Transportation Part 1: Biking, Walking & Rolling

Michael talks with Gideon Forman, the Climate Change and Transportation Policy Analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation about how walking, biking, and rolling lower our environmental impact.

Speaker 1 (00:01):
Well I'm in over my head. No one told me trying to keep my footprint mall was harder than I thought it could be. I'm in over my head. What do I really need? Trying to save the planet over someone, please save me, trying to save the planet over someone. Please save me.
Speaker 2 (00:24):
Welcome to in over my head. I'm Michael Bartz. Just a quick note that all our transportation interviews were conducted over the phone. So the audio quality isn't at a studio level. Hopefully your ear can get accustomed to it and you'll still enjoy the great conversations. My guest today is Gideon Foreman. Gideon is the climate change in transportation policy analyst for the David Suzuki foundation. He received a masters of philosophy from McGill university and a certificate in renewable energy from the university of Toronto. He is a queen Elizabeth, the second diamond Jubilee medal recipient, and his articles have been published in the Toronto star and the globe mail. Hello, gideon, and welcome to you over my head. Thanks so much. So I brought you on today to talk about active transportation because transportation generally accounts for a quarter of Canada's carbon emissions. I think we need to talk about solutions. One of which is active transportation. So some examples of active transportation are walking, biking and rolling. So from an environmental perspective, when compared to other forms of transportation, such as driving, what sort of footprint does active transportation have?
Speaker 3 (01:26):
Well, much, much lower. I mean, there's no question. If you're getting people to walk to cycle, it's a very big improvement from a whole range of points of view, and we can get into that, but certainly in terms of air pollution much, much lower if you're walking or cycling compared to a gas burning car. And of course, in terms of climate impacts, biking and walking in particular are, are excellent cycling, walking, rolling. These things, check many, many boxes, not just in terms of the environment, but in terms of human health. And we can also talk about the economy. They're good for the economy as well.
Speaker 2 (01:56):
And so you talked about the climate more general. I think the reason I wanna talk about this topic is people feel like, oh, it's great to go for a bike ride once in a while or go for a walk, but it doesn't really make a, a, a difference in the overall impact of the planet. I, I can drive. It's fine. What would you tell those people?
Speaker 3 (02:13):
Oh, I think it makes an enormous impact how you get around. I mean, so take one example, Ontario. I mean, in Ontario, the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions is transportation. And most of that is cars and truck. So if we can get people out of their cars or leaving the car at home, not buying a car in the first place, that's huge progress. So this is absolutely crucial. Active transportation is a crucial climate solution.
Speaker 2 (02:38):
Let's yeah, let's talk about cycling briefly because I, I feel like it's a, a bit of a different animal in that walking is fairly straightforward, but cycling you're, you're sharing the road with, with cars and, and that might cause problems. So people might want to start cycling, but maybe either worried about safety is, is this a justifiable worry?
Speaker 3 (02:56):
Yeah. I mean, it depends where, I mean, there may be some European cities which are really attuned to cycling and, and their cycling I think is quite safe, but let's talk about Canada. Most Canadian cities were not designed for bicycles. You know, Toronto, I know best, but lots of big cities, the general thing is that they are set up to the movement of cars until quite recently, they're wide the streets. In many cases, they are designed to move cars quickly. In many cases, speed limits are way too high. We can change that and we are starting to change it. But people's fears of cycling in many Canadian cities. They're completely justified. I mean, if you were cycling with traffic, we call mixed traffic, cyclists, cars, and trucks. It's very dangerous, especially the speed limits are high which they are in many places. We can start to look at solutions. If you are cycling with cars and trucks, it's certainly dangerous. And people are quite justified in being nervous.
Speaker 2 (03:57):
So what are some of those solutions then?
Speaker 3 (04:00):
Well, we have to come at the whole roadway in a different way. First of all, we have to stop seeing the purpose of the roadway is just facilitating the movement of cars. The roadway is there to facilitate the movement of people. And, you know, we need to actually get people out of cars for a whole range of reasons. In the immediate term, we need to make streets safer for cyclists. And there's a bunch of things we can do right away. The, the first is lowering speed limits. You talk to doctors and they will tell you that when you lower speed limits, if people on bike are walking, are in an accident, the chance of them surviving at a lower speed limit is much, much greater. Just give my example in Toronto. So in my neighborhood, quite streets are 30 kilometers an hour. That's quite a bit safer than it used to be.
