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Toronto’s bike mayor is aiming to make the streets safer for everyone

Lanrick Bennett Jr. started his cycling advocacy after his daughter went on a bike strike, six years ago.

Lanrick Bennett Jr. poses with his daughter. Photo by: Lanrick Bennett Jr.

Toronto’s bike mayor, Lanrick Bennett Jr., got involved in cycling advocacy through his daughter. Back in 2018, when she was nine years old, she decided that she wanted to ride her bike to school. Bennett hadn’t ridden much since he was a child, so he bought himself a bike and they toured the neighbourhood.

“I’ve never seen a nine year old more excited about being able to ride her bike to school,” Bennett said.

The pair rode to school together for about two months, Bennett always making sure to stay on the street side of his daughter, as the route they rode consisted mostly of painted bike lanes, not protected ones.

Then, Doug Crosbie, a local father, was hit and killed by a truck along their daily route.

“My daughter lasted until October of that year,” Bennett said. In total, they had commuted together for five months before she gave up because of both the lack of safety and the lack of infrastructure.

“She wrote to her councillor, wrote to her MPP and finally got a response from the mayor,” Bennett said. “But by that time she had made it very, very official. She went on bike strike. My daughter has not been on a bike since 2018.”

His daughter feeling unsafe on the roads was the beginning of Bennett’s cycling advocacy.

“Her giving up was fuel for me wanting to make sure she could get back on a bike,” said Bennett.

Bennett became Toronto’s bike mayor in 2022, after a few friends pushed him to apply for the position. Bike mayor is a volunteer position in four cities across Canada and almost 130 around the world. Bennett says that his main role in the community is to amplify the work of other advocates and to support other people on bikes.

“One big piece for me that I continue to do and want to do more of is I want more people that look like me to feel safe on bikes,” Bennett said. While Bennett doesn’t think that the bicycle mayor can change the way that the police interact with vulnerable road users, particularly people of colour, he focuses on highlighting those inequalities.

Bennett is also working on making the roads safer in other ways. In 2022, he was able to arrange a ride with four of the consulate generals in Toronto, to tap into what other cities are doing in terms of cycling infrastructure. It’s something that Bennett plans to pass on to the next bicycle mayor when his term is up in January 2024.

“I have no qualms about stealing good ideas,” Bennett says. “If these ideas are going to save lives, if they’re going to keep people safe, if they’re going to make people feel that they’ve got an option to ride in their city, yeah, let’s take those ideas and bring them forward.”

Bennett has also borrowed the idea for kidical mass rides (like critical mass rides but made for kids) from Halifax’s bike mayor, Jillian Banfield and will be running them throughout the summer.

“I’m really excited about the prospect of getting young people riding for sure, but also making sure that their parents and guardians feel that they should be out biking with their kids as well,” Bennett says.