I’m Sonam and I’m the Engagement Coordinator at Cycle Toronto. As someone who started riding a bike in Toronto less than a year ago, I don’t exactly fit the mold of your typical cycling advocate. But by using my passion for sustainable living and community organizing, and my perspective as a new rider, I hope to help others all over Toronto to discover or deepen their love of cycling. New riders like myself and more seasoned riders need to go forth together and share in our successes. 

What does it mean to build a culture of cycling?

When I moved to my new neighbourhood earlier this year, the culture of cycling was readily apparent; I could walk down the street and see people riding bikes in large numbers. I could see people like me getting around not just for fun, but getting groceries, taking their kids to school, and with backpacks full of books. There was already a culture of cycling in my neighbourhood. 

So, I texted a friend and asked them to show me the ropes. Where are the bike lanes? What should I look for in a bike? What tips are there to keep me safe? My friend was excited to share and showed me around the city by bike, and the infrastructure in my neighbourhood made it easy for me to ride with them. Not everyone has a friend that can do this. Not everyone has the infrastructure to do this.

My first ever group ride — with Scarborough Cycles’ Hijabs and Helmets group — really showed me what building cycling culture was about. The program encourages the Muslim community (and its allies) to normalize the use of bikes for everyday use in Scarborough. There was a sense of comfort this group instilled in each rider, including myself, no matter their level of experience. Joining their rides and partnering with Scarborough Cycles helps inform our advocacy and better communicate the community’s needs while we knowledge-share, deliver workshops, and more.

Building a culture of cycling means connecting with communities and talking with them how great cycling can be while advocating for places to safely ride bikes. This is why we’re growing our partnerships with community organizations and leaders across Toronto. We work better together.

When we partnered with Scarborough Cycles and The Centre for Active Transportation to produce Scarborough Needs a Cycling Network, building a culture of cycling was always in the back of our minds. We wanted to highlight people currently riding their bikes in Scarborough — to let people know that people are already riding bikes there for the same great reasons they ride bikes elsewhere. And, more importantly, to show what they want done to make their streets safer and better for everyone.

As a part of this effort to build a culture of cycling, we’ll be ramping up our work in three neighbourhoods in Northwest Toronto in 2022 through the Youth Ambassador Program, working alongside  community hubs in Rexdale, Humber Summit-Black Creek, and Weston-Mt Dennis, in partnership with a team from Youth Challenge International. This means forming new and stronger partnerships with local cycling champions, sharing knowledge and tools, spotlighting local issues beyond our campaign areas, and providing a platform to historically excluded voices at City Hall.

Like me, there are countless people in the city who are new to riding a bike or would like to explore their love for cycling, but the lack of a connected cycling network limits their ability to do so. You can help create a new reality for residents across the city; donate to Accelerate our Advocacy to make sure no one gets left behind. 

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