Open letter to Toronto Office of Recovery and Rebuild
It’s been almost two months since we shut down non-essential businesses to reduce the burden on our healthcare system as a result of COVID-19. Over these weeks Cycle Toronto has been engaging with City of Toronto staff and councillors and our partners to advocate for rebalancing streets.
While lockdown continues and the City is making tentative first steps with CurbTO, much more work needs to be done in the short term to facilitate safe streets and active transportation.
On Friday, April 24 the City announced the formation of the Office of Recovery and Rebuild. Cycle Toronto wrote Saad Rafi and Dr David Mowat to stress that active transportation is essential to the economic and social recovery of Toronto. Toronto cannot revert to the status quo when the pandemic is over. We hope you agree that now is the time to be bold.
Thank you for your continued advocacy and please don’t stop. Let your councillor and let the Mayor know: what challenges are you facing conducting essential trips, getting to work, and moving around the city? If trails are too crowded or people are driving dangerously in your neighbourhood, tell them so!
April 29, 2020
Mr. Saad Rafi, Dr. David Mowat
Office of Recovery and Rebuild
4th Floor, East Tower, City Hall
100 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
RE: The Role of Active Transportation in Toronto’s COVID-19 Recovery and Rebuild
Dear Mr. Rafi and Dr. Mowat,
I am writing on behalf of Cycle Toronto, a not-for-profit organization representing 3,000 members that works to transform our city’s cycling culture. We are excited to discuss the role of active transportation (AT) and micromobility in Toronto’s newly formed Toronto Office of Recovery and Rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, we are reaching out in response to the Mayor’s announcement that your office will work with governments, the private sector, and the not-for-profit sector.
During the initial weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cycle Toronto emphasized the City’s key message: stay home as much as possible. We understand that there are still two different fights against the pandemic that require two different responses: mitigation and recovery. We recognize the urgency facing Toronto Public Health (TPH) in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in Toronto’s institutions and among our most vulnerable populations. As the risk of community spread stabilizes and eventually decreases, however, we want to offer our support to your team in leveraging AT for the economic and social recovery of our City as a whole.
Active transportation will be essential to the economic and social recovery of Toronto.
Toronto has already committed to the Vision Zero Road Safety Plan, the Cycling Network Plan, the TransformTO Climate Action Plan, and has also declared a climate emergency. These commitments provide an excellent framework upon which to build a robust, comprehensive AT strategy as part of the COVID-19 Recovery and Rebuild plan.
Cycle Toronto proposes three general guidelines around which to focus an AT strategy in the short-term so as to build Toronto’s resiliency in the long-term:
- Support essential workers and trips to essential businesses. Ensure there are active transportation corridors along or adjacent to essential destinations such as hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, manufacturing, etc.
- Enable sufficient access to outdoor space. Ensure parks and public spaces are kept open as much as possible, and where they cannot, provide alternate routes for active transportation and exercise. Add more space adjacent to and along parks to reduce density to promote physical and mental health.
- Accelerate economic recovery and connect communities. Ensure active transportation is part of a sustainable economic and social recovery. Safely connecting people to local businesses will allow for the recovery of small business along main streets. This includes the completion of proposed 2020 cycling projects.
Investments in active transportation will inject stimulus dollars into all parts of the city. Every $1 million spent on bicycle infrastructure projects can create 11 jobs – 46% more than car-only projects.1 Ensuring these projects are shovel-ready will be crucial to unlocking stimulus funding from other levels of government for green, sustainable infrastructure.
Cycling projects have high social, health, and economic benefits. Construction projects will provide jobs for people. Increasing cycling rates will alleviate congestion on our roadway and transit systems. Decreasing vehicle reliance will keep our air cleaner and will keep more people out of our hospitals. Cycling can bring essential workers to their jobs, bring customers into stores, and will improve our society’s physical and mental health.
Now is the time to move forward.
For too long, Toronto has struggled to build sufficient infrastructure for active transportation. COVID-19 has magnified our challenges, and we are all now feeling the consequences of a lack of space and an inadequate network. It is time for Toronto to learn from past mistakes and position itself for a speedy recovery and a prosperous future.
We understand this response will require short-, medium-, and long-term strategies. COVID-19 will not go away soon and change will need to be transformative. We cannot wait for perfection - we need to be agile, adaptable, and able to rapidly respond. Changes must be implemented quickly so the real-world impact can be experienced and adjustments made soon afterward. Toronto must emphasize an iterative, outcome-oriented approach that ensures the best results.
Toronto has applied this strategy in the past to projects like the Bloor Street bike lanes and King Street transit priority project which have both earned international praise. Toronto’s recent cycling projects have been a welcome step forward; and we need to keep progressing. Toronto’s response to the pandemic is an opportunity to again show its ability to deliver world-class, city-building projects.
What does a world-class COVID-19 active transportation response plan look like? It could be a doubling of Toronto’s cycling infrastructure before a vaccine is developed. Maybe it is an acceleration of the next decade of the Cycling Network Plan to be completed within this term of Council. Perhaps it is a reallocation of a substantial amount of space on every arterial roadway to people walking and cycling.
Although it will take work to determine the specific details of the response, it is clear that Toronto cannot revert to the status quo when the pandemic is over. We must create an equitable economy that supports the health of our city and planet. Torontonians deserve a sustainable future that leaves no one behind. We are committed to working with you and others to ensure the COVID-19 recovery includes a sufficiently ambitious active transportation plan for Toronto.
Interim Executive Director
Cycle Toronto is a non-profit organization representing 3,000 members that is advocating for Toronto to become a safe, healthy, and vibrant cycling city.
CC: Chris Murray, Toronto City Manager
Mayor John Tory, City of Toronto
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto Medical Officer of Health
Councillor Joe Cressy, Toronto Board of Health Chair
1 Heidi Garrett-Peltier, Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure: a National Study of Employment Impacts, Amherst: University of Massachusetts, Political Economy Research Institute, 2011.
Photo by Laura Bilger