First impressions can be deceiving.
Two cities: Toronto and Fort Worth. Two mayors: Rob Ford and Betsy Price.
— Toronto, Canada’s largest city, prides itself on being the country’s cultural, entertainment and financial capital. It has the third-largest mass-transit system in North America – after New York and Mexico City. Its population of about 2.6 million is more ethnically diverse than Miami, Los Angeles or New York City, says Wikipedia, citing figures from Statistics Canada.
— Fort Worth, my hometown, boasts that it’s the place “where the West begins” and cherishes its western heritage. “Cowboys and culture” is an unofficial motto. With a population of nearly 758,000, it’s the western anchor of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, an urban area of about 6.5 million. Fort Worth is at the heart of a county – Tarrant — that prides itself on being one of the most Republican in the country. Freeways abound. The car – or, should I say, the pickup — is king. And mass transit is considered by some to be downright socialist.
In fact, the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, is vehemently hostile to bicyclists and has begun removing bike lanes on the grounds that they take up space better used by cars.
Ford was elected mayor on Oct. 25, 2010, by a margin of 47 percent to 35 percent after pledging to end what he calls “the war on the car.”
“It’s no secret,” Ford said as a Toronto city councilman in 2010. “Cyclists are a pain in the ass to motorists.”
“I can’t support bike lanes,” Ford continued. “How many people are riding outside today? We don’t live in Florida. We don’t have 12 months of the year to ride on a bike.
“And what I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks. Sooner or later you’re going to get bitten. And every year we have dozens of people that get hit by cars or trucks. Well, no wonder, roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks, not for people on bikes. My heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”
In the late 1990s, Bicycling magazine named Toronto the best city in North America for cycling. A study in 1999 by the Canadian firm Decima Research showed that 48 percent of Toronto’s residents were cyclists and that 60 percent of households owned bicycles.
Despite bicyclists’ protests against Ford, the mayor seems intent on turning back the clock in Toronto. It’s an example of how a mayor can change the character of a city.
Since her election as mayor on June 18, 2011, Price has used the bicycle as a tool of her office. An avid cyclist for about 25 years, Price has been organizing weekly bicycle rides throughout the city, which she calls “rolling town halls.”
“We started out about four weeks ago with 25 people and last week we had 74 people,” Price, 62, said in a report this morning by the local CBS affiliate, KTVT/Channel 11. “And if you’re brave enough to wear spandex in public, people will come talk to you and tell you all kinds of things.”
“It’s really interesting what people will tell you on a bike,” Price says in a video about her rolling town halls on the city’s website. “Because they get warmed up and they get loose and you feel friendly and accessible. That’s what we want. This is all about being real open and free with the citizens and letting them know we are here, and listening to their issues.”
The city has a comprehensive bicycle transportation plan, Bike! Fort Worth – put in place under Price’s predecessor, Mike Moncrief — and aims to make Fort Worth a bicycle-friendly community in the eyes of the League of American bicyclists by 2015.
Under Price, the city has been busy expanding and improving its fine network of bike trails, mostly along the West and Clear forks of the Trinity River, and has been striping bike lanes on major thoroughfares downtown and those leading into the city center. Price has even directed the installation of showers in City Hall for municipal employees who bike to work.
But it turns out that other U.S. mayors are also getting out and about on bikes and promoting bicycle lanes in their cities.
Bob Davis, editor of the The Anniston Star in Anniston, Ala., and a friend and former colleague on the editorial board at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, wrote a piece for his paper on Monday called “Politics on two wheels.”
Bob, himself a dedicated cyclist, wrote of Betsy Price and the mayors of Ogden, Utah, and Huntsville, Ala., and their efforts to promote cycling.
What a difference a mayor can make in the character of a city!