Speaker 3 (04:40):
And in some of our Arteris it's 40, we're still trying to lower the speed limits in other parts of the city. I live in a neighborhood which is quite safe in terms of cycling and walking, but there are parts of the city in Toronto and other cities across the country where the speed limits are far, far too high, and some parts of the city, you know, people can drive 50 or 60 kilometers an hour that's way, way too high. So that's the first thing. The second thing is that we need to physically separate cyclists from drivers, you know, in the old days, a bike lane, so to speak was just a bit of paint. They would flop on the road that was supposed to protect the cyclist. Well, that doesn't cut it. What we need is a physical barrier, ideally concrete, a concrete barrier between cyclists and cars. So that cyclists feel safe to move through the Street.
Speaker 2 (05:22):
Yeah. And so for these, these bike lanes and, and barriers, is there support in Toronto for them?
Speaker 3 (05:28):
Yeah, that's really one of the interesting things. When, when we at the David Suzuki foundation over the years, we've been working on bike lanes. So we, we commissioned some opinion. Polling in Toronto, the pollster asked people across the city, it was a statistically valid P hole of over 800 people. They, they asked them, do you support or oppose the building of protected bike lanes? So that's a bike lane where there's a physical barrier between the cars and the bikes, and overall 84% of Torontonians supported these protected bike lanes. But when we started to dive into the more nuanced findings, it was really interesting what we found. So first of all, the poster sorted the data by parts of the city that people lived in, in the downtown area, not surprising where people walk in cycle more, 87% supported by lanes, but then the, the poster also interviewed people who live in the urban parts of Toronto.
Speaker 3 (06:17):
This is a part of the city where many, many more people drive even there, 80% of people supported these bike lanes. And we think that's because the bike lanes actually make a lot of sense to, to drivers as well. The bike lanes set out a place in the road for drivers, and they set out a place in the road for cyclists. And I think cyclists and drivers been, we also asked the pollster to divide the data based on whether you were a cyclist or a car driver. And so 91% of cyclists support bike lanes, no surprise there, but also 76% of car drivers, three quarters of car drivers support, bike lanes. So that was very gratifying to us that this was an issue that really ran right across the city, whether you were a driver, whether you were a cyclist, the vast majority of people in Toronto support these bike lanes. And that was very, that was very gratifying to see that wide buy-in right across the city.
Speaker 2 (07:08):
Oh, for sure. And, and is that infrastructure being put in place across the City?
Speaker 3 (07:12):
Well, not fast enough. I mean with the pandemic, the city of Toronto to its credit has rolled out more of the protected bike lanes. We just needed more options for people to get around and, and fewer people were using public transit because they were nervous. And so we needed what the mayor described as a kind of relief valve. So they did build out a bunch of bike lanes on some of our major streets, but it's still, it's still modest compared to what we need. I mean, we need a cycling network right across the city. And unfortunately most of the cycling infrastructure, the bike lanes are centered downtown. We have a little bit in the sort of what we call the suburban or inner suburban parts of, of the city, but not, not nearly enough. And so that's the challenge now is building out a network right across the city. And
Speaker 2 (07:58):
You mentioned there's an economic case for bike lanes. Can you tell me more about that?
Speaker 3 (08:02):
Yeah, that's really interesting as well. So, you know, the economic case existed at a couple of levels, first of all, for the individual. So if you are able to leave the car at home, use the car less, not have a car at all. There's a big, big savings, right? So let me give you one example. So the total cost of owning a car in Ontario is about $950 a month. When you add in all of your finance payments and your, your gas and your parking and your insurance, it's about nine 50 a month. So it's over $11,000 annually. It's quite a bit of money if you compare that to a bike. I mean, it's not quite apples to apples. And I, and I recognize that, but if you are able to move from the car to the, to the bike, it's a tiny, tiny fraction.
