On Thursday morning, Rob Ford is going to be presented with an award at City Hall. An award for cycling safety.
Given his record of taking out bike lanes and his now infamous comments blaming cyclists for their own fatal accidents, the mayor is an unlikely candidate for the honour. His critics are quick to point out that in his first year in office he presided over a net removal of bike lanes in the city, and spearheaded a highly controversial vote to uninstall the Jarvis lanes later this year.
But Eleanor McMahon, founder of the Share the Road organization, says that the Bicycle Friendly Communities award that she'll be presenting Thursday is much bigger than Ford.
"The award is not to the mayor. The award is to the citizens of Toronto and the staff of Toronto" who have worked for years to improve conditions for bikers, McMahon says. As far as she's concerned, Ford is only accepting in his capacity as a representative of the city.
McMahon knows more than most the importance of making roads safe for bikers. She started Share the Road after her husband Greg Stobbart was killed by a truck while biking in Milton in 2006. She says Ford has "said things that have not been helpful" and "needs to be held account for that" but that calling out the mayor would run counter to her mission of depoliticizing cycling safety issues.
To determine who's eligible for an award, Share the Road grades cities' cycling initiatives on five criteria: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and environmental planning. Toronto qualified for a level silver award, but fell short of the gold and platinum levels the organization reserves for cities that excel in making biking safer.
McMahon frames the rating system, devised 15 years ago in the U.S., as the carrot in a carrot-and-stick approach. The silver status is meant to signal Toronto has plenty of room to improve, and Share the Road will follow up the commendation with a report tracking the city's progress over the next few months.
"None of us is naïve enough to say, wow you're good to go, you've arrived. [Toronto has] a lot of work to do. Everybody knows that," says McMahon.
But Cycle Toronto spokesperson Jared Kolb is disappointed Ford is being presented with the award. While he's hoping plans to built a network of separated bike lanes downtown will offset some of the damage the mayor did to cycling infrastructure in his first year in office, Kolb believes it's too early to start praising the current administration and that much of Toronto remains dangerous for bikers.
"These are exciting projects. But when it comes down to it, you don't give awards for plans," Kolb says. "You give awards for action. These separated bike lanes aren't even on the ground yet."
Ford will be the second city official to accept Toronto's Bicycle Friendly Communities Award. McMahon presented it to public works chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong at the Ontario Bike Summit in April.
Minnan-Wong invited her to present it to Ford at City Hall because "it's important that members of council and the broader public know that the city's doing good work and being recognized for good work on the cycling and the bikeway file," he said.
The award coincides with council's consideration of building 77 km of new off-road bike trails over the next 10 years, a project Minnan-Wong has been leading on behalf of the mayor. The plan, which has been criticized for focusing on recreational paths at the expense of on-road bike lanes that would do more to protect daily riders, is expected to be debated Thursday.