Cyclists arrive along Bloor Street, east of Avenue.
Earlier this afternoon, hundreds of cyclists converged on the stretch of Bloor Street West outside of the Sephora where, two nights previous, bike courier Darcy Allan—Al—Sheppard was killed. Many had just come from a mass ride that had started on Bloor at 5 p.m., picking up the crowd of about one hundred cyclists waiting at Bay and Bloor, and another crowd waiting at Bloor and Yonge, before riding together down Yonge, then along Queen, then back up University, escorted and gently directed by bike cops the whole journey.
Outside Sephora, a man strummed “Wish You Were Here” on guitar, as news media and mourners gathered around the flowers and Post-it notes and scraps of paper and newspapers and candles placed around and on the tree and mailbox that Sheppard was slammed into before he lost his grip and slipped under the rear wheels of the car that killed him. Running along the south edge of the road were Take the Tooker‘s handmade bike lanes, the same strips that they had used on almost the same stretch of Bloor a year and a half ago, an attempt to demonstrate then just how important bike lanes were on Bloor. One woman’s small handwritten sign read “Justice for Al.”
Above: cyclists wait at Bay and Bloor, where the protest was scheduled to start. Below: the pack makes its way along Bloor.
Rob Anderson stood near the curb. A self-described “acquaintance” of Sheppard’s for about a year and, for thirteen years now, a bike courier in Toronto himself, Anderson told us about the Al he knew: “a good guy, really happy-go-lucky guy,” a guy who “didn’t deserve to die, didn’t do anything bad.” What happened to Al was a surprise to Rob—the “level of violence” is like nothing he’s seen in all his time being a courier, though he says he’s the type that avoids confrontation (“I’m a diplomat, or I run away”). “A tiger doesn’t lower himself to fight with a worm, that’s the kind of way I look at it: ‘you’re an asshole, bye.’ I’ve got things to do, I gotta make deliveries, not get into a fight with some guy I don’t know or care about.”
Others we talked to hadn’t been so lucky.
Rosanne Keen, who came to the protest at 5 p.m. at Bay and Bloor, didn’t join it when the group took off together on the mass ride that would precede the gathering further west. She doesn’t bike anymore, because she’s been in too many accidents. She thinks that, downtown, cars are superfluous, and need to be taken off the roads altogether. “Somebody’s got to do something,” she told us. “Someone prominent, that has the balls to say—it’s almost like you need a dictatorship, because nobody’s gonna say it, nobody’s gonna say…’okay, no cars in the downtown,’ because nobody’s gonna vote for them. This is the whole problem. It’s all about votes and it’s all about politics. And that’s why I’m afraid nothing will change.”
Arthur Y, who wouldn’t give his full last name, waited at Bay and Bloor, too; a year and a half ago, he was the victim of a hit and run as he turned left at Queen Street East and River Street, an accident that—when the driver slammed into him and his bike from behind—broke his neck and would have killed him if not for his helmet, though it left him quadriplegic and in a wheelchair for six months. (He’s out of his wheelchair now, but still has “a lot of defects,” and plenty of issues with the right side of his body.)
Above: along Yonge, near Dundas. Below: the cyclists pass Tamil protestors on University.
In spite of the massive number of cyclists, Bloor was never fully closed on Wednesday night. As the crowd of cyclists grew, the available lanes for cars shrunk and shrunk and shrunk, down to one westbound lane at one point, until a wailing ambulance was let through at about 6:10, pushing one more lane open, and police began to shut the protest down at 6:20 to cries of “shame,” in spite of the event that preceded it being yet another example of a protest that saw mostly cooperation between participants and police. By 6:45, three lanes, including one eastbound, were back open.
Earlier, we’d found Yvonne Bambrick, executive director of the Toronto Cyclists’ Union, in the middle of the crowd. “He certainly won’t die in vain,” she told us, just after much of the crowd had raised their bikes over their heads in unison. “It’s allowed us to have a massive national discussion about the rights and responsibilities of everyone to share the road safely and the need to incorporate cyclists into the mix. We pay the same taxes as everybody else, and lots of us are drivers too. We’re all humans and we all deserve to be accommodated in our own transportation system.”
Above: cyclists turn back onto Bloor, routed by police officers. Below: bikes raised in unison.
“What we’ve been advocating and will continue to advocate,” Bambrick explained, “is for the meaningful integration of cyclists and bicycles into our transportation network, into our shared public space—so that means bike lanes that not only allow people to move through the core but that allow people to come into the core from the suburbs,” and, in the suburbs, where speeds are higher and roads wider, lanes that are physically separated.
As a trumpet played by Communist’s Daughter bartender and New Kings band member Michael Johnson swelled up a few feet away, Bambrick continued. What’s needed is not just infrastructure, but “public education, for both cyclists and drivers, about the fact that we belong on the roads, that we have a right to use the lanes.” “One of the key components to culture shift,” she explained, is better and increased public communications, though the city’s budget for its bike plan provides for no such action. “We’re going from bikes [being] perceived as recreational to a really amazing way to move through the city. It’s a transportation mode that more and more people are choosing and we need to accommodate it and acknowledge it. We’re just starting to get into that shift. Change is hard, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do it. It’s not a question of if but how.”
All photos by Andrew Louis/Torontoist.