Speaker 3 (08:46):
So in Toronto, again, you can get, what's called a bike share membership where you can use a bike, a city bike, unlimited trips of 45 minutes each right through the year for, for $115. I mean, and I realize, of course there are times when the car, you know, is necessary and the bike can't do it all, but it just gives you some rough sense of the difference in scale, you know, the bike, your membership's 115 bucks. And the total cost of owning a car is about thousand dollars annually. So yeah, there's a lot of savings there. If you are able to migrate away from the car or some combination of active transportation and public transit, public transit is also much, much cheaper than a private car. So that's for the individual, the savings, but there's also economic benefits to communities. So there was some really interesting research done by a group called the center for active transportation.
Speaker 3 (09:37):
They're based out of Toronto. They looked at what happened when a bike lane was put in to one of our main streets in downtown Toronto lower street. And they looked at the economic impact for merchants, because there were some concerns, you know, when you put in a bike lane, some parking spots who were removed, some of the merchants were nervous, what impact this bike lane has on their business? Well, the exciting finding was that the customer spending and the number of customers that were served by the merchants increased on a monthly basis when this bike lane went in. So there's some evidence that these bike lanes actually can stimulate economic development in communities. So bikes work economically in a bunch of ways for the individual and also for businesses along the route of bike lanes.
Speaker 2 (10:24):
Yeah. No, that's really interesting. It sounds like there's a lot of benefits there that people maybe wouldn't have thought of.
Speaker 3 (10:29):
Yeah. Mm-Hmm, , it's exciting.
Speaker 2 (10:30):
Yeah, for sure. Do you want to get people out of cars for a range of reasons? Let's talk about some more of those reasons.
Speaker 3 (10:37):
So we've talked about environment, air quality, obviously accidents. There's lots of accidents that are associated with driving. And then there's the mental health and the physical health benefits of cycling. I mean, when we were doing this work, Michael, with the city of Toronto over the last few years to build out the bike lane network, two of our biggest allies were nurses and doctors, then not surprisingly, we worked with the registered nurses association of Ontario. We worked with a group called doctors for safe cycling, and these groups supported cycling for a whole range of reasons, the obvious ones of air quality and climate, but also, and importantly, because of the mental and physical health benefits, people are just happier, physically better off mentally, better off if they're doing more active activity in their lives. And what the doctors and nurses told me, that's so important about cycling in particular is that you can build it into your everyday life, right? So that it doesn't just become something you do on a couple of weekends in the summer. But if you build it into your everyday life, if you see the bike is your way of getting to school or getting to work or doing errands, then you're getting this ongoing activity, this ongoing physical exercise in your life. And that is crucial for mental and physical
Speaker 2 (11:52):
Health mm-hmm yeah. Then it, it also just becomes a habit and it's probably less,
Speaker 3 (11:55):
Less of an effort as well. Exactly. You bake it right into your everyday life. It's not negotiable. It just that's how you get to school. That's how you get to work. Yeah, exactly. Mm-Hmm
Speaker 2 (12:04):
And, and I know for me, personally, as a cyclist, I'm pretty much always happy when I'm cycling, as opposed to driving, it's much less stressful and it's much more enjoyable.
Speaker 3 (12:12):
Exactly. I've even seen some data that says that people who cycle to work actually arrive at work in a better mood. They tend to be more productive. All of that strikes me as, as fairly obvious. It's great to hear it. It backed by studies, but yeah, that's another benefit to, you're more receptive to your job if you if you get to work by bike.
Speaker 2 (12:33):
Yeah. It sounds like there's a, a lot of benefits. Of course, we have a thing here called winter and so not every day is a nice sunny day in July. Do you have any advice for someone who, who wants to start commuting year round?
Speaker 3 (12:46):
Yeah, that's a really good question. And, and we do need to do more of that for a range of reasons, not least the climate crisis. I mean, we, you to get people out of their cars, not just on, on warm summer days, I think you need to be smart about it. The first thing is your community needs to, to have those bike lanes, those separated, protected bike lanes in place. For sure. I mean, particularly in the winter, it's crucial that there is a physical separation between you and the car, and you also need to be in a community where the bike lanes are plowed. I mean, it's crucial that your community does that. Now, many of the communities that I know of in Canada do plow snow, lousy, the bike lanes. They have a little plow. That's narrow enough to be able to go through there, but it's crucial.
