Scott Butler, Ontario Good Roads Association, is working toward making streets better for all road users
I ran into Scott Butler, Head of Public Policy of Government relations for Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA.) He manages of policy and research, which involves advocating for capital investment, fiscal reform and public policy that advances municipal infrastructure. I thought Scott had a unique perspective of what it is like to cycle in Guelph, and was interested in his thoughts on how to improve infrastructure for those who are interested in alternative forms of transportation.
I case you are curious, OGRA came about in the 1870 as a social justice union of farmers and cyclists. Farmers had access to surplus harvest. They couldn’t get it to market and were looking for roads to be improved. Cyclists needed roads as well; they were advocating for hard surfaces. These two groups were instrumental in getting the Ontario Good Roads Association founded in 1894.
Today 432 out of 444 Ontario municipalities are members.
Why is riding a bike important to you?
On the most basic level it’s enjoyable. There is something carefree about it compared to others forms of transportation. It can be quick and leisurely at the same time. I grew up where there was no public transportation, no taxis, so biking was a form of freedom for me.
More broadly, however, there is a social responsibility aspect. The most socially progressive cities are those that most warmly embrace and use active transportation. Show me the things that a community doesn’t make money on, such as libraries, parks and bike paths, and I’ll show how successful that city is. How you choose to get around in the city and how the city accommodates different forms of transportation is a barometer of your city’s quality of life.
Where do you go on the bike?
Downtown. I also tend to lead a blossoming caudry of neighbourhood kids that are becoming bicycling vigilantees that ride in the bike lane and on city streets.
As a family, we bike downtown and to the farmers market. As long as it’s mildly temperate, we cycle wherever we go. It takes about as long as driving when going downtown, when taking parking into account.
When do you use the car?
To and from work and when shepherding kids to and from their activities.
What is the hardest thing about using the bike for transportation?
It’s the entitled jackasses in cars and on bikes. It’s that lack of mutual respect. Canadians are able to accommodate everything else but for a lot us when we are suddenly put in car or on a bike, it is like our brains are magically transported back to the tribalism of 19th century Europe.
Furthermore, there is a cultural norm that the typical cyclist is a “MAMIL” (middle aged men in lycra). That stereotype is predicated on gender. The idea that cyclists are male is a real problem. The idea that cyclists ride a $5000 bike, decked out in racing gear as if getting ready for next tile trial at the Tour de France is problematic, especially since most people are just looking to get to work or meeting friends for a beer.
This kind of image is a deterrent for getting more people on bikes. If we want to get more bums in saddles – and that should be a goal of our local governments – we have to make sure that the norm is going from A to B, doing ordinary activities like going shopping, while wearing regular clothes, and not needing a racing bike.
What do you say when people say that driving is safer than biking?
If you look at it from an actuarial point of view it is not more dangerous or safer than other forms of transportation. On its own cycling is about as safe as walking. A study from out of Denmark found that a typical Dane would have to bike for 2800 years before suffering a head injury.
Do you find yourself trying to convert non-cyclists or recreational cyclists to everyday cycling?
Yes. as a form of public policy.
When I started at OGRA, we scanned what sort of legislation we were going to get involved with. The first time there was a private member’s bill (to encourage building cycling infrastructure) seven years ago, I thought that we should comment on it and say that we will pursue it. The board of directors was surprised that I brought it forward. I kept giving reasons that it was a good idea. Seven years later, the board of directors now have that ex-smoker mindset, where they are the most ardent champions of what they once opposed.
The communities that would have been resistant years ago are now the ones that put the capital into trail networks, etc., and have recognized a benefit. Now the other communities are getting on board.
When we get to a point where someone becomes dogmatic about the need to maintain the status quo, we remind them streets are made to move people for one place to another, not one modality over the other.
Rob Ford made it into a left/right issue at the same time that Boris Johnson, right wing mayor of London, was putting in miles of bike lanes. Luckily the new mayor, Sadiq Khan is also investing in billions worth of cycling infrastructure.
It’s just a cultural shift. Look at Calgary and Edmonton. They have councils from the 21st century and effective leaders. They are doing what they should be doing for their constituents. You don’t think of them as being socially conscious but they are. They are aiming generational investments in public facilities (libraries, active transportation infrastructure) and making massive investments in transit.
Here in Guelph, it is just rhetoric.
What needs to happen in Canada to make the culture, and eventually the roads, more bike friendly?
Money. Lots of it.
You also need more people in roles of leadership in the bureaucratic as well as elected pushing to make investments widespread.
What is the best part of your commute?
Old University area as well as the University campus, including walkways and plazas. It’s enjoyable to ride there because there are no cars there.
What infrastructure change would make your commute better?
Better infrastructure at intersections can help. Putting in properly redesigned roadways, usually called Complete Streets.
Streets are designed to take into account vehicular traffic, active transportation, pedestrians, mother nature. Currently, we get 2 or 2 ½ of these requirements, but not all 4. If you have a row of trees it delineates where everyone belongs.
Take Gordon Street in the south end, for example. Narrow the lanes. The narrower the lane the slower the people drive, and the safer it is. Move both of those lanes to one side of the street and segregate them. And can we do it so that it is not ugly?
Name the top 5 five things you think people get out of everyday cycling?
- Physical fitness. We all know that we are supposed to be active during the day.
- Convenience. It’s easy to hop on and off a bike, not having to worry about parking.
- Fun. Its evocative of being young and free.
- The more people are out of cars the greater impact on Co2 emissions, as well as durability on lifestyle performance on the road. The bike has no wear and tear on roads so it is important to make those investments. They pay for themselves over time.
- Congestion has become a real problem in our cities and bicycles can help reduce it.
What do you think you and your kids get out of riding as a family?
The much needed physical activity. Also, it helps instill a bit of independence that they can get around on their own.
How did you come to your current bike set-up? How does it work?
I ride an Evo Men’s High Life Crusier. It is black with 32 inch allow wheel. It is absolutely massive and looks like something you would see in Amsterdam. I got it new at Backpeddling. In fact, I bought the second one ever sold in Canada.
What bit of advice would you like to share with new bike commuters?
Keep doing it! Keep alert. I would tell them to organize the way CAA is organized. We need a strong cohesive voice to move that forward. We should be far enough in civilization in the 21st century to take all modalities into account.