By Ai Y ≈ ≈ ≈
[two photographs combined that shows people cycling in the Moss Park neighbourhood in late January and early February] photographed and edited by Ai Y
The Moss Park neighbourhood is in the centre of many cycling routes of downtown Toronto. The image below illustrates the cycle tracks (in green), bike lanes (in red), and the shared roadways of the neighbouring community (in blue). Cycling infrastructure is important to the streetscape for all age groups, as it fosters active transport (Stewart, 2017), in addition to physical and leisurely activities (Cain et al., 2014; Johnson & Marko, 2008). The walkability (Zuniga-Teran, 2017) in this neighbourhood or the flat and smooth sidewalks on both sides of the road also eases the ways in which people with strollers, and folks who use mobility devices to navigate this neighbourhood. Built environments influence the many ways that the space can be used for people who are passing through to visit the neighbourhood, as well as for commuters to return to their abode –physical environment affects the quality of life through the variety of options one has (Williams, 2013; Pietilä, 2015). Thus, I will illuminate the ways that place/space is a social determinant of health through discussions on bike-ability.
[map and legend of Cycle Track, Bike Lane, and Shared Roadway paths in the Moss Park neighbourhood] Map retrieved from here, image edited by: Ai Y
What is a Cycle Track? Cycle Tracks are a cyclist-only/separate lane on the peripheries of the road that is elevated to the sidewalk level, separate from the vehicular traffic (City of Toronto, 2017). This allows cyclists to safely ride their bike without motor vehicles parking on a cyclist’s lane. Although it is safe for the cyclists, during our fieldwork, there were instances when electric/motorized scooters used their horn to alert us, while they rode very closely to the sidewalk on the cycle track. This could potentially be threatening for pedestrians.
[two images of the Cycle Track on Sherbourne Street with a TTC bus passing by, which shows how the vehicle is on a level lower than the sidewalk level] photographed and edited by Ai Y
On the other hand, a bike symbol and a solid white line, which motor vehicles cannot pass, separate Bike Lanes from the vehicular traffic (cycleto, n.d.). Some Bike Lanes may have a short white collapsible bollard on every few metres of the line. This poses potential dangers on the road, such as cars parking in a Bike Lane (since Bike Lanes are not physically separated from motor vehicles), and car doors opening in a cyclist’s path.
[a combination of two pictures that show the Bike Lane on both the North and South sides of Gerrard Street, by Allan Gardens] photographed and edited by Ai Y
Built environment play a role both directly and indirectly to cycling as a tool to “health.” Direct impacts can be seen as the material or physical effects that space has to one’s health. This would include constructing the public space as a means to steer through the city, and reduction of air pollution (Macintyre et al., 2002; Nieuwenhuijsen & Khreis, 2016). The Cycle Tracks that run down Sherbourne Street (between Bloor and King St), and across Wellesley and King, open up the accessibility to the neighbourhood from different directions. The path connectivity is evident by the ways that the cycle routes intersect and connect to other paths that lead to destinations (Johnson & Marko, 2008). The bike lane that runs across Gerrard, and Shuter Street brings commuters to green spaces (Allan Gardens and Moss Park) that are central to the Moss Park neighbourhood, and foster “health” (Lachowycza & Jones, 2013). The provision of safe roads for cyclists removes a roadblock that may have once interfered with the formation of communities, and allow people to safely mobilize through the city in an environmentally friendly manner.
Indirect impacts relate to social practices of and within the neighbourhood (Macintyre et al., 2002). This includes the ways that promotes cycling through this neighbourhood, and the representations of this neighbourhood through different means such as media outlets (this is discussed in another post). As there are many social services located in the Moss Park neighbourhood, this space becomes more accessible by considering cycling as a form of transportation.
Bike Share Toronto is a bike rental program available 24/7 (overseen by Toronto Parking Authority) that is located in many parts of the city, including one at Moss Park and in Allan Gardens. Through payments on a credit or debit card, one can ride by purchasing a Day Pass for $7, Three-Day Pass for $15, and an Annual Membership for $90. The pass price validates half-an-hour of cycling, and then there are extra charges for additional cycling time (in other words, one can ride as much as they want, as long as the bike is checked into a Bike Share kiosk every 30 minutes to avoid extra charge). Also, upon a purchase of a pass, a $101 security deposit hold is placed on the renter’s debit or credit card, and a stolen bike is $1200 (+tax).
[photograph of a Toronto Bike Share docking terminal in Moss Park] photographed and edited by Ai Y
Although this program can be convenient, as the number of the kiosks in downtown Toronto is growing, the limitations of the Bike Share includes the requirement of said payment methods and funds in order to rent a bike. The placement of the bike share program in Moss Park is a way to bring people into the neighbourhood, and to attract people who partake in Bike Share to explore the place. However, the social and economical implications of Bike Share within this space is also a sign of gentrification creeping into the once seen as desolate and “rough” neighbourhood.
Safe cycling plays an important role in the transit choices people make and have available to them. Thinking critically about gentrification, I often ponder about who is benefitting from the changes in the urban landscape. These cycling routes and infrastructure are based on research and public consultation, however the routes are strategically spaced. Drawing from Billingham’s (2015) discussion, I can also imagine the ways that gentrifying neighbourhoods, like Moss Park, can also influence the location of new transit lines or options for transit. The middle-class culture is spatialized in a way that caters their desires, and their input in the “transformation” of the neighbourhood.
Articulated by Macintyre et al. (2002), the place and space of where you reside matters for “health,” although not as much as whom you are. Further reading, research, and reexamination of context (structural level) and composition (individual level) of geographic variation in health are needed to expand our understanding of health and place/space (Macintyre et al., 2002). When looking at the cityscape as data, I urge you to challenge, and negotiate the effects of gentrification.
Billingham, Chase. M. (2015). The broadening conception of gentrification: Recent developments and avenues for future inquiry in the sociological study of urban change. Michigan Sociological Review, 29(Fall 2015), 75-102.
Cain et al. (2013). Contribution of streetscape audits to explanation of physical activity in four age groups based on the Microscale Audit of Pedestrian Streetscapes (MAPS). Social Science & Medicine,116, 82-92.
Johnson S, Marko J. Designing Healthy Places: Land use planning and public health. Environments. 2008;35(3):9-19.
Lachowycza, Kate. & Jones, Andy P. (2013). Towards a better understanding of the relationship between greenspace and health: Development of a theoretical framework. Landscape and urban planning, 118, 62-69.
Macintyre S, Ellaway A, Cummins S. (2002). Place effects on health: how can we conceptualise, operationalise and measure them? Social Science and Medicine. 55(1), 125-39.
Nieuwenhuijsen, Mark J. & Khreis, Haneen. (2016). Car free cities: Pathway to healthy urban living. Environment international, 94, 251-262.
Pietilä, Miisaa. (2015). Relationships between exposure to urban green spaces, physical activity and self-rated health. Journal of outdoor recreation and tourism, 10, 44-54.
Stewart, Tom., Duncan, Scott., & Schipperijn, Jasper. (2017). Adolescents who engage in active school transport are also more active in other contexts: A space-time investigation. Health & place, 43, 25-32.
Williams, Lisa Marie. (May, 2013). Between health and place: Understanding the built environment. Wellesley Institute, May. Toronto, ON.
Zuniga-Teran, Adriana A., et al. (2017). Designing healthy communities: Testing the walkability model. Frontiers of architectural research,6(1), 63-73.