Cyclists rally downtown to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement

Hundreds of cyclists rallied in Nathan Phillips Square on Friday to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

BIKEPOC, short for Bicycling Person of Colour, calls on city to diversify cycling infrastructure

Toronto cyclists, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter — Toronto, hold a rally and mass bike ride to call on the city and province to end systemic racism and defund the police. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Hundreds of cyclists rallied in Nathan Phillips Square on Friday to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Since the 1990s, Toronto cycling advocates have held what they call Critical Mass demonstrations, usually on the last Friday of the month, to demand safer streets for cyclists.

Cyclists often take over streets, occupy intersections and disrupt traffic as they show the strength of their numbers. At this demonstration, called Critical Mass: Bike for BLMTO, the focus of the rally was solidarity with Black Lives Matter - Toronto. Following the rally, the cyclists rode through city streets.

Keiren Alam, an organizer of the rally, said a diverse group of people use bicycles for commuting and recreation and the city needs to keep that in mind when it builds cycling infrastructure. Alam is a founder of BIKEPOC, short for bicycling Person of Colour, a group that encourages people of colour to feel comfortable bicycling.

"A bike is a tool of freedom, whether it's for transportation or mental health. And it needs to be prioritized. And the city needs to realize that," Alam told CBC Toronto.

Keiren Alam, founder of BIKEPOC, a group that encourages people of colour to feel comfortable bicycling, is one of the organizers of the Critical Mass ride in support of Black Lives Matter - Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Alam says she would like to see more bike lanes in marginalized areas of the city, more bike hubs where people can learn to do their own repairs, and more bicycling programs to encourage more people to cycle.

She said cycling infrastructure, such as bike lanes and bike-share docking stations, are usually located in whiter, wealthier neighbourhoods and is often a byproduct of gentrification. 

Vision Zero, the city's plan to increase road safety, relies too much on enforcement, which Black Lives Matter Toronto says disproportionately targets Black people, she said.

"I'm always getting yelled for taking up a lane if I need to, or like even just riding along the streets, and that shouldn't be the case," she said.

Sabat Ismail, a cycling instructor, a bike mechanic and an urban planner with a passion for what she calls connected communities, recently sent Cycle Toronto some advice on how to support BIPOC communities marginalized in public space. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

Sabat Ismail, a cycling instructor, a bike mechanic and an urban planner who advocates for what she calls connected communities, said cyclists in the city are from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, but cycling advocates tend to be mainly white and middle class in Toronto.

"I'd like to see cycling advocates use the social capital that they have to help us get our basic needs met," Ismail said.

Ismail recalls being yelled at by a woman as she cycled across a bridge in the winter.

"And she was like, 'Well, you don't look like a professional.'

"Who fits the archetype of a cyclist people have in their heads?" Ismail said.

A Black Lives Matter sign is connected to a bicycle at the rally in Nathan Phillips Square. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

According to a Facebook post, the aim of the rally was "to assemble a critical mass of cyclists in support of BLMTO, their demands, and that of our community partners working to end systemic racism in Toronto and to Defund the Police."

Organizers said in the post they wanted to: "Strengthen awareness of and solidarity with the goals of BLMTO among the cycling community and highlight the ways in which those goals align with those of cyclists, generally as citizens of Toronto and specifically, as a group the Toronto Police have also failed."

They also wanted to demand that the city defund the police, the province look to defund the Ontario Provincial Police, amend the Police Services Act to give the city more control over the Toronto police, and find alternatives to policing when it comes to cycling.



Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC National News

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with three decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for the National Network based in Toronto. His stories are on CBC Radio's World Report, World This Hour, World at Six and The World This Weekend as well as CBC TV's The National and CBC News Online. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.