Speaker 3 (13:26):
They do that. And they have to do that in a timely fashion. They can't wait, you know, three days after the, the snowfall. I mean, that has to happen quickly just as it does on the roads where the cars, if that's not happening, people need to demand that it does happen. So that's the first thing. The infrastructure needs to be made safe for the winter and, and, and protect people against snow. And the other thing is being smart about how you do it. If you're a new cyclist, obviously being careful in the winter with, you know, the winter requires extra caution and how you dress is really important. There are a lot of resources available. I mean, I can point people for example, to cycle Toronto, as a, as a group that supports cycling in the city and they have a whole page on what they call winter riding tips, and you know, everything from wearing layers of clothing and protecting your extremities. So your hands and feet crucial to protect them looking after your bicycle so that it can be operated safely in the winter. So there's a whole range of tips that you do need to follow. It, it, it is a little more complicated for sure, cycling in the winter. It can still be a lot of fun and very gratifying, but you have to come at it with some care. And so I would direct people to, to those winter riding tips.
Speaker 2 (14:31):
Oh, that's, that's really great. That's really helpful. And I'm actually a year round cyclist as well. And I find, I, I wear are too many layers to start you. If you're, if you're too warm, then you're gonna be sweating buckets. By the time you get to where you want to go so much, like if you were snowshoeing or skiing in the winter, just being a little bit chilly is, is actually a good thing. And, and you talked about plowing the bike lanes, and I'm gonna use the word advocacy. So demanding that this happened, who would people talk to in their city to get that change made?
Speaker 3 (15:03):
Well, I mean, first of all, they, their city council, that's what we did when we were pushing for bike lanes. We met with city counselors, so that crucial. And then there's also city staff. There are, you know, the roads department or whatever it's called in your own community, but the folks who are clearing the snow and ice from roads for cars also need to be doing it for cyclists. And so it's a matter of connecting with that branch of the city government. That's taking care of roads. And if they're not taking action than getting on the phone and talking or emailing your city counselor and making sure that they make this a priority, because it's simply not safe for cyclists to be out there in the winter, unless the roads are plowed
Speaker 2 (15:42):
For them. Mm-Hmm for sure. And there's definitely strength in numbers. You know, the more people that are biking that the more obviously they're gonna have and more of a voice they're gonna have. Absolutely
Speaker 3 (15:51):
That's right. And joining with a, a bike group in your community is really useful and lots and lots of communities across Canada. Now, certainly that I know of have these, you know, in Toronto, we have cycle Toronto and, and other communities have their cycling advocacy groups and being part of that is really important. First of all, it's a lot of fun. You meet other people, as you say, strength in numbers, the more outspoken the cycling C and is frankly the more we get bike lanes and the more that bike lanes are properly maintained
Speaker 2 (16:17):
Mm-Hmm . So we've talked a fair bit about bikes. Do you wanna touch on any of the other forms of active transportation?
Speaker 3 (16:23):
Yeah. I mean, obviously, I mean, we need to make cities much, much more pedestrian friendly as well. This is something we've done some work on in Toronto, crucial that people will feel safe when they're walking again, up until fairly recently in the history of many of our cities, they were designed for facilitating the, the movement of cars. So you look at the geography of the road, there's lots of space for cars and relatively little space for people walking. We need to start changing that. We need wider sidewalks. We need safer sidewalks. We need sidewalk that are safe for visually impaired people, so that if you, if you use a cane, you can safely walk on the street. We need streets that are safe for seniors who may have hearing issues so that they can hear the, the signals. So there's a lot of things that we can do as a city to make it safer to walk, but it all begin with rethinking the street and not seeing it as this way of facilitating motor traffic, but seeing it as a way primarily to get people out of their cars, walking and cycling.
Speaker 3 (17:24):
I mean, one of the good things in Toronto is that we have a master plan for the city, a city plan. And one of the things that it does is it explicitly says that the city prioritizes walking, cycling in public transit, and we don't always live up to that principle, but at least we have that as a principle. And it's crucial that cities have that as a principle because of, you know, the climate crisis and air pollution and all these things we have to prioritize. We have to say as a society, and as a community walking and cycling in public transit are better ways of getting around than private gas, burning cars. We have to choose. We have to prioritize. And what flows from that is a city that makes streets safer for everyone.
