Every City Needs a Bike Mayor

Tales from a ride with Toronto's bike mayor.

Lanrick Bennett on the Bentway
Lanrick Jr. Bennett.

Lloyd Alter

Lanrick Jr. Bennett holds a unique title in Toronto: bicycle mayor. He led a Halloween Kidical Mass ride recently, which I attended with my daughter, son-in-law, their two dogs, and my granddaughter. I did not know that Toronto had a bicycle mayor; I surely would have voted for him in an election.

The bicycle mayor program is run by BYCS, an Amsterdam-based global NGO that believes "bicycles transform cities and cities transform the world." 

"We dream of an urban future in which half of all city trips are by bicycle by the end of the decade. To help achieve this, we facilitate the development of a bicycle culture in cities across the world, guided by this bold mission that we call 50X30. Our work is rooted in the belief that bicycles provide more than efficient and sustainable transportation. Whether it is to attain gender-fair cities, decrease urban inequality, improve community health, foster neighbourhood economies or ensure urban resilience, the bicycle is a powerful tool for societal transformation."
On the Bentway

Lloyd Alter

Standing in the weird but wonderful Bentway, a park built under an elevated expressway, Bennett tells Treehugger how he got the prestigious and powerful position. "BYCS [has] 150 bicycle mayors across the world," says Bennett. "And through a few friends putting in some really nice letters of encouragement, BYCS offered me a two-year term as an advocate here in the city of Toronto, becoming the first bicycle mayor of the city."

Bennett says he is boosting the work being done to make cycling more mainstream in Toronto. "I think it's I think the wonderful thing about the bicycle mayor being this piece is I get to amplify work that's already being done," he says. "I am giving a bit more exposure to the great work that has allowed me to be able to ride a bike throughout the city. It's getting better, we're seeing more infrastructure, and we're seeing more want for people to not depend on cars as their primary piece. There's still a lot of work to do. But I'm part of a fantastic group thus far."

Bennett's goal is representation. "One of my big pieces is, I'd like to see more people that look like me be on bikes. So having more BIPOCs feel comfortable, feel safe on our streets," he says.

"Toronto, of course, like many urban centers, has a bit—a lot—of friction with our police. And when it comes to bicycling in a city with a police force, it becomes a bit dicey. So I'd like the conversations to start to broaden with our police force to recognize this," says Bennett. "I'm not going to put this in the most delicate way: I don't call it a police service. I call it a police force because that's what it is. And that's how it is. That's how people see it. And when you're on a bike, you're a vulnerable road user. And to know that as a person of color, being on such a vulnerable piece of equipment. So that's one piece of my mayorship."

Bennett's other goal is to make cycling safe and accessible for children. He explains, "The other piece is getting more kids to be feeling comfortable riding to school, riding to a library, riding to the park, where we can push the city to create an infrastructure that allows for you to be able to safely allow your child to ride on their own. As much as it's great to be able to ride with your kids, I want to see there a timeframe where an 11-year-old can easily ride to their school without having to worry or having their parents worried."

Larrick and Robin
Lanrick Jr. Bennett (L), Robin Richardson (R), and a pretty Gazelle bike (center).

Lloyd Alter

If Bennett is the bicycle mayor, then co-organizer Robin Richardson is the unofficial e-bike ambassador, an activist who runs the wonderfully named Happy Fiets with her fleet of Terns and electric Bromptons. She tells Treehugger, "Electric bikes can be used for just about anything you would hop in the car to do, with the benefit that traffic is a non-issue and parking is a breeze. Save money, time, and stress by choosing to bike instead of drive—and sleep well, knowing you’re reducing your greenhouse gases and contributing to a vibrant community in your city."

Fleet of bikes On the Bentway

Lloyd Alter

We have talked about the Cambrian Explosion of e-bike designs and their growing popularity; it was on display here, where the only "normal" bicycle was ridden by one of the kids. The rest were Bennett on a Tern, two Gazelle e-bikes, two Bromptons, a Black Iron Horse cargo bike, and the icing on the cake, a Quattrovelo recumbent.

two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in a cargo bike
Maggie and Rosie.

Lloyd Alter

In an interview with Momentum Magazine, Bennett said, “Every person in this city, whether they’re a child, a senior citizen, a person with disabilities, a delivery worker or anyone else, should be able to safely and comfortably use a bike for transit year-round throughout our city." Puppies Maggie and Rosie would like to note that they should be able to ride safely too.