Last week, Share the Road Cycling Coalition hosted the annual Ontario Bike Summit in Toronto. The two-day event brought professionals, volunteers and elected officials together to talk about improving cycling conditions in Ontario. New design guidelines for bike facilities were discussed and enhancements to the Driver’s Handbook were outlined. We talked about bike-friendly business districts and were wowed by the bike fashion show organized by Momentum Magazine. Among the many ambitious topics covered at the summit was “The Future of Cycling”, which is what exactly?

On hand to share their thoughts were Carole Suarez and Nameh Dhawan, two high school students from the Toronto area. Carole and Nameh attended the summit as representatives of the Advisory Committee for Share the Road’s upcoming Youth Bike Summit. They delivered two presentations that book-ended the summit’s second day. In the morning, they signed the pledge to Ride & Drive with Care alongside Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, the Honourable Glen Murray. They also spoke about why it’s important to encourage young people to ride their bikes.

“I’ve been biking since I was about 5” says Carole. “I’ve noticed that fewer and fewer youth know how to ride a bike properly on busy roads and that some are afraid of biking. I would like more youth to be aware of the benefits of biking and experience that feeling of freedom.”

Carole Suarez and Nameh Dhawan join Minister Murray in signing the pledge to Ride and Drive with Care.

Photo by: Cosette Schulz

In the afternoon, Carole and Nameh were joined by CanadaWalks, Maximum City and Share the Road on a youth-focused panel. Each group presented on projects currently underway to engage youth in cycling.

·         Jacky Kennedy highlighted the low rate of cycling among youth. Less than 1% of students surveyed in Ottawa bike to school, despite 79% of them having access to a bicycle. Of the students who drive, or are driven, to school, 72% live close enough to walk or bike (within 3km).

·         In an effort to change that, the Maximum City program offers students a chance to try cycling as part of the curriculum. After completing a basic cycling workshop and riding their bikes as a group, students feel more confident, and their parents gain peace of mind. Maximum City graduates have been spotted around town on their bikes, and they are often joined by friends that they have convinced to join them on two wheels.

·         Recognizing that most Ontario residents are both cyclists and drivers, Share the Road has launched the Ride & Drive with Care program to educate students on how to safely share the road.

The Ontario Bike Summit provided Carole and Nameh with lots of ideas about what they would like to see at the Youth Bike Summit in October. For Nameh, one of the most important aspects of the summit will be the chance for youth to learn about cycling advocacy and interact with others who are involved. Carole points out how often presenters at the Ontario Bike Summit talked about communication, both between drivers and cyclists, and people and the government and she hopes that it will be a central message during the Youth Bike Summit too.

There is always room for improvement in terms of education and infrastructure, but after meeting Nameh and Carole, and learning about the youth-focused projects underway in Ontario, it feels like the future of cycling will be very bright.