Bixi Toronto is Here

Originally published on Torontoist on May 4, 2011.

“Today we are celebrating the introduction of an amazing new piece of cycling infrastructure into our city’s portfolio.” With those words, Toronto Cyclists Union director of advocacy and operations Andrea Garcia gave her blessing to the longawaited official launch of Bixi Toronto yesterday morning. Despite the rainy conditions, cyclists and media descended upon Gould Street outside the Ryerson Bookstore to witness the arrival of the first batch of sturdy black bicycles.

Out of the 80 stations and 1,000 bikes that will constitute the first wave of Bixi Toronto, 50 stations and 300 bikes were activated for use yesterday. Some subscribers who might have braved the rain for a day one ride were still waiting for their keys to come, but Public Bike System Company official Gian-Carlo Crivello reassured those attending that 1,200 keys were mailed last Wednesday and will arrive soon. Among other tidbits the audience was told about the bike-share program: local employees of sponsor Desjardins are eligible for a 50 per cent discount off an annual membership; co-sponsor Telus will donate one dollar from each annual membership to the Heart and Stroke Foundation; the bikes will be maintained by Mount Dennis-based Learning Enrichment Foundation; and a smartphone application called Spotcycle will allow users to track bike availability at stations. Concerns about theft were dismissed based on the low rate of missing bikes in Montreal, but it was revealed that the bikes won’t be equipped with tracking devices.

Speaking for the City, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East)—who actually voted against the Bixi program during the last term of council—stressed the ease of use, affordable membership cost, and health benefits Bixi Toronto would bring the city, as well as pointing it out as a fine example of a public/private partnership. “For a guy like me who lives in the suburbs and has to drive downtown, you now have an opportunity to take one of these Bixi bikes to a meeting,” he noted. “You can take it to your lunch appointments—if you’re bicycling from point A to point B, it allows you to order something different on the menu because you know that you’re burning off those calories during the lunch period and afterwards.” We await future studies on the effects of Bixi Toronto on the waistlines of downtown workers.

Since media were allowed to test the bikes, we couldn’t resist trying one. We were shown the light pattern to watch out for after inserting the key into the station (flashing yellow, a pause, then green to go), then mounted the bike. After worrying that the seat was raised too high, and using our feet to break during the first awkward pedals, riding quickly became comfortable. As we did 360s in the middle of the intersection of Gould and Victoria, we noticed the bike’s smooth handling and wished we could have wandered off for a typical half-hour trek.

We also discovered how resilient the bikes are. As the crowd thinned, we wandered by a row of a dozen Bixis that weren’t tethered to a docking bay. Suddenly, there was a crashing sound. One inadvertent swing of our backpack caused the row of bikes to tumble like dominoes. They were quickly propped back up without any signs of damage. If the Bixi bikes can survive a clumsy reporter, they should handle Toronto’s roads just fine.

UPDATE

By 2013, the operators of Bixi Toronto were unable to make payments on the loan they took out from the city. The end result was a takeover by the Toronto Parking Authority. In early 2014, the system was rebranded as Bike Share Toronto. The number of stations has spread across the city, with many close to subway stations.

BEHIND THE SCENES

This was one of the first press conferences I covered, and one of the few I asked a question at: would municipal employees be encouraged to use the system with a discount? Minnan-Wong looked completely puzzled.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Toronto Bicycle Club Races, 1895

Originally published on Torontoist on June 3, 2015.

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The Globe, June 3, 1895.

In a two-page feature spotlighting the Toronto Bicycle Club in October 1892, the Globe expressed pleasure in the growth of cycling as a leisurely pursuit:

As a form of healthy and manly recreation no sport can surpass that of wheeling. If the rider desires to be alone that he may commune with his own thoughts he may be so, but the social side of cycling had strong attractions, a fact which is demonstrated by the existence of organizations of bicyclists whose bond of union is the wheel, and around which they cluster for the promotion of good fellowship and the cultivation of the social amenities. It is a form of recreation that does not preclude the enjoyment of ladies’ society, and sensible young women, who possess sufficient spirit to throw off the enthralling claims of conventionality, are beginning to appreciate the aid to health and pleasure that the bicycle affords. In increasing numbers they are betaking themselves to a mode of recreation that their mothers were ignorant of.

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“Half mile handicap at T.B.C. meet.” The Globe, October 22, 1892.

