Hero: Justin Lafontaine
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains of 2007––the people, places, and things that we’ve either fallen head over heels in love with or developed uncontrollable rage towards over the past twelve months. Get your dose, starting Boxing Day and running into the new year, three times a day––sunrise, noon, and sunset.
You know that our transportation system is in dire straits when so many cyclists can get so excited about something as simple as taking a two-hour train ride. Yet get excited that they did when this past summer’s inaugural season of the Bike Train allowed them to take their bikes to Niagara Falls without braving traffic jams on the QEW, fighting for parking spots in Niagara, or feeling guilty for driving the ol’ SUV 150 km each way just to go for a little bike ride along the river.
The Bike Train was the brainchild of Justin Lafontaine, who managed to convince governments, tourism agencies, and VIA Rail to go along with the pilot project that would see a bike rack-equipped baggage car added to the regular Toronto–Niagara Falls train over four weekends this past summer. Cutting through the bureaucracy alone would be a labour worthy of Hercules, but Lafontaine’s work didn’t stop in the office. He also manned the Bike Train table at Union Station before each departure, greeting passengers, answering questions, distributing the day’s tickets, and disbursing maps and cycling information. His day just beginning, he then rode each train between Toronto and Niagara, mingling with the Bike Train passengers, answering more questions, and being far more personable and approachable than anyone should be on a weekend morning. And as if that wasn’t enough, he donned a safety vest upon arrival at Niagara Falls, helping to unload bikes while sporting a broad smile and wishing travellers a good weekend. He then repeated all of the above in reverse for the return trips to Toronto.
It’s rare that someone is willing to do all of the necessary work—from wrestling bureaucrats to public relations to hoisting bikes—to make a project succeed. And succeed it did. Lafontaine says that expansion is on tap for 2008, with an extended season starting in late spring and an additional destination being added to the Bike Train’s schedule.
In ten years, taking bikes on trains anywhere throughout southern Ontario may be so commonplace that we’ll chuckle a little when we look back at the quaint beginnings of the Bike Train in 2007. If so, we’ll have Justin Lafontaine to thank for showing us all what was possible, and doing all the work to make it so.
Photo by Rene and Eileen Mapili, courtesy of Justin Lafontaine.