Following one year of parental leave, our Executive Director, Keagan Gartz, has just returned to the virtual office. After taking many family bike rides and coming together with her neighbourhood for physically distant concerts to get her through the year, she’s seeing our streets and our city in a whole new way.
Now that she’s back at Cycle Toronto, Keagan shared what she’s been reflecting on most from 2020:
1. Thinking beyond the bike lane.
I’m proud of the work we’ve done to build out the spine of our cycling network on Bloor Street, Danforth Avenue, and Yonge Street. And it’s notable that our biggest successes in cycling this year came when we didn’t focus solely on bike lanes. Instead, City staff and stakeholders worked together to reimagine the many ways our streets could serve people. Whether it was building out sidewalk cafés for Destination Danforth, beautifying bike infrastructure with street murals curated by local artists on Scarlett Road and Lansdowne Avenue, supporting pedestrian priority areas on Yonge Street, or opening up our waterfront to walking, rolling and biking through the ActiveTO program, better conditions for cycling were built by thinking beyond the bike lane and really getting to the heart of making spaces where people want to be.
2. CAMH Riding & Recovery workshops.
Having grown up in a family that struggled with poverty, mental illness, and addiction and having lost both of my parents to these struggles, the Cycle Toronto partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Recovery College is particularly meaningful to me. We began offering cycling education alongside CAMH staff as part of a series of practical workshops that help people reclaim space in society because too often, people struggling with mental illness and addiction are pushed to society’s margins in both public and private space. Cycling and being outdoors in general can have such a positive impact on mental health, and have helped me and my family immeasurably this year to manage being physically distant from others. I’m so glad to see us continuing this work in 2021.
3. The Toronto Bike Brigade.
For many of us, cycling is a means to connect with each other and our community; whether going for bike rides with friends, making change at City Hall, or getting to know our neighbourhoods. When the pandemic hit, our social connections were severed. Things that I and many others take for granted—like food security and safety going into grocery stores—came to the forefront. The Bike Brigade, started by our friend Dave Shellnut and supported by hundreds of volunteers, showed up to deliver FoodShare boxes by bike across the city and demonstrated both the practical problems that cycling can solve, and how communities can come together to help each other even during periods of isolation.
4. Redefining what a safe cycling city for all means at Cycle Toronto.
I’ve been thinking hard about this one. We need to consider who is not afforded safe streets in our city, what safety means, and who has not been at the table to make these decisions. The most recent anti-Black racism movement awakened a public consciousness in many of us, and people seemed to be listening in ways they hadn’t before. Cycle Toronto staff and Board were no exception, and stepped back to reflect on how the organization’s contributions have furthered systemic racism, how to set ourselves on a different path, and how we can reconcile our actions with our vision statement. We must build a bigger tent and talk about what safety means with a broader lens than lines and curbs on a road. We must commit to re-examining how we position enforcement within our programming and within the conversation of safety. While there is much more work we need to do and you will see more from us in the coming weeks about this, I’m hopeful that we can work with our existing networks and unite with new communities to help us build a more inclusive organization, inside and out. I’m hopeful that we can build a healthy, safe and vibrant cycling city for all.
I am so grateful to the Cycle Toronto staff team, Board, and volunteers for your dedication and commitment to this organization. I’m looking forward to doing big things together in 2021.