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Robin Richardson: A fierce advocate for bike lanes in Toronto

The cyclist is a strong voice for the Yonge Street bike lanes

Photo by: RobinRichardson/Twitter

Toronto has added bike lanes throughout the past few years, but few have been as hotly debated as those on Yonge Street. The bike lanes were welcomed by cyclists in the city, as the road had always been considered dangerous due to traffic.

A pro-car lobbyist group has been against the bike lanes since its inception, and created a petition to have them removed in 2022. Robin Richardson is the founder of Happy Fiets, a company that rents out electric and cargo bikes, and a spokesperson of Yonge4All.

Yonge4All is an advocacy group that aims to make the bike lanes on Yonge Street permanent.

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Richardson has been vocal about the reasons why the bike lanes should not be removed, and offers many rebutalls to claims from the pro car group’s reasons.

“It is human nature to be uncomfortable with change, and I think that’s what we are seeing here,”  Richardson says. “Toronto has spent decades prioritizing motor vehicle travel, and as a result most people think of driving as the default and believe ‘roads should be for cars.’ But as the city grows, with more people living close to downtown, many residents do not own cars—choosing instead to walk, cycle or take transit to get where they need to go. These modes of travel are gentler on the environment, healthier for the users and beneficial for our communities. Studies have shown that people walking and biking visit local shops more often and spend more money while they are there. Yet many people are reluctant to try these options because there is a lack of safe, dependable ways for them to do so. That’s why complete streets are so important; they leave room for people who choose to drive, while also giving space for people to walk, cycle and take transit safely. Those opposed to the Midtown Yonge Complete Street disregard the data that show that bike lanes and other complete street elements benefit local businesses, keep everyone safer—even drivers!—and do not hinder emergency services from responding to calls in a timely manner.”

These Toronto residents are purposefully blocking bike lanes

Some of those who are opposed to the Yonge Street lanes have suggested moving the bike lanes to Avenue Road, which is just a few blocks away. But why not both?

“Our campaign is focused on this specific project, since council will be voting this month to either make it permanent or remove it entirely; we can’t afford to move backwards on our climate and safety goals,” Richardson said. “That said, we strongly believe that every neighbourhood in the city should enjoy the benefits that a complete street brings. We would like to see every arterial, including Avenue Road, upgraded with wider sidewalks, separated and protected bike lanes, and accessible transit stops. The city chose Yonge Street for this pilot over Avenue Road and Mount Pleasant Road based on a number of factors, including support for local restaurants and businesses (very few of those on Avenue), a demonstrated need for safety improvements based on collision data and relief for [the] Line 1 [subway], which operates over capacity. What detractors often don’t understand is that people walking and cycling aren’t only doing so for recreation; these are increasingly popular modes of transportation for daily trips such as commuting, shopping and taking kids to school. My family uses the Yonge Street bike lanes for all of these purposes, and we’re not alone.”

These Toronto residents are purposefully blocking bike lanes

Richardson’s husband is also a keen cyclist, known as The Biking Vet on Twitter. Both of them are enthusiastic users of cargo bikes to get around the city and to avoid using cars.

When asked why there is such a backlash to the many new bike lanes, Richardson said those who drive may not be seeing the big picture.

“Toronto’s population is growing, as can be seen on busy sidewalks downtown, at the many construction sites throughout the city, and in our crowded public schools. There is an unfortunate feeling of competition among various groups for the finite amount of public space, particularly on our roadways. It’s easy for drivers to see this as a zero-sum game, where every bike lane means less room for them and their cars,” she said. “What they don’t appreciate is that bikes take up significantly less space than cars, and pedestrians even less! Every person choosing active and/or public transit takes a car off the roads. There simply isn’t room for every resident to drive their private car everywhere they want to go. The only way that we can keep our city moving is to make it safe and appealing for people to choose other modes of travel—not just cycling, but walking and transit, too. Complete streets have space for all methods of transportation.

There is a vote on Jan. 30 about the bike lanes and Richardson is feeling very confident about it.

“City council voted unanimously to approve both TransformTO, which calls for 75 per cent of work/school trips under 5 km to be made by walking, cycling and transit and Vision Zero which seeks to eliminate serious injuries and deaths from traffic incidents across the city. Councillors know that Midtown Yonge Complete Street helps to achieve both of these objectives. Additionally, city staff have done an amazing job of consultation, adaptation, data collection and analysis,” she said. “The data clearly demonstrate that the pilot is achieving all of the project’s objectives: people walking and cycling have increased substantially, at all times of day and in all seasons; vehicle travel times have been impacted by less than 70 seconds on average; and the number of CafeTO patios has more than doubled! Staff have unequivocally recommended making the pilot project a permanent part of Toronto’s active transportation network, and their objective and comprehensive analysis will reassure any councillors who may have had concerns. Last but certainly not least, Yonge4All’s call for the pilot project to be made permanent has the support of more than 8,000 residents, 12 residents associations, and numerous environmental, road safety and community organizations. It’s an easy call for council: data support it, citizens support it, and the city’s own objectives support it. We fully expect to see council vote to keep Yonge for all.”