April 15th , 2011 not only kicks off “Earth Week” (which really is every week) but brought together cyclists from all three UHN hospitals for our 2nd annual Cycling Town Hall.  This event has been very well received over the last two years so I am sure it will become a regular meeting place for pro and novice cyclists alike in the years ahead. 

Last year we had Dr. Chris Cavacuiti (Family Doctor) from St. Mike’s speak about an array of research findings directly related to cycling safety and infrastructure.  All those papers can be accessed from www.sharetheroad.ca

This year we had three UHN physicians speak about recent research they have been part of looking at linkages between cycling, health and the environment.  Are you shocked to learn that the linkages are getting more and more obvious?

Dr. Chapman

Dr. Kenneth Chapman (Respirologist) started the morning off with insights from his own personal cycling experience. There were many heads in the audience nodding in agreement when he said “cycling into work just makes the day start off better”.  If you have never started your day with a bike ride then you don’t know what you are missing.  Coming to work energized, clear-headed and smiling does wonders for your outlook and productivity.  Not to mention the people around you who notice immediately, as Dr. Chapman mentioned in his talk. 

But Dr. Chapman’s story was not totally personal – it is his ongoing research about traffic, pollution and respiratory illness that makes a very attractive case for moving away from our fossil fuel dependant mode of transport and toward more human-powered modes.  His research actually has found that where there is more traffic, contributing to poor air quality, there is increased lung and heart disease as well as mortality.  Yep, the black smoke billowing from exhaust pipes is bad for you and everyone else on the planet.  However, everyone not on a bike just gets the dose of smoke.  Cyclists at least get the tremendous benefits of biking which can actually prolong your life while helping to reduce the overall amount of black smoke.

By the way Dr. Chapman did not recommend wearing a mask while riding.  He said that some of the most harmful products in the smoke are gases and no mask can protect you from those.

Dr. Fishers talk
Dr. Fisher

Dr. Joe Fisher (Anesthesiologist) brought us all a no-nonsense guide to just getting on your bike and doing it.  A seasoned all-weather cyclist he had many tips and tricks for making any ride comfortable.  If you are going to be serious about commuting you need a rack for panniers.  Don’t do all that extra heavy lifting  he said when you have a bike just waiting to help.  Lights, lock, mud flaps, proper clothing and Gortex for the rain are all a must.  Helmuts still a good idea but riders reaction time is even more important to prevent injuries. Dr. Fisher is not a fan of the tinkle, tinkle bell.  He has a horn that lets off a blast that will warn anyone in a 10 km radius you are coming.  His advice, buy them for your friends who you don’t want to see dead. 

Dr. Moller

The last speaker was Dr. Henry Moller (Psychiatrist) who recently finished a report for the City of Toronto called “Complete Streets for Toronto: Promoting Health Through Active Transportation”.  This is where we cyclists start to untangle the complex distribution of limited road ways.  The thing is, if space was allocated so that all modes had a fair piece of the pie we would all be better off.  The current car/transit dominated roads and people dominated sidewalks leaves cyclists decidedly homeless.  So as you might expect Toronto has one of the worst cyclist collision rates in Canada.  As Dr. Moller explained if you were to take the Complete Streets approach, balancing health, social factors, safety and economics you would get cities that:

  • reduce collisions and injuries
  • reduce obesity, diabetes, heart disease
  • improve air quality, lower carbon emissions
  • improve mental health and social wellbeing
  • be more inclusive
  • reduce overall healthcare costs
It is not just Dr. Moller’s research either – he mentioned a list of international organizations looking at similar topics.  World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control for another. Could any self-respecting politician or citizen continue to say that the benefits gained from Complete Streets can be ignored?  Well, I am sure we could all think of one or two but we have to start somewhere.
Cycling Town Hall


The audience had lots of thoughtful and intelligent comments and questions for our panel and without doubt the dialogue could have carried on much longer.  But task in hand, I still wanted to get to the burning question – What incentives would encourage more staff to cycle to work? 
For many already on their bikes it is the health benefits and freedom cycling provides.  For those not yet convinced there is ample work left to be done.  Bikes have gone under-represented for too long and we are starting to change that at UHN.  Since 2008 we have increased bike parking by almost 200 spaces with an additional 100 -200 in the works.  We have showers available for staff at all sites and perhaps most importantly we have our Cycling Master Plan which ensures that senior decision makers acknowledge and count the cyclists.
The more of us on the road the safer the roads are!  So grab a friend and take a ride, improve your health, protect local air quality, be part of a something larger than each individual and it could possibly be the most fun you have had in a while. 
Ride on!