Hundreds of cyclists took to Toronto streets on Saturday to protest the shutdown of ActiveTO and renew calls for safer streets in the city.
They hope to raise attention to the problems ahead of the October municipal election and let leaders know that many cyclists don't feel safe using Toronto streets after a summer of tension and run-ins between people on bikes and police, including when a Toronto cyclist was struck by a police car.
"We are out here as vulnerable road users," said Lanrick Bennett Jr., a cycling advocate who's been recognized as the "Bicycle Mayor of Toronto" by global cycling non-profit BYCS.
"You're seeing the complete missed opportunity to make sure that cyclists, pedestrians — people that are not literally in cars — are protected here in the City of Toronto."
The group is taking aim at the mostly defunct program, ActiveTO. Since its launch in spring of 2020, ActiveTO closed down many major roads to encourage people to get outdoors during COVID-19 lockdowns, and saw thousands of residents enjoy the open space the program provided.
But this summer the city scaled it back, saying it would only reactivate it for special events.
City staff, who recommended limiting the program to city council due to traffic implications, said it would commit to coming back with as many event dates "as it could find" between mid-June and October.
"They promised to bring back ActiveTO at some point. They didn't," said Jess Spieker, a road safety advocate with Friends and Families for Safe Streets.
Spieker also took aim at the city's progress on Vision Zero — a road safety plan with the goal of zero traffic-related deaths and injuries that was launched in 2017. Last year, Toronto saw at least 58 people killed on the city's roads, and 183 more seriously injured.
"We're here to call out that broken promise and to get the city to take action," said Spieker.
David Shellnut, a lawyer who represents injured cyclists, says the group wants to see ActiveTO return next summer on scheduled weekends, and have all tickets that were handed to cyclists in High Park and on Shaw Street, a popular cycling route, withdrawn.
"It's really important that whoever comes into council this term takes the lives of vulnerable road users seriously," said Shellnut.