Takeaways from the 2019 Ontario Bike Summit

My takeaways from the 2019 Ontario Bike Summit

By Sonya De Vellis

Here are some telltale signs that spring has finally sprung: daylight hours are a bit longer, tiny buds are sprouting from branches, and people are beginning to talk about cycling!

Photo credit: EnviroCentre

I had the opportunity to represent Smart Commute Markham, Richmond Hill (SCMRH) at the Ontario Bike Summit on April 2, 2019 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Toronto. Organized by Share the Road, the summit featured engaging seminars, panel discussions, cycling tours, and networking opportunities for planners, advocates, engineers, and transportation demand management professionals.

The theme of the conference was #BikesCanDoThat, which sparked discussions about how cycling infrastructure plays a role in creating safe streets, using statistical and anecdotal data to gain support from municipal councillors and engaging community leaders to promote cycling in the suburbs. Here are some relevant conference highlights that are applicable to our work at SCMRH:

Strap in and get uncomfortable

“What if we positioned cycling within a larger, more inclusive, public spaces conversation?”
– Jay Pitter, placemaker and author
Photo Credit: Sonya De Vellis

Before beginning her speech, placemaker and author Jay Pitter warned us that her goal was to make us feel uncomfortable by the end of her 90-minute keynote address. Ms. Pitter delivered an engaging, honest and personable discussion about topics that we do not always consider in our daily conversations about cycling and inclusive streets, such as how cycling experiences in urban areas differ between males and females, cycling as a necessary means of commuting in lower-income neighbourhoods when paying for transit fare is not possible, and acknowledging cycling infrastructure built on Indigenous lands. She emphasized that including people of all races, ages, abilities, genders and socio-economic backgrounds when building safe streets requires us to invest in forming relationships with the larger community and considering the unique needs and circumstances of our fellow (and potential) cyclists.

Here’s where things got a bit uncomfortable – she asked us to take a second to “look around the room and think about who’s not here” – in other words, consider what groups may be excluded when discussing cycling, and why they are not present. Then, on a lighter note, Ms. Pitter told a room full of municipal staff, engineers and planners that our messaging sucks when it comes to encouraging people to cycle! Instead of holding boring town hall meetings or campaigns focusing on cycling-related injuries or fatalities, she suggested holding bike rides for the community or elected officials to experience the joys of cycling (for an example, see the Ride Your Riding events).

Ms. Pitter’s keynote address made me think of how SCMRH encourages those who may be unlikely or hesitant to cycle to join the conversation about making cycling safe and feasible for all. Through our outreach events, such as Cycling 101 workshops, CAN-BIKE sessions and one-on-one route planning using the Smart Commute Tool to explore cycling routes, our staff are able to provide the support and cycling resources for workplace employees who have never cycled to work. We also hold group rides, such as our annual Bike to Work Day and Active Transportation Expo, to encourage and promote cycling on infrastructure in Markham and Richmond Hill. Each year, we speak to several workplace employees and community members who tell us that they would have not attempted to cycle the Highway 7 bike lanes if they were cycling alone; yet, they felt safe and confident within a group.  

The times are changing: updates to OTM Book 18

Dave McLaughlin of WSP Canada (a SCMRH Corporate Sponsor and workplace) presented updates to the Ontario Traffic Manual Book 18: Cycling Facilities. As a response to increased urban intensification, focus on road safety, and new international guidelines, the updates reflect the importance of further incorporating safety into cycling infrastructure design.

Among the additions to Book 18 is a focus on protected intersections and intersection accessibility and treatments. Seeing as the majority of cycling collisions take place within intersections, the updates and recognition will hopefully serve to ensure protected intersections, including bike boxes and crossrides alongside crosswalks, become a more common feature of cycling planning in Ontario.

One example of this is from the City of Guelph, which implemented a protected intersection at Gordon Street and Stone Road, in August 2018.

