Cycling initiative wins award

The awards are piling up for an innovative project that came out of East York.

The Bike Train Initiative received its latest accolades, City of Toronto Bicycle Friendly Business Awards, at an event on Jan. 19. The province’s tourism arm and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario have also lauded the group.

“We’ve been really fortunate to be recognized by both the community and different industry groups,” said the group’s founder, Justin Lafontaine.

The project is a partnership between several organizations including the City of Toronto, Via Rail and Transportation Options to help cyclists to bring their bicycles onto trains bound for popular cycling destinations around the province.

The first pilot route, between Toronto and the Niagara region, opened in the summer of 2007. The Ministry of Transportation provided the initial funding.

“We had great response, we had sold-out trains. Our partners in Niagara and Toronto really saw the big picture and felt that its time had come, this type of initiative,” said Lafontaine.

An avid cyclist himself, Lafontaine said that the purpose is to encourage and help cyclist to explore regions further from home with fitness and tourism in mind, but also to provide a more sustainable transportation option.

“It’s to provide access to the Niagara region and to the city of Toronto to people without having to rely on a car or travel on congested highways,” he said.

Last year the group added a route between Toronto and North Bay, and this year it plans two additional pilot routes: Toronto–Montreal and Toronto–Windsor.

As well as providing an easy way for cyclists to explore the province and beyond, the Bike Train Initiative is also bringing cyclists into the city.

“We’ve seen over the past three years or so an increased number of people from Niagara and the United States who actually bike across the border to Niagara Falls and then take the Bike Train back to Toronto and have a cycling getaway here,” he said.

And many of these visiting cyclists end up in East York, where Lafontaine lived for years before recently moving downtown, and where the organization’s office is located.

He said they are attracted to the area primarily by the Don Valley, which features prominently on a city-made cycling map provided to Bike Train riders.

“I would say it’s the signature East York tourist route, but within East York there’s also several streets that offer bike lanes and enjoyable cycling, like along Cosburn for example,” he said.

As for personal favourites, Lafontane said he’s partial to cruising Sammon Ave.

“I ride it almost every day,” he said. “When you’re riding along there’s always people, you see other cyclists, and people on the sidewalks, families with carriages. It’s a really pleasant street,” he said.

As for the future, Lafontaine said more routes are planned.

“Maybe in the short-term or in the long-term, every train becomes a Bike Train,” he said, adding that in part of Europe and the U.S. that is already the norm.