Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Two Visions of the Future

Yesterday's TTC strike serendipitously coincided with the opening of Toronto's Bike Week. For the annual kick-off event, cyclists from across the city converged on Yonge and Bloor (conveniently close to where I live) for a "group commute" down Yonge St, then over to City Hall for a free pancake breakfast.

The group left the intersection of Yonge and Bloor around 8am; I got the time wrong and showed up at 8:20. As I began my trip, cars clogged the streets. I slowly weaved through near-gridlock as frustrated drivers leaned on their wheels. Taxi passengers watched meters tick on as people on the sidewalks passed them. Confused commuters waited at the corner for buses that weren't coming. A friend of mine later told me that Bay Street was the same. This is Toronto without transit.

It only took a few minutes, however, to catch up with the group commute as they headed down Young street. Hundreds of bikes took up the whole right lane for as far as I could see. The cars were stuck behind me--a distant memory--leaving only cyclists and pedestrians. I came up to a friend of mine and we started chatting. Others were deeply engaged in conversations with strangers. Torontonians were enjoying their city, their public space. This is Toronto without cars.

At an event I attended today, Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume put it another way. "The greatest shame," he said, "was that all of those people who filled the street were taken from subways, buses and streetcars instead of from cars."

I'm not saying we should get rid of all cars (yet). It's just that, for a moment, I saw Toronto without them. And it was a beautiful sight.


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