the rise throughout North America. Portland, Oregon , for instsance, recently outpaced Copenhagen in the #2 spot for “best bike cities.” Toronto is seeing a rapid influx of cyclists in its urban spaces. According to Treehugger, the latest census report shows that from 2001 to 2006, cyclists have increased by 32 percent, while the automobile commuters have decreased by 5.2 percent.

The Toronto Cyclists Union was formed out of a desire to replicate bike advocacy groups found elsewhere in North America. With such a rise of cyclists in Toronto, it is time to build more bike lanes and for cyclists’ voices to be heard in a city where cars have mostly dominated, says Bambrick. In 2008, the group’s launch year, there were 70 members of the Union. Within a year, that number has grown to nearly 600.

“The bike is a powerful tool. It’s a no-emissions means of transportation; a way of battling climate change, smog and city pollution; low-cost for individuals; relieves the overburden city congestion; and promotes better health,” says Bambrick.

But bike advocacy faces challenges: there are city councilors who consistently prioritize parking and traffic issues, instead of issues relevant to cyclists. Some of the city’s infrastructure plans consider pedestrians and greenery over bikes. And then there’s the generalized North American mentality that the automobile rules — and anything else is road-kill.

But the bike union is maneuvering around these barriers this year. Boosted by its members’ dues, the union is an aggressive lobbyist at the municipal, provincial and federal level. Last week, speaking at a Toronto city infrastructure meeting, the union advocated building new bike lanes as part of a redevelopment plan for Jarvis Street, a five-lane road that currently acts as an artery for auto traffic. An amendment was approved and new bike lanes should be included when the plan passes council.

Beyond transforming roads, bike union is attempting to transform minds. From road rage against cyclists — road rage so toxic that a 36-year-old man lost a leg in a confrontation with a taxi last year —  The union wants to restore some respect for cyclists’ rights, and their media efforts are helping to do that.

One shouldn’t have to be ‘Brave-Heart’ to cycle to work every day, threatened by cars and minimal lane space, says Bambrick. Instead, the Toronto Cyclists Union wants to make cycling an activity that every urbanite can do in safety.

As one of our oldest forms of transportation, bikes are also our future. It is a symbol of sustainability and shifting attitudes. In these times, bike advocacy groups are more necessary than ever. They put this back-to-the future two-wheeler in its rightful place in our cities — everywhere.

Creative Commons licensed photo courtesy stevenh

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