Crossrides (left, green paint) and crosswalks (right) co-exist in the intersection of
Gordon Street and Stone Road in Guelph.
Photo Credit: Google Maps

With the University of Guelph, government offices, retail, commercial offices and a hotel nearby, there is constant activity from vehicles, pedestrians, trucks and cyclists within this intersection at all times of the day. After speaking to many cyclists who were observed dismounting and walking their bikes through the intersection, the City’s Transportation Demand Management Coordinator Benita Van Miltenburg realized that further protection was needed in this intersection to facilitate safe usage by cyclists and pedestrians. The City designed and included the following in the intersection: truck aprons (to allow large trucks to navigate turns), crossrides for cyclists and crosswalks for pedestrians (of which the latter shortens the distance between the intersection to facilitate easier travel), and left turn bike boxes (to indicate where cyclists should position themselves while waiting for a green light).


This intersection serves as a precedent to those in York Region where additional cycling and pedestrian safety features could be added to further encourage walking and cycling. For example, left turn bike boxes along several intersections on Highway 7 in Richmond Hill and Markham allow cyclists to safely and comfortably make two-stage left turns. Could other features, such as crossrides, add an element of safety and further encourage cycling along this busy corridor?

To share your input into the OTM Book 18 Perspectives and Feedback Survey, please click here.

Vision Zero Heroes

From left: Panelists Adam Bell of WSP Canada, Rebecca Ling of the Hospital for Sick Children, Charles Brown of Rutgers University, Deanna Green of the City of Kingston and moderator Scott Butler of the Ontario Goods Roads Association discuss committing to Vision Zero.
Photo credit: Markus Herten

The last session of the day consisted of a panel featuring a diverse group of professionals who specialize in ensuring Vision Zero is a reality on our streets. Vision Zero, which originated in Sweden in 1997, is a road traffic safety project which states that “it can never be ethically acceptable that people are killed or seriously injured when moving within the road transport system.”

The moderator asked a series of thought-provoking questions to each individual about why they support Vision Zero, the importance of enacting the program in Ontario, and what is needed to further ensure the protection of all users of the road system. Each panelist provided answers that were influenced by their own personal and professional experiences.

Some of the questions asked included:

“Why implement Vision Zero?”

Answer: In simple terms, why not? All other industries have implemented policies that protect the safety of those who use their systems. From a healthcare perspective, this also saves costs by reducing the time and resources spent on treating those with cycling-related injuries.

“Is the data important to implement Vision Zero?”

Answer: Yes, it is necessary for municipal staff to obtain data so they may present it to councillors to adopt Vision Zero.

Alternately, while quantitative data is important, we should also be concerned with qualitative data when considering equity on our streets, sidewalks and bikeways. We should ask ourselves what conditions people who are affected by not enacting Vision Zero living under, and consider these people as the experts.  

“What is one thing you wish people would stop asking about Vision Zero?”

Answer: People must stop criticizing Vision Zero as a plan that is unattainable. When asked how many of their family members would they accept being killed or seriously injured on roads, the answer is always zero. This is a strong reminder that when thinking of your children, parents, siblings, partners and friends as road users, it becomes difficult to oppose Vision Zero’s core goal is to ensure that everyone has the right to safely travel around their communities.

York Regional Police (a Smart Commute workplace) has adopted the Vision Zero approach in their 2018 – 2023 Road Safety Strategy. Read more about it at this link.

My final thoughts

I tend to think of cycling from mainly a commuting perspective in my everyday work. After attending the Ontario Bike Summit, I thought about bikes are more than just a mode of getting from point A to B.

Be an indicator of quality of life and safety within a community?

Act as a catalyst to help spur the implementation of safe infrastructure and design?

Serve as a reason to strive for Vision Zero?

Yes, #BikesCanDoThat, and much more, but it is people who create changes within their communities. This includes community bike hub leaders, policymakers, cycling advocates, commuters who share their stories, and group ride volunteers.


SCMRH is proud to work with a diverse group of workplaces and employees who promote cycling as a safe and sustainable mode of commuting to work! For a full list of our workplaces, please click here.

Gear up for Bike to Work Day and Bike Month, and see what events or contests are taking place in your community!