My brilliant, discerning and politically engaged good friend Nancy Smith Lea is a member of the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation. TCAT has been bugging Toronto's politicians (and politician wannabes) to articulate their bike and pedestrian agendas before the upcoming municipal election (look here for survey results). I went to their press conference today. It was great! There was a pretty hot lineup of speakers: Dr. Alan Abelsohn, Martin Koob, Glen Murray and Gil Penalosa.
My personal highlights:
I got to finally see Dr. Smog (aka Alan Abelsohn) in person! Once upon a time there weren't very many physicians speaking out about air pollution, except for Doctor Smog. He gave a nice precise summary of the relationships between low-density urban planning and health 'epidemics' such as asthma, heart disease and the dangerous effects of obesity. What does he do when a busy, non-gym-going patient shows up suffering from elevated blood sugar and cholesterol levels? Why he prescribes a commute to work comprised of at least some walking and/or cycling.
Gil Penalosa used to be the Commissioner of Parks, Sports and Recreation in Bogota, where the number of utilitarian cyclists blossomed from 0.5% to 5.8% in just 4 years due to the city's implementation of a comprehensive network of bike paths. He emphasised that planning for active transportation is not magic, nor is it expensive ("peanuts" compared to current transportation budgets), but it does take good leadership: vision, political will and the managerial skill to make it happen.
Glen Murray, chair of the National Round Table on Environment and the Economy (and former mayor of Winnipeg), had me laughing my head off with his description of 22 motivated lawn bowlers in Winnipeg, who showed up continually at council meetings, and "made more phone calls, and stamped more envelopes than any other 22 citizens in the city," therby ensuring that lawn bowling was sacrosanct. He painted an inspiring picture of TCAT-and-friends as a band of increasingly grumpy active transportation advocates who will pester City Hall until our way is the path of least resistance. Murray's big thing is the competition that cities face in drawing and keeping a creative workforce in this age of the knowledge based economy. Apparently living somewhere "interesting" ranks pretty high on people's lists of why they pick certain cities over others (duh! take that you anti-graffiti hounds) and being able to bike to work is a big deal.
Martin Koob, of TCAT, presented a bunch of good research, indicating that while the city has given lots of lip service to bike and pedestrian infrastructure, the well-laid plans are not being implemented, instead the transportation budget is taken up with massive expensive projects like the Front Street Extension and new subway tunnels.
Hats off to TCAT for inspiring a curmudgeon like me, and presenting a uniquely hopeful vision for the future.