Imagine how many people would ride if we built our streets to be safe for all ages and abilities?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how our risk tolerance shapes our physical health and wellbeing.

I ride a bicycle for most of my trips under seven kilometres in Toronto but I’ve noticed that recently, I’ve been riding less.

I got back into riding a bicycle as an adult by jumping squarely into the deep end of the pool: at the end of grad school, a friend of mine and I bought bicycles and spent three months riding across Canada. I was young, male and fearless. Even so, the poor cycling infrastructure we experienced as we rode across Canada sparked a love for bicycle advocacy.

Riding across Canada when I was 25, brave and fearless

My first home in Toronto was at Jane and Bloor. In 2010, I began riding my bicycle to work and routinely took Bloor Street as a key part of my route. The sheer joy of cycling compelled me, even when the conditions were less than ideal.

Looking back at that time, the hills near High Park, the underpasses between Dundas West and Lansdowne and the threat of getting doored makes it a terrifying environment to ride a bike and not one that anyone but a kamikaze cyclist would ride.

How did I manage to ride so often through mixed traffic? And what’s changed in me since?

It’s simple, really. I became a dad.

The trends

Where do people want to ride? According to Kay Teschke, professor at UBC, research, when it comes to riding on main streets, men and women both prefer to be physically separated from traffic. Men and women alike are less likely to ride on fast busy streets and rural roads, but women more so. I wasn’t surprised to learn that men’s and women’s risk tolerance plummets after they have children.



Women tend to have a lower risk tolerance than men, meaning that in general, men are more likely to engage in potentially dangerous behaviour. This bears out in Toronto’s cycling statistics: outside of the downtown core of Toronto, women make up 1/3  of people who ride a bicycle. Fascinatingly, the closer you get to the core, the greater the numbers even out. Downtown, it’s closer to a 50/50 split.

This shouldn’t be surprising. All of our protected bike lanes on main streets are east of Ossington, west of the Don Valley and south of Davenport, with two exceptions on Lakeshore Boulevard West in South Etobicoke and Woodbine Avenue in East York. Not a single kilometre of protected bike lanes exist outside of this area.

Now as a dad, if I've got to ride on main streets, I prefer streets with protected bike lanes

The riskiness of Toronto’s roads has started to impact my own travel behaviour. Soon after Reyna was born, I bought an upright Dutch bicycle. I’m bigger on the road and move slower. As a seasoned winter rider, I just couldn’t build up the courage to ride most days during the first winter of Reyna’s life. Most people on bicycles ride along the edges of our streets. This isn’t an option in winter as snow is routinely piled in those spaces, making riding choices even riskier. I watched my own waistline bulge as I did less physical activity.

I now bicycle to daycare most days of the week through spring, summer and fall but after I drop her off, I’m forced to ride to the office along Danforth. As I watch the male kamikazees pass me I can’t help but wonder: where are all the women and children?

So this is the challenge: riding a bicycle is the healthiest, greenest and most fun way to travel and yet it’s an option offered to relatively few people. If you’re a woman, a parent or a person of colour, you generally have a lower risk tolerance — for many overlapping reasons. Riding a bicycle for transportation isn’t an option. We’re doing everyone who isn’t a 30-something athletic man a disservice by not investing in a network of protected bike lanes.

A part of me still loves the adrenaline-inducing road bike ride next to fast-moving traffic. But I can’t justify it like I used to. I’ve got too much to lose. What I’d need to ride more regularly are safe streets including life-saving infrastructure like protected bike lanes on Danforth. My neighbourhood is filled with families and I know my neighbours feel the same way. But until we unlock a broad rollout of protected bike lanes on main streets, we cannot expect anyone but the kamikazees to ride throughout most of Toronto.

- Jared Kolb, Executive Director, Cycle Toronto

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