The paper also praised cycling’s health and competitive benefits:

With the development of the bicycle and its adaptability to speedy locomotion there has been a corresponding development of athleticism among the numberless votaries of the sport, and many young men with a distaste for too violent a form of exercise have adopted the wheel as a means of recreation and of physical training. It is an exercise that contributes to a healthy body and mind, and in this way cannot fail to have a beneficial effect upon society. One of the most popular pastimes of the day is bicycle racing, and, with the improvement of the machines, and the careful and systematic training of the wheelsmen, records hitherto considered impregnable have been ruthlessly smashed to pieces.

By the time this article appeared, the Toronto Bicycle Club (TBC) was among the most prominent of the half-dozen organizations in the city dedicated to bicycle rides and racing. Formed by 10 cyclists in April 1881, the TBC held its first major meet later that year on the Exhibition grounds, beginning an annual tradition of drawing top cyclists from across the continent to participate in races of varying lengths. Regular events included evening rides on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a longer ride on Saturdays, during a season which lasted from May through October. The TBC moved into a spacious club house at 346 Jarvis Street in the spring of 1891, around the same time that its ladies’ section held their first major race.

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Mail and Empire, June 3, 1895.

The TBC’s major meet in 1895 marked a shift for the club. Instead of being held over the August civic holiday weekend, it was moved to June 1. Organizers expected a good turnout to see the races, which were held on a high-quality track in Rosedale made from brick dust, cinder, and clay. Despite a strong west wind, oppressive heat reduced attendance, which was estimated between 1,200 and 2,000 spectators. “There were several punctures of tires, and one or two consequent spills,” the Mail and Empire reported, “but no accidents of a serious nature marred the splendid sport.” There was even musical accompaniment, thanks to the Queen’s Own Rifles band.

Many eyes were glued to several competitors from California. C.R. Coulter was expected to break records, but the combination of a long trip from suburban Boston and the weather did him in. After participating in preliminary heats for the mile race, he claimed he was too sick to participate in the final. His substitute was San Jose cyclist Otto Zeigler. “A mere boy in appearance,” the Globe observed, “but in regard to muscular development a miniature Titan, he was loudly cheered when he made his appearance.” Zeigler set a new Canadian competition record, finishing his mile in two minutes and four seconds.

“In many respects the Torontos had reason to pat themselves on the back,” the Globe concluded, particularly “the excellent way in which the races were conducted and the strict adherence that the officials kept to the laws laid down for their guidance as regards to the time allowed riders to prepare for their races.”

Additional material from The Ride of Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900 by Glen Norcliffe (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001); the October 22, 1892 and June 3, 1895 editions of the Globe; and the June 3, 1895 edition of the Mail and Empire.

For Don Valley Cyclists, It’s Pedals on the Metal

Originally published on Torontoist on May 28, 2013.

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Good news for cyclists who use the official City trails in the Don Valley: barring weather-related disruptions, on June 1, you’ll no longer have to take alternate routes to detour around the construction of two shiny new metal bridges by Don Mills Road.

Last August, the City closed access to the Bailey Bridge crossing the CNR/GO train line east of Don Mills Road and the wooden walkway leading to it from Ernest Thompson Seton Park, as well as the connection in the park between the Don and Taylor Creek Ravine trails. The official City detour suggested a lengthy route through Thorncliffe Park and the Leaside Bridge, but many cyclists have used simpler, if not always legal, workarounds. Those options range from a worn dirt path leading to the mountain bike trails in Crothers Woods to sneaking through the construction fencing to cross the track at train level.

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Now, a new walkway replaces wood with steel, covered with an asphalt surface. The Bailey Bridge, meanwhile, has been refurbished with new railing and an anti-slip metal deck. (It was originally built in 1972.)

The project was scheduled to wrap up in March, but the unstable nature of the soil under the walkway caused problems. “Fill and crap” is how a Parks official described the mix of soil along the slope to us. While it was fine for supporting the old wooden structure, it wasn’t suitable for holding up steel.

Reinforcement of the walkway footings took place last week, leaving trail paving as the last major task to be performed before the structures open to cyclists on the first day of June.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 2

Be Free As a Bird For a Fiver

Originally published on Torontoist on March 3, 2009.

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Toronto Life, July 1968.

Last week, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority announced that it would end a $1.5 million subsidy to Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport. This move has prompted Toronto Airways, who has operated the airport since the early 1960s, to consider reducing hours or closing the site entirely after more than forty years of offering Torontonians a chance to fly.

