In the second part of our Bike Month series “Breaking Barriers to Biking presented by MEC” we spoke with Armi De Francia. Armi is the founder of Transportation Equity Toronto, works as the Active Transportation Coordinator for the Town of Ajax, and is the 2020 recipient of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals Public Sector Professional of the Year award.
Armi has been working toward realizing a world where everyone can move about their city in a way that fits their needs, a journey that led her to founding Transportation Equity Toronto. The organization was born out of frustration; for years, Armi had been following online conversations centered around #MoveEquity. These conversations revolve around having the ability to move freely in your community and the intersection of transportation with race, gender, and more. At the time, the discussions were not taking place within the Canadian context. Armi’s journey took her to Detroit for an event run by The Untokening, which is a multiracial collective that centers the lived experiences of marginalized communities to address mobility justice and equity. At the event, Armi found she was not the only Canadian leaving the borders of the country to participate; she made connections there that eventually led to Transportation Equity Toronto taking shape.
Since 2018, Transportation Equity Toronto has hosted and taken part in Canadian-centred discussions around equity and mobility. Armi says that it is good to see the voices of people such as Amina Yasin, Sabat Ismail, and the Women’s Cycling Network listened to more widely, but there is still work to be done; representation can be messy and difficult. Transportation is often approached from the perspective of the privileged leading to stereotypes such as that of cyclists being white cis males whom only use their bikes to race around the streets in lycra. These views and perspectives leave many people’s transportation needs unaccounted for in decision making.
Armi described herself as a “tomboy” in her youth, riding around the streets of Scarborough with her male friends on their bikes. This use of the streets and infrastructure of the city didn’t fit into what planners set them out for; sidewalks were sparse, bike lanes non-existent, and there was seldom anywhere to lock a bike, much less someone to communicate the importance of locking bikes up. At the age of 12 this lack of options led to a close call with a driver, followed shortly after by the theft of Armi’s bike. This experience was discouraging enough that she didn’t pick up regular riding again until she was an adult.
As an adult living in Pickering, Armi sees many of these systemic problems persisting. She rides her bike to and from work but admits that riding in unfamiliar areas and even in many familiar ones is often a challenge. It takes acute local knowledge to navigate streets and locations by bike.
Riding the streets of Pickering with Armi, she proved to me how bikeable the area is. Many important destinations are close enough to ride to and while bike infrastructure is sparse, there are quiet street options if you know where to look. However, finding a place to park your bike amidst the oceans of car parking lots can still be difficult. My conversations with Armi put into perspective that the decisions that result in people being unaccounted for don’t happen in a vacuum where someone thinks “No one bikes so we shouldn’t put in a bike rack / lane.” It more often comes from a place where someone thinks “The type of person that bikes would never shop here, so we shouldn’t put in a bike rack / lane.” Armi is helping to overcome this in cycling and other forms of mobility through Transportation Equity Toronto, her other work, and the simple act of riding her bike in spite of the challenges it presents.
Transportation Equity Toronto is co-hosting a webinar on September 28th to discuss the challenges and opportunities for racial equity in the field of transportation planning, design, and management. You can register here.
Photos by Ry Shissler
Written by Ry Shissler