Spin into Action with Mike McConnell from AECOM Richmond Hill

By: Samantha Maurice

Ferris Bueller said it best: “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you might miss it.” 

If you live in or visit the City of Toronto, this statement holds true. 

The City of Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with a population of nearly 6 million. Toronto, or the New York City of Canada, is filled with individuals using different modes of commuting to countless jobs and professional opportunities. With many people bustling around the downtown core, it can become overwhelming for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists to get to their destinations. By implementing infrastructures such as bikes lanes and sidewalks, this can help commuters feel safer and address concerns about making streets safe for all users.

In May 2016, cyclists’ concerns were heard when the municipal government launched the Bloor Street West Bike Lane Pilot Project as part of their ten year cycling plan to expand the City’s cycling network, a pilot project heavily supported by Mayor John Tory. Its purpose was simple: connect the gaps in the existing cycling network, grow the network into new parts of the city, and renew the existing network by improving its quality. 

Flash forward over a year later, and the City of Toronto has recently announced their findings on the Bloor Street West bike lane pilot. According to the study, which concluded in October 2017, over 14,000 online surveys were completed and the results were astounding. The Bloor Street bike lanes saw an average increase in cycling volume of 49% since the June 2016 baseline survey, a 61% decrease in conflicts between cyclists and drivers, and 85% of cyclists stating they felt safe riding on the bike lanes as opposed to the 3% who felt safe cycling on the road the year prior. 

But despite the results, many people who live and work in the downtown core find these bike lanes to be challenging, specifically 57% of drivers and 51% of local business representatives, who stated that they saw a decrease in revenue since the implementation of the bike lanes due to lack of on-street parking. Contrary, there are 77% of drivers and 78% of pedestrians who are in support of these bike lanes to provide a better environment for cyclists with acceptable trade-offs with motorists.

No pilot project is complete without a few speed bumps and hiccups along the way, and the City of Toronto is hearing their concerns and continuing to improve the project to benefit everyone in the downtown core. Whether you’re a commuter in the downtown core or in the GTHA, the implementation of infrastructure that supports sustainable transportation is a necessity moving forward for all Regions. The truth of the matter is simple: everyone will have an opinion but it is the government's responsibility to make the transition for more active transportation and sustainable infrastructure easier for individuals to adjust to and ultimately understand. 

Moving forward, the best way to achieve a better understanding of why sustainability is crucial to a city’s development is to hear from individuals who choose alternate modes of commuting, which is what the Smart Commute MRH program aims to do by offering you stories about real people with real commuting successes and challenges. 

So readers, I present to you our fourth Sustainable Superstar series entry. I had the chance to learn more about Michael McConnell, a Transit Planner from AECOM Richmond Hill, his cycling journey, and the challenges and success he’s learnt along the way. 

Hi Mike. Thanks so much for sharing your cycling story with our readers and myself! So let’s get started. What is your main mode of transportation to get to AECOM Richmond Hill?

Mike McConnell: My main mode of transportation to get to work is cycling. I incorporate cycling into my commute as often as possible but it is dependent on my schedule and weather. This works out to 2-3 times a week.

That’s great that you incorporate cycling into your commute at last 2-3 times a week. How long have you been cycling to work?

MM: I’ve been cycling since high school. So it’s been approximately nine years that I’ve used cycling as my main form of commute. 

And what motivated you to start cycling in the first place?

MM: Cycling is a great source of exercise and it allows me to go outside during the busy days at the office.

From your answer, it’s clear that you have found a great commuting balance and see the benefits that cycling offers you. I know other readers can resonate with that. Does AECOM Richmond Hill offer any cycling amenities that would continue to motivate you to cycle to work? 

MM: My workplace offers bike racks and showering/changing facilities. These incentives are significant reasons as to why I continue to cycle to and from work.

Bike racks and showers are definitely important for cyclists, especially those who cycle as their main form of commute to get to work. In terms of your route, would you be able to share how you get to work?

MM: In my route, I use a mixture of collector side streets and park trails.

It’s great to hear that you use a mixture of side streets and park trails, I think this will be really good for readers who are thinking of trying cycling as a form of commuting to work or readers who are just beginning their cycling journeys. For those individuals, could you share the tips and tricks you learned along the way?

MM: A hard lesson to learn was knowing what to wear for your commute. It is a balance between the weather and your work schedule. Some cool days, I could get away with wearing my work clothes on my bike. Other hot days, I had to wear lighter clothes and get changed. When I needed to change, I had to ensure I was bringing non-wrinkle work clothes to store on my trip. It’s all about finding the right balance and what works best for you. 

And what advice would you give them? 

MM: You have to try it a few times. The best thing I can suggest to do is map your route beforehand and avoid major roads, if you’re not comfortable taking them. Build your confidence with side streets and park trails. 

That’s great advice, I know our readers will take it into consideration! Well Mike, thanks so much for sharing your cycling story with me. Before I let you go, I have one final question. If you could describe your commute in one word, what would it be?

MM: Fun!

Well readers, has Mike’s story inspired you to begin your own cycling journey? Let us know in the comment section below, or send us a message on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Your comment might be featured!

Firstly, I would like to thank Mike McConnell for sharing his cycling story with us and for taking an active part at our Smart Commute Month outreach at AECOM Richmond Hill. Michael, your story is sure to inspire others to try cycling as a mode of commuting. By sharing your story, you are offering another perspective as to why sustainable commuting is easy and accessible if you have the resources and information to do so. 

Secondly, we’d like to thank AECOM Richmond Hill for continuing to support the Smart Commute program at their workplace. By offering amenities to your employees and continuing to participate in Smart Commute MRH programs and projects, you are helping to achieve sustainability in Richmond Hill. Your support does not go unnoticed and for that, we thank you and look forward to working together in the future to keep the momentum going.