Gone are the days when bikes were mainly found on noisy playgrounds or curbside in perfectly manicured suburban neighborhoods. Cycling is bigger today than ever, and it is enjoyed and employed by a wider range of North Americans with many using it as a mode of transportation as well as leisure and exercise.
Toronto and New York are two cities constantly compared to one another, and it’s no different when it comes to these cities and cycling.
Andrea Kelly, a 21-year-old student and accounting assistant, has been riding her bicycle in Toronto for four years. She started biking because she lived on campus and wanted to avoid the costs of the ever-rising monthly transit pass, and so biking was her cheapest bet. Now Kelly is heavily influenced by the cycling culture and considers it a way of life.
“From work, to and from class,” says Kelly. “The only time I will not bike is in precipitation. I always say if it’s raining or snowing I won’t bike it’s not worth the risk.”
On the other side of the border, 26-year-old visual merchandiser Rinaldy Alvarez took up cycling for other reasons. The New York-native cycles two to three times a week for exercise and leisure purposes. In New York, biking is used more for leisure than it is as a budding mode of transportation. This comes as no surprise from the city that has an all-encompassing subway system that seems to have been engrained in the heads of New Yorkers at birth.
“For New Yorkers, biking is more a leisure thing, it’s like if I have time I’m going to take my bike,” Alvarez says.
Andrea Kelly, on the other hand, believes that cycling in Toronto is definitely used more as a mode of transportation. “When I’m on the road, I am a vehicle in some capacity, we operate on the same road rules…I demand the respect of the other vehicles on the road.”
Just because she demands it does not mean she always receives it. In her four years biking in Toronto, Kelly has been in four collisions, three of which were caused by bad roads in the city. Her fourth collision happened recently when she had to deal with construction along a streetcar lane.
“I had cut over four times, and this one time I and caught it and boom … I’m just out,” says Kelly. Her tire got stuck on a streetcar lane and as a result the 21-year-old has a badly banged-up knee and a couple scratches here and there. She believes Toronto is falling behind when it comes to cycling, saying it is not safe for cyclists and the city has not been taking the proper precautions in maintaining safe roads for bikers.
“They don’t care about initiating a proper plan that actually works for bikers…. New York and Montreal, these cities are more successful because they found ways to integrate it,” says Kelly.
According to an info-graphic on ibiketo.com bikers will go out of their way to bike on streets that have more bike lanes and are less stressful. The info-graphic shows that St. George gets a traffic of 2,076 simply based on the fact that there is the ease of safe bike lanes. University avenue though a big street only had 627 bikers in one day.
The reasons for the success of biking in New York is because of the huge push former Mayor Mike Bloomberg made for cyclists as a part of the green initiative and a campaign to help Americans get fit. “For the most part,” Alvarez says, “it’s not the best biking city but it is pretty good. We have a good amount of bike lanes, roads are substantially maintained, our bike lanes are expanding, and we have a lot of bike parking.”
All of these things were made possible by Mayor Bloomberg who, seeing the rise of cyclists in the city, placed an importance on safety and having proper access to the roads in New York.
His only complaint is that drivers be a bit more conscious when sharing the road with bikers. In his most recent collision, Alvarez was knocked off his bike because someone opened their door into the bike lane without looking.
Kelly wishes Toronto had a more innovative mayor, someone who would recognize biking as a part of Toronto’s culture and in recognizing, take the proper steps to accommodate bikers.
She admires the bike culture in Montreal and New York because of their carefully plotted systems. There are separate lanes and lights for cyclists. Everyone, cars and cyclists alike, know where they’re going. This is a problem Toronto boasts, cars and cyclists do not know how to properly share the road which is why there are more and more collisions. “People are scared to bike in Toronto because drivers don’t look,” Kelly says.
“If we continue to have mayors like Rob Ford who has been counter intuitive to bikers by cutting down bike lanes then it will not get any safer biking in Toronto for bikers and the bike culture may dwindle,” says Kelly.