Toronto the Green

Before moving to Toronto for the rest of the summer I was warned about the dangers of biking on its streets. I’d need a helmet and some luck, I was told.   And I’d heard plenty about newly elected Mayor Rob Ford’s lack of appetite for cyclists and their paths.

In fact, the week I arrived, bike paths were making headlines as city council decided to remove bike lanes on Jarvis street they had set up one year earlier.   The irony of the decision is that it will cost much more to remove the lanes than it did to install them. Reports say the removal will cost $200,000 while the original installation cost only $59,000.

The hundreds of cyclists out to protest the move still had reason to celebrate, however.   The Jarvis bike lanes won’t be removed until segregated paths are set up, most notably on Sherbourne Street, which runs parallel to Jarvis on the eastern edge of Toronto’s downtown core.

While councillors opposed to the move lamented what they called an unprecedented shift for a Canadian city, other cycling stories continued to gain momentum.   On July 7, Toronto’s Bixi announced it had hit the 100,000-trip milestone after surpassing the 1,000-subscription mark in the spring.

Toronto’s 80 stations are limited to the downtown core (Montreal has over 400 across the city), but the availability of the service throughout the entire year is likely to continue to attract residents looking for a permanent, fast and comparatively cheap alternative to Toronto’s streetcars, buses and subway.

Of course, cycling is not the only sign of an environmental conscience in Canada’s largest city.   This past Saturday, Yonge Street was closed from Dundas to Queen for the Live Green Toronto Festival, which also took over Dundas Square. The festival brought together promoters of green businesses and municipal programs, showing off their products and services.

Toronto’s competing car sharing programs Zipcar and AutoShare were on site, as well as providers of worm composting equipment, solar panel companies, local and organic food suppliers and restaurants and bag makers re-using materials even before they get recycled, among dozens of others.

The city’s commitment to putting the environmental festival front and center in the heart of the city, and stopping traffic to do so is refreshing, in comparison with Montreal’s Salon de l’environnement, which is relegated to the indoor Palais des Congrès.

And on the same note, credit must be given to a city that has had municipal organic waste collection since 2005.   In Montreal we continue to hear the service is on its way, with hopes pinned on 2013-14.

In a city known for its scale, the massive high rises and sprawling, rail-laced avenues tend to overshadow the progress made on environmental issues.   While the traffic in Toronto is still the country’s worst, Montreal does not lag far behind and so perhaps the best outcome is a process of mutual motivation, where Montréal la verte is inspired by and learns from Toronto the green, and vice versa.

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