Labelling the airport’s location as along the Don Valley Parkway was premature, as the freeway ended at Sheppard Avenue when this ad appeared. The first full segment of what is now Highway 404 (Sheppard to Steeles) would not be completed until 1977 and would not reach Buttonville for several more years.

Phoning It In from Lake Shore Boulevard

Originally published on Torontoist on March 17, 2009.

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Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Volume 4, Number 11, 1980.

Because modern technology should never allow anyone the opportunity to be totally removed from the office…will a disastrous business transaction cause our phone-wielding businessman too much anxiety to enjoy a ball game?

Laugh at the exclusive features if you want, but elements like easy-to-read LED displays were bonuses to adapters of this early form of mobile phone. At least this user hasn’t caused an accident during the eastbound crawl on Lake Shore Boulevard…yet.
Preferring not to place his call on the Gardiner Expressway, this user’s drive takes him past landmarks that are still around (the footbridge from Exhibition Place to Ontario Place) and those lone gone (Exhibition Stadium).

Beat the Spring Rush to the Bicycle Shop

Originally published on Torontoist on March 24, 2009.

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Toronto World, February 17, 1900.

Now that spring is officially upon us, thousands of bicycles are emerging from winter storage and returning to our pothole-riddled streets. It’s a busy time for repair shops around the city, as riders bring their bicycles in for a tune-up. Cyclists in 1900 appear to have faced the same backlog in waiting to get their vehicles back as riders do during current peak tune-up periods. We’re not sure how many customers took advantage of E.C. Hill’s early-bird special, but we hope that their skill at installing a fresh pair of tires was better than their skill at spelling.

Fiat Freeways

Originally published on Torontoist on April 28, 2009.

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Sports Illustrated, June 20, 1960.

Fiat has been in the news headlines regularly lately, thanks to its proposed alliance with ailing automaker Chrysler. Half a century ago, the Italian auto giant tried to woo buyers in North America with compact cars like the Fiat 1100 in an age when bigger was better for domestic manufacturers and consumers.

The expressways that fill out Fiat’s name could have easily been the flurry of highways and speedy road extensions built around Metro Toronto during the preceding decade. The company’s Canadian office at Bloor and Jarvis streets, the site of which now houses Rogers, might have had a good view of the Mount Pleasant Road extension that opened in 1950. Major portions of what are now the Gardiner Expressway, and Highways 400401, and 427 were opened to traffic between 1952 and 1958, while construction of the first segment of the Don Valley Parkway was well underway by the time this ad appeared.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Two-Wheeled Nest Egg

Originally published on Torontoist on May 27, 2008.

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The Globe, April 8, 1908.

This week marks the official start of Bike Month in Toronto, which provides an opportunity to look at how cycles were marketed a century ago.

For a decade on either side of the turn of the 20th century, bicycle manufacturers maintained an advertising presence in city newspapers similar to current automakers. Pitches ranged from elegant vehicle styling to thrift, as this attack on tossing your money away on money-grubbing public transit systems demonstrates. The tone is familiar to those caught in the argument over renting versus buying a condo/home.

A century later, Mr. Holdup would take his victim’s bicycle and quickly turn it over to a shady dealer in exchange for more cash than a run-of-the-mill stick-up might net. Whether he would show more decorum in flashing the crime weapon is debatable.

Canada Cycle & Motor Company was formed in September 1899 as an amalgamation of several bicycle makers, including a branch of the Massey-Harris manufacturing empire. A glut of bicycles on the market at the time led to the demise of many smaller makers, quickly placing CCM in a dominant position.

By 1905, with the bicycle market still at saturation point, CCM entered into two side businesses. While their foray into the automobile market with the Russell lasted a decade, ice skates would prove far more lucrative.

A new plant for bicycle production was built in Weston in 1912, and remained in operation until the combination of a strike and bankruptcy saw the last model roll off the line 70 years later. The bicycle and hockey lines were split between different buyers from Quebec and all production shifted east.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

A week later (June 3, 2008) this follow-up Vintage Ad post was published.

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Toronto Star, May 13, 1899.

Further proof of the modesty employed in late 19th century advertising. Call this a prequel to last week’s featured ad, as Welland Vale was one of the bicycle manufacturers whose line was amalgamated into CCM later on in the year this was published. Originally a manufacturer of wagon wheels when the company started in the 1860s, Welland Vale also produced hand tools and farm implements. After divesting its bicycle line and the wagon wheel market dried up with the rise of automated transportation, Welland Vale moved into the automotive rubber-coated fabric business, evolving into Cambridge-based Canadian General-Tower Ltd.