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Volunteers, advocates take to Toronto’s streets to count bikes

The initiative, led by local urban planner and bike advocate Gil Meslin, will update the city's last count in 2010

The Richmond Street bike lane was a new addition to Toronto’s bike infrastructure since the 2010 count. (Image: Cycle Toronto/Facebook)

Officially, the number of bikes and cyclists rolling through Toronto’s downtown core hasn’t been surveyed since 2010, the year that former mayor and notorious cycling antagonist Rob Ford came to power. To fill in that gap, a squad of volunteers, led by local cycling advocate and urban planner Gil Meslin, is taking to the streets this week to collect those numbers on their own.

That year, the surveyed area of downtown had a perimeter of Spadina Avenue, Bloor Street, Jarvis Street and Queens Quay.

But a lot has changed in Toronto since 2010, particularly with the addition of new bike lanes. Meslin’s initiative, Metro News reports, is aimed at painting a picture that more accurately reflects those changes, and it follows through on a tweet he posted back in 2015 that promised he’d update the 2010 study on his own. That year, the bike count—intended to be an annual undertaking—was conducted by a firm not based in Toronto, one contracted by the municipal government. The bike count wasn’t repeated the following year, and it may have been a matter of civic overkill in carrying it out, Meslin suggested.

“All you really need,” he said, recalling how the last count involved the use of outside consultants, “is a clear cut, clean methodology and the people willing to put in the time on the street to count bikes as they pass.”

Taking a simpler approach, Meslin’s volunteers—about 70 of them—will head downtown on their own during rush hour to count bikes as they pass, equipped with cameras that will back up their numbers. The turnout of riders and advocates taking part in the count, Meslin said, is encouraging. “That’s pretty impressive,” he told Metro, “to get those sorts of numbers and to turn tweets into action with that kind of turnaround.”

Ultimately, he hopes, the hard evidence of Toronto ridership that his volunteers are chasing will support Toronto bike infrastructure development, and avoid the bike-versus-driver antipathy that’s been too common in the past.

“Hopefully,” Meslin said, “the more timely and directly relevant evidence that is available at the table at the time [bike infrastructure] discussions take place, the harder it is to dismiss and distort it when it comes to making a decision.”

The volunteers’ findings will be made available both to the public and city hall.