Toronto cycling activists were disappointed Tuesday when the city’s executive committee decided to wait for the province before weighing in on a new rule that would require motorists to leave a metre of space between their car and a bike when passing.
A day later, there was better news but no commitment from Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray.
While he believes in the 1-metre passing rule, already in effect in many U.S. states and Nova Scotia, Murray said Wednesday he couldn’t commit to it.
Noting that it has failed in the provincial legislature before, that safety law needs to be part of an overall review of Ontario’s cycling strategy, he told the Ontario Bike Summit in Toronto.
Murray is assembling an advisory committee to review and evaluate Ontario’s draft Cycling Strategy over the summer. He expects to have a more comprehensive policy by Labour Day.
“When I became minister I looked at (the Ontario cycling strategy) and thought we could do a lot better,” said Murray, adding that the province’s cities ought to be in the top-20 bike-friendly communities in the world.
“There’s a lot more we can build into this around safety, around health, around wellbeing,” he told the conference of about 200 cycling advocates.
Murray also talked about the need to integrate cycling into “complete” streets and communities — roadways that leave space for pedestrians, vehicles and bikes alike.
There’s also a need to integrate transportation policies with broader planning initiatives.
“How do you create neighbourhoods where you have to drive less and have to use less energy, with lower household costs, and create complete communities so that people can live, work and play in their own neighbourhood and you don’t have to commute 30 kilometres a day? There’s nothing that will save more money, reduce more costs, than a well-planned region,” he told reporters.
Ontario Share the Road founder Eleanor McMahon said Murray has asked her to join the advisory board.
She said the minister is committed to the 1-metre passing law. But a minority Liberal government needs support from the opposition parties to get the legislation passed.
“I think there were more than a few concerns about the cycling strategy that was released last year. The concerns were it didn’t go far enough and it wasn’t comprehensive enough and it wasn’t integrated into overarching government policy. Unlike Quebec’s, which is much more comprehensive and a little bit more detailed, people were feeling like the document really didn’t speak to them,” McMahon said.
Jared Kolb, of Cycle Toronto, called Murray’s remarks encouraging because the provincial cycling strategy needs work. Cycle Toronto wants $20 million, about 1 per cent of the provincial transportation budget, earmarked for bike infrastructure. There is no dedicated funding now.
“It’s not a lot of money, but you can do important work with that money year over year, in an incremental way,” Kolb said.
Murray has an opportunity to provide leadership on the 1-metre passing law because Toronto City Council has abdicated its responsibility, Kolb said.
“What is so great about the 1-metre passing rule is it sets a clear benchmark for drivers,” he said. “It sets the amount of space they need to give a cyclist when they’re going around them. It’s really clear, really understandable. And people have criticized it and said it’s not enforceable — but any time there’s an incident it’s enforceable.”
The Ontario NDP issued a press release Wednesday afternoon accusing the Liberal government of another delay in the provincial bike strategy, which was completed two years ago.
“Last year was Toronto’s deadliest year for cycling fatalities since 1998. In June, the Ontario Coroner released a report showing that 100 per cent of the cycling deaths he examined were preventable,” said the release.