It's pretty likely that the Ontario legislature's all-party cycling caucus will have be announced over and over before it finally sinks in.
It was first announced in May at the Ontario Bike Summit in Toronto. I heard about it again in July at the Together We Travel; Ride for Angels event in Waterloo. It popped up again in August in an Ottawa Citizen online posting where Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray talked about Ontario's cycling strategy. In the Citizen piece, Murray "praised the all-party cycling caucus at Queen's Park."
Really, Murray meant to say that he was praising the work of Eleanor McMahon of the Share the Road Cycling Coalition, who has been lobbying for a higher profile for cycling issues at Queen's Park for years now. Her ability to access the politically connected, no matter their party of loyalty, her persuasiveness, her near-shaming of the provincial government to make some progress on the cycling portfolio, make her a potent ally for the caucus.
The all-party cycling caucus, truth be known, mostly exists because she arm-twisted the three members to join it. And the caucus is to meet for the first time in September to begin to set tits erms of reference.
Having said that, the three members all have something to say about cycling, and have experience with cycling, something that may bring some authenticity to their own efforts among their Queen's Park colleagues.
Norm Miller, son of former Conservative premier Frank Miller and in the legislature since 2001, probably has the most visible cycling cred: since 2010, the PC MPP has repeatedly brought forward a private member's bill to have a one-metre paved shoulder for cyclists added to designated highways when they are considering budgets for expansion or resurfacing. His efforts has received all-party support, but the bills have been stymied by elections, prorogations, etc., only to be re-launched again. He tabled a new version of his motion again this spring.
Mike Colle, who has been in Toronto municipal politics since 1982 and the legislature for the Liberals since 1995, has a wealth of political experience. He notes that his time as chair of the Toronto Transit Commission from 1992 to 1994 gave him an understanding of the multi-modal urban transportation needs and possibilities.
Freshest to the legislative milieu is Catherine Fife, NDP MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, elected in the byelection that famously put an end to former premier Dalton McGuinty's efforts to strengthen his minority government. Fife has a more direct connection to cycling: she's a bicycle accident survivor. At age 13, she was struck by a motorist while she was riding on a sidewalk, and was removed by ambulance. As a local school trustee, she saw the importance of Active and Safe Routes to School, and pushed for the walking school bus model.SHe's an active cyclist with her family and in her community.
Fife says that the walking school bus (and by extension, the Active and Safe Routes to School bike train, where young cyclists travel in a group to school) "shift the culture" away from parents driving kids to school, and connect young people to their neighbourhoods.
Fife acknowledges that even at a school board level, this shift away from cars to other modes of transportation is incremental: "We haven't got to the place of talking about cycling in that way (walking school bus) yet."
Our interview came before the province announced its skeletal cycling strategy, but her comment about legislative support still stands: "This province doesn't have a cycling strategy. Cycling is an afterthought... Ontario is not leading the way in ensuring that cycling is a positive force in the province... We need to push cycling into the mainstream consciousness."
The benefits of increased bicycle use are clear, she said: reduced infrastructure costs, increased tourism and economic benefits, community connection and public safety, and health and wellness.
Since there was, until now, no all-party cycling caucus in the country, Ontario is already moving into a leadership role by simply having one: "We can't do a worse job that what is already happening ... there's only one place to go -- up."
Norm Miller wants to spread the good word about the benefits of cycling, but his primary goal is more cycling infrastructure. With his rural Ontario experience, he sees that bicycles need "more paved shoulders."
He wants to push hard for the one metre of paved shoulder on selected provincial highways (not 400-series or other highways where cyclists are not now allowed), to create a network of bicycle-friendly rodways across the province. "I believe this would have many benefits including: safety for cyclists and motorists; health; tourism; and lower road maintenance costs. Being part of the cycling caucus will help me to promote my (private member's bill) and work towards more safe places to cycle."
Mike Colle says the biggest misconception among his legislative colleagues is that "cyclists are a marginal group." He notes that the fact that "Toronto has demonized cycling ... hasn't helped the atmosphere. I tell motorists, if I take my car off the road to ride my bike, there's more room for you."
The Toronto MPP says cycling makes sense at the municipal budgetary level: "the economics of cycling is simple: it's cheaper than building subways and roads." He says that he has been to Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and sees how things can be different, but warns it's increasinly no longer a matter of whether we choose to follow the European cycling model: "...we don't have a choice. We can't build enough roads and subways to accommodate everyone." And he says, cycling is "sexy": "The trend is to not owning a car. Three of my four (adult) children don't have a car." He added that cycling is one way to "get rid of the crazy stress in your life."
He would like to see provincial support for municipalities to change their planning approaches, so that whenever they consider adding or expanding a road, a bicycle lane is automatically incorporated into the design.
"If you want to save money, save your health, save your city, and bring tourism and economic development, you should put cycling at the top of your list."
It sounds like all three are committed to getting the cycling message out. Now, if they can just convince their legislative colleagues to go on this ride with them.
Bicycle basics about Ontario's all-party cycling caucus
Mike Colle likes to ride in charity events, and been riding in the Cycle for Sight for the past four years. He has a Raleigh Cadent for his fun riding, and a Canadian Tire bike -- "that's my basic bike... it has a shocked seat." -- for his basic errand cycling.
Catherine Fife rides a 10-year-old grey, fully suspended Giant, with Suntour shocks. "I use it for getting around KW with my daughter (and) on the Iron Horse Trail..." Fife says, "I like to go fast. One day I will go back to my original Miele racer. Cycling is a social time -- one day, that will happen again."
Norm Miller is a casual cycle day-tripper and charity rider. He saddles up his Gary Fisher Utopia and with his wife, Chris, heads out for 42-kilometre tours through their home area in the Muskokas, and has participated in such charity and recreational rides as Spin the Lakes, Ride for Refugees and Pedalling for Parkinson's. He is also a Bixi member, and uses Bixi while in Toronto. His "dream" cycling stable would be two bikes: a road bike and comfortable, around-town bike. "Where possible, I like to buy Canadian."