Speaker 2 (18:04):
So this show is about empowering people and making small changes that add up to a big and environmental impact. So what's one small change people can make today to incorporate active transportation into their lives.
Speaker 3 (18:16):
I think they need to ask themselves, like, how do I need to get through the city? How do I move through my city or my town? And I think people need to ask themselves if they are very reliant on, on their gas burning car, do I need to be, are there ways that I can start to leave the car home more doesn't mean going cold Turkey overnight, but are there ways that I can leave the car home at least a little more of the time and walk or a cycle? Do I need to take the car every time I do an errand, do I need to take the car? Every time I pay the kids up from something, do I need to use the car? Every time I go to school or work, are there other ways that I can get around that will save me money and give me more exercise and be better for the planet?
Speaker 3 (19:00):
And I think the answer in many cases is yes, I'm not underestimating the challenges that some people have with busy lives and lots of kids. And, and that can be difficult, but I think there are ways that people can do that. And public transit, I should say, goes hand in hand with active transportation. So if people are able to use public transit more, there's always an active transport component baked into that, right? So if you are taking a local bus in your community, typically you have to walk to get to the bus stop that will walk itself is a good thing for your mental health and your physical health. And so pairing public transit with active transportation is a good thing.
Speaker 2 (19:39):
Great. No, that's very helpful. Thank you. And lastly, if you could tell me a little bit more about the David Suzuki foundation, cuz some people just may not know about the kind of work you do. So tell me about that.
Speaker 3 (19:51):
Sure. Founded by David Suzuki, the famous scientist and broadcaster and his wife, Tara culls, Suzuki. We bring a science based approach to environmental issues. We try to get at the root of environmental issues. What are the underlying things that are causing the climate crisis? For example, or the biodiversity crisis? We do a number of different things. We try to empower people. So we try to get citizens active in their own communities. We do a lot of work, for example, in rewilding, helping people to, for example, build butterfly gardens in their own backyard. That sort of thing. We do a lot of work where we talk to government about policy, trying to push government further policy. We're trying to get stronger climate legislation so that we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions more quickly. We're trying to get government to put more money into public transit so that people have options. You can't ask people to leave a car at home unless there's a viable option. And one of those is active transportation and public transit. So that's a lot of our work as well. We do our own research because we wanna make sure that we have solid research to underpin our work with government. And we're focused right now very much on the climate crisis and on the biodiversity crisis.
Speaker 2 (21:05):
Yeah, no. And looking at your website, you guys do a lot of great work and I really encourage people to check it out and I believe they can donate to the cause as well. Is that correct?
Speaker 3 (21:12):
Yes, we're a, a charity. And so we're, we are very much supported by individuals and, and very, very much appreciate individual support. Great.
Speaker 2 (21:21):
Well, I think that's all the questions I have Gideon. I, this has been a great conversation and I feel excited to get out and go for a bike ride today.
Speaker 3 (21:29):
Great. Well, that's, that's exactly what I was hoping. So I guess we, we achieved what we were hoping to do. Thank you so much for inviting me on Michael.
Speaker 2 (21:35):
Thank you. Well, that was my talk with Gideon. We covered a lot of great information, but my favorite thing was his idea of rethink the streets streets. Aren't just for cars, they're for people and people can walk, they can cycle, they can roll. And the more that we do those things, the better off we'll be and the better off the plant's gonna be. Oh, and one more thing we briefly referenced rolling that's roller blade or skating, but feel free to roll down a hill on your commute could be fun. And if anyone asks, tell them you're an environmentalist. Well, that's all for me. I'm Michael Bartz. Here's the feeling a little less in over our head when it comes to saving the planet. We'll see again, soon in, over my head was produced and hosted by Michael Bart original theme song by Gabriel Thaine. If you'd like to get in touch with us, please email info at, in over my head special. Thanks to Telus STORYHIVE for making this show possible.
Speaker 1 (22:29):
I'm trying to save the planet or will someone please save me.

Transportation Part 1: Biking, Walking & Rolling
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