For cycling in Toronto, it is the best times and it is the worst of times.
It's the best of times because close to 55 per cent of Torontonians now call themselves cyclists, which is the highest percentage ever and rivals cities like Montreal and Ottawa.
While only 2 per cent of the morning rush hour commute is by bike, these are strong numbers to start from, suggesting that with the right policies our city could challenge biking meccas like Vancouver and Portland.
The average TTC trip is 6 kilometres or less, so many more people could be taking the healthy, inexpensive, quick and easy method of getting to work by bike.
What's stopping them is a combination of active hostility and shortsightedness on the part of City Hall. For an administration looking to cut transportation costs to reduce the overall city budget, cycling ought to be a golden opportunity .
Already, cyclists save us money by not using public transit that's packed at rush hour. With TTC ridership growing 3 to 5 per cent a year, more service is being demanded, and because each ride requires an average $1 subsidy, those costs add up quickly.
Each 1 per cent of TTC ridership growth absorbed by people switching to walking or biking represents a saving of $6 to $7 million in service that doesn't need to be added to the TTC.
Cyclists are also using less than their fair share of taxes dedicated to transportation services. For example, the city pays approximately $517 per car (there are roughly 1 million cars registered in Toronto) per year to maintain the road network, not including the 400-series highways.
That amount dwarfs the $8.5 million spent on cycling infrastructure, which is around 1 per cent of total spending on transportation.
For many of us, the frustrating part is that it wouldn't take much to bring back the glory days of 1995, when Toronto was voted the "best cycling city in North America."
First we have to get over our absolute refusal to remove parking from a small number of streets. In cases where store owners and residents are loath to give up parking spots, the Toronto Parking Authority should propose creatively placed and integrated off-street parking, the way on-street parking capacity was replaced by off-street parking on the now commercially successful St. Clair West.
Store and restaurant owners would in fact gain shoppers as more cyclists frequented routes with bike lanes and parking was maintained for customers arriving by car.
In the meantime, to allow quick expansion of the network, we should move aggressively to install bike lanes on wider suburban streets that don't require the removal of parking.
Opportunities for expansion of off-street corridors to the downtown core, like the West Toronto Rail Path, should be prioritized when discussing transportation issues with Metrolinx, which owns that corridor. Other such corridors could be acquired across the city.
We should consider cycling part of our public transportation system, and bike stations and parking should be integrated at all TTC subway stops to allow for seamless transfers.
Similarly, TTC Metropasses could allow access to both the TTC and an expanded Bixi program with new bike-sharing stands installed city-wide, thus becoming more of an urban transit pass that would facilitate longer trips.
But infrastructure isn't enough. We also need to promote cycling as a legitimate modern transportation alternative as well as educate people about responsible cycling and the part each road user needs to play to make our roads safe for everyone.
In many U.S. and Canadian cities, cycling isn't a left or right issue, but one of common sense.
Toronto needs to move into the mainstream of urban transportation thinking and get on with implementing good cycling policy.