Cyclist`s Gather at Queen’s Park Calling for Provincial Funds to Help Municipalities Improve Streets for Both Cyclists and Pedestrians

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Cyclists converge on Queen's Park today, seeking more city and provincial attention to improving safety for cyclists and pedestrians on the street. Colin McConnell/Toronto Star

Even with a crowd of cyclists around her, Sheila MacNeil Hartmann admitted the thought of steering her bicycle down a Toronto street was terrifying.

It’s been more than five years since Hartmann’s husband, Ulrich, was struck and killed by a cement truck at the corner of Don Mills Rd. and Eglinton Ave. while riding his bicycle home from his Bell Canada job.

In a city notorious for unsafe streets, Hartmann and her two children — Samantha, now 14, and Adam, 10 — have since erred on the side of caution and avoided the risks of bike riding downtown.

“I just get nervous,” Hartmann said.

On Saturday afternoon, however, the Hartmann family hauled their bikes, bells and helmets down to High Park and joined some 1,000 cyclists who pedalled through Toronto streets to demand provincial action on bike lanes and pedestrian safety.

“We have a right to be on the roads. We also have a right to be safe on the roads,” said Albert Koehl, a Toronto-based environmental lawyer and founding member of Bells on Bloor, a bike rally in its sixth year, which called on city hall to build bike lanes on Bloor St.

This year, Bells on Bloor participants joined forces with other cycling activists across the city — Bells on Danforth and Bells on Yonge, and a group of pedestrians — to form Cycle and Sole: a citywide rally demanding action from not just city hall, but the provincial government in helping to create streets safer for both pedestrians and cyclists in Toronto and across the province.

Ontario’s coroner’s office announced last fall the first ever province-wide investigation into cycling deaths between 2006 and 2010. It’s estimated that between 15 and 20 cyclists are killed on Ontario roads every year, and about a third of those are in the Greater Toronto Area.

On Saturday, those gathered at Queen’s Park called for provincial funds to help municipalities improve streets for both cyclists and pedestrians. Green Party member Tim Grant presented his party’s bike safety petition, which asks the province to devote 1 per cent of its transportation budget to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, to improve safety.

“We’re demanding from our provincial politicians to start doing their part,” added Koehl. “We want people to get out of their cars. But they won’t do that yet, because they don’t feel safe on the road.”

With teddy bears strapped to the front of their bicycles, Hartmann and her children donned their helmets and pedalled cautiously out onto Bloor as the ride to Queen’s Park began.

“He was a gentle giant, our teddy bear. It’s for him,” Hartmann said.

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