At the Board of Health: Cycling, COVID-19 Response and Recovery

A virtual meeting is in the background. Title reads: At the Board of Health, Cycling, COVID-19 response and recovery

Yesterday, June 8, 2020, our Campaigns Manager, Kevin Rupasinghe, deputed before the Toronto Board of Health on item HL17.1: COVID-19 Response and Recovery - Update on behalf of Cycle Toronto. A summary of Kevin's speaking notes are below:

Kevin Rupasinghe doing an in-person deputation prior to COVID-19

Thank you to the members of Toronto’s Board of Health and Toronto Public Health for your efforts over the past several months. I am here on behalf of Cycle Toronto to talk about the COVID-19 response and its impact on transportation.

The first phase of ActiveTO has been a crucial set of interim measures to provide people more space to walk and bike safely while maintaining physical distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Quiet Streets and Temporary Major Street Closures have had immediate success making our city more liveable through the pandemic, and we urge the city to expand both of these programs to more equitably reach Torontonians in more neighbourhoods.

Furthermore, the package of accelerated cycling infrastructure projects are important. The 40 km of bike lanes that are being installed within the next month will provide safe transportation alternatives for hundreds of thousands of people, leaving more space on our roads and transit for people that need these forms of transportation. The reduced congestion is to everyone’s benefit. It is crucial that the Phase 1 ActiveTO projects are implemented successfully.

It is clear that more will be needed. Torontonians across the city are affected by this virus and all of them will need access to safe alternatives to get around as the city reopens.

In fact, we all now know that the virus doesn’t impact Torontonians uniformly. The shoulders of our city, where the virus is hitting the hardest, remain places that only transit and driving, if you can afford it, are viable, as they have received no pandemic response cycling infrastructure. How is this fair for the essential workers in those marginalized communities to remain with fewer transportation options?

As the province and city move towards reopening, we know that more people will be straining our transportation network. More people will go to work, more people will take non-essential trips, and very soon, the TTC will reach the 30% capacity after which they cannot have customers maintain their physical distance.

We have the good fortune of being able to predict and anticipate this outcome. Why would we wait for this to happen before acting? Why wait for future COVID transmissions to occur on buses or subways that are too crowded because we failed to give people safe alternatives, such as cycling, to get around? Public Health is uniquely positioned to take preventative action and mitigate risks inherent in the restart of economic and social activities. 

Public health has said repeatedly that the virus is what dictates the timeline; we do not have the luxury of waiting to prepare. It is imperative that planning of ActiveTO Phase 2 projects begins now so we are ready to roll them out this summer once Phase 1 is installed. There is a reason for this urgency beyond cycling; ActiveTO is a crucial component of the pandemic response plan, and work on Phase 2 must begin at pandemic speed.

Phase 2 must include projects such as the other side of TTC Line 1 along Yonge Street which is the busiest subway line in the city (and country) and cannot continue to serve as many riders. It will need a safe cycling alternative so that shorter, local trips can be done by bike, leaving capacity on the subway for longer essential trips. 

The many suburban bus routes that connect communities to their employment centres, filled with essential workers and people making essential trips, need relief as well. Phase 1 of ActiveTO had nothing on Yonge, nothing in Midtown, nothing in Etobicoke, and only the beginnings of a cycling network in North York and Scarborough. More is needed to ensure we have a comprehensive pandemic response plan.

You have played a crucial leadership role over the past months, and done so much for Torontonians and bought us so much time. Now we will need your leadership to ensure that those efforts are not wasted because of an inadequate pandemic transportation response plan. We are counting on your leadership to ensure a Phase 2 of ActiveTO is rolled out this summer so that people across Toronto can have safe and healthy ways of getting around during this pandemic. Thank you.

The way we advocate has transformed during COVID-19. We’ve moved quickly to adapt and transform our advocacy and as we’ve shifted our operations online, many of our usual fundraising activities have been cancelled. If you value the work we do, please join or make a donation. Even $5 a month supports our educational outreach, running (virtual) events and workshops, and ensures you have a strong voice at City Hall.

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By on Jun 09, 2020

  COVID-19, ActiveTO, active transportation, Suburban Cycling