Making a Mode Change & Advocating for Safe Streets: Introducing Ruth Watkins

A story from our community about the role of infrastructure in getting people on bikes.

Ruth Watkins

We know that the biggest deterrent to people biking is a lack of safe infrastructure, and getting people to change their mode of travel requires a life changing event. Ruth Watkins of Etobicoke discovered the joy and practicality of biking during the pandemic. When public pools closed during the pandemic, Ruth, a 63 year old avid swimmer, turned to her bike as a way to stay active. Thanks to the temporary ActiveTO bike lanes, she quickly developed the confidence to bike along major roads like Bloor Street and University Avenue. The separated bike lanes and protective infrastructure made her, like so many others, finally feel safe on Toronto’s roads. Ruth currently bikes about 3,000km per year on Toronto streets and the Martin Goodman Trail.

This past October Ruth was biking through an underpass on Royal York Road when a driver merged directly into the painted bike lane which blocked her path, squeezed her against the side of the tunnel, and forced her off her bike. She caught her harrowing experience in a video which was widely shared on social media. In this instance, the car driver found the incident just as jarring as Ruth did. When there aren’t physically separated bike lanes, it becomes all too easy for conflicts between road users to arise. In 2020, John Offutt, father of two and much loved teacher, was killed in a horrific traffic collision at the same intersection.

Ruth came away from this incident unharmed, but determined to make sure this would not happen again. She submitted an “Intersection Review Request” using the City’s 311 app, which she noted offered few options for reporting issues cyclists face. Her 311 ticket was assigned to the wrong department and was closed within just a week with no resolution. She wrote to her Ward 3 Councillor, and was met with an answer that was unhelpful. Finally, she wrote to the Cycling Unit at the City, and they indicated that this particular section of road was too narrow to add separation, but did not address her request for flexi-post barriers.   

Ruth’s story highlights how many of Toronto’s roads are dangerous by design, and how when we build roads that serve all road users, people will come out and use those spaces to bike, walk, and roll. With Amber Morley replacing Mark Grimes as the Ward 3 Councillor, we look forward to supporting Ruth and other advocates of Etobicoke in improving road safety for its residents.

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