Feel like you haven’t read one of my blogs in a while? Well, it wasn’t your imagination because I’m just returning from parental leave! I enjoyed the chance to be primary care giver even though the global COVID-19 pandemic made for a different parental leave than I was expecting. The first months of isolation were difficult. As we know, it takes a village to raise a child, but she only had me for the most part. At the end of May, there was a distinct turning point: I purchased a bike (what, you thought I wouldn’t be blogging about bikes during bike month??). Interestingly, despite my longstanding support for cycling, this is the first time I have ever purchased a bike! For the last decade plus I had solely relied on either rollerblading or Bike Share Toronto. While Bike Share is great, I now often have a different type of cargo that those bikes aren’t able to carry.

My new bike! Pro tip: if carrying child on back, step through design is key.

Why was the bike a game changer during parental leave? It opened up so much more of the City for us to explore (without resorting to lugging around 3000 pounds of climate polluting steel and plastic). All of a sudden, instead of being confined to a couple of nearby parks, we could check out all sorts of unique outdoor places Toronto has to offer. We went hiking at Tommy Thompson Park on the Leslie Street Spit, checked out the turtle ponds at the Evergreen Brickworks, explored the downtown ravines, learned about animals at Riverdale Farm, lounged on the beach, and played at many new parks. Hauling a 25lb kid all over was also a good way to stave off “dad bod” temporarily. Around the same time I got the bike, the City started to install additional bike lanes in response to COVID-19 so all of these destinations became accessible without having to brave Toronto’s hostile streets.

Cycling to UHN

But cycling is more than just a parental leave leisure activity. Thanks to the new bike lane installations on University Ave, Bloor/Danforth, and elsewhere, cycling is potentially the best way for many UHNers to get to and from work during the pandemic. As a person who biked to work all last winter on a street with no protection for cyclists, I have to say the constant threats from motorists and hyper vigilance required to stay safe took a cumulative mental toll over time. While cycling is typically enjoyable, I began to view the commute with a sense of dread and impending doom, arriving to and from work with nerves shot. People shouldn’t be forced to contemplate physical and mental safety when deciding whether to commute by bike and it’s no surprise few people are willing to make that sacrifice. With these safer routes in place it becomes a viable option for many more people (including my wife, who is making good use of my Bike Share membership).

EDIT: The section of Bloor between Sherbourne and Avenue Rd is patchwork at best. Extreme caution should be exercised there until the City corrects deficiencies. A decent alternate route from the East would be to take Sherbourne and Gerrard.

New bike lanes installed during COVID-19 Pandemic
New bike lanes are partially protected from motor vehicles

Naturally, more routes are needed to connect other parts of the City and further safety improvements are necessary to prevent drivers from blocking the lanes and to protect cyclists at intersections, but this is a huge first step in legitimizing cycling as a form of transit in Toronto. Here is a friendly reminder that protected cycling infrastructure benefits all road users. I hope many UHNers are taking full advantage if you are able.

Health Benefits of a Cycle Commute

During my parental leave, I came across a recent study in the Lancet that has shown that a cycle commute leads to significant long term (25 year study duration) health benefits, including a reduction in overall mortality of 20% compared to commuting in a motor vehicle. 20%!! Imagine if a drug came out that reduced mortality by 20% – well, it exists, and all you have to do is ride a bike to work regularly (note, walking and taking transit also yielded health benefits over driving, albeit not as big a benefit as cycling). The health benefits of a cycle commute appear to vastly outweigh the dangers and those dangers are slowly being reduced in Toronto. Hopefully, tying back to my return from parental leave, that means I’ll be increasing my odds of sticking around much longer to spend even more time with my kid in the future. Let’s also not forget to mention that leaving the gas guzzler at home has many further health benefits.

We can improve our own health while cycling to our jobs at UHN, where we work to improve other peoples’ health. And that really turns my crank (dad jokes, enabled).