It was a cool afternoon when Lucy stepped out of her south Scarborough home offering a bottle of water and wielding a wooden plaque with her engraved name glistening in the golden afternoon sun. The text on the plaque celebrated Lucy Perri for cycling 50,000 kilometers and was awarded by the Canadian Kilometre Achiever Program. In essence, this Scarborough local has biked around the world sharing her passion and enthusiasm for cycling along the way and as she tells it has a lot farther to go to spread the wealth of the cycling lifestyle. Having carried her passion and heritage with her as a young girl from Italy, Lucy sat down with us to talk about her passion and hopes for the future of cycling and urban planning in Toronto.
So what exactly is your involvement in cycling in the city?
I received my first bike when I was four years old and there was a passion about it. Sometimes I asked my mom what made me [this way] because I have a sibling and she is not into cycling at all, and she says it was my father. When I lived in Italy and we lived up north, where you get these cyclists, you know, your big guys up there going up this mountain. And he would bring me there. He would put me on top of his neck and I would see these guys coming up the mountain. So I think it was instilled in me to say, “that’s what I want to do one day.” Time went on and I grew up and [that’s] fine. I was involved in several clubs and it was always to do with cycling. Then I decided I really wanted to be an expert on cycling. I really want to share my joy of cycling; I want to share the benefits of cycling. And I think way back in the ‘90s when Scarborough was still the City of Scarborough cycling wasn’t as big. They had this master plan and I didn’t throw it away because it showed all the [bike] routes in Scarborough. As time went on, I got more involved in cycling. Cycling is so beneficial. As you can see, the car just sits there. I don’t rely on it unless it’s absolutely necessary. My long-term goal is to bring it into the schools. I want it to be in the curriculum. You go to Holland and it’s in the curriculum. It’s instilled in children that cycling is good; you don’t need a car. Granted I’ve been to Europe and the distances aren’t as varied.
I’m curious because I caught a bit of heritage in that. What brought you and your family from Italy?
We’re from Italy, we used to live in Rome. When I came I was just a little kid, I was nine. And from Rome to Toronto 55 years ago was like, “wow, what is this place. Where are we?” We lived in the Jones and Danforth area, a nice little neighborhood over there. That’s why we always go back to the Taste of the Danforth, because it brings back a lot of memories; “Wow, I remember the movie theatre was here, or that was here, this was there.” From there, we moved to this house. We came August of 1965 and we’ve seen a lot of changes. But the only change I saw for the good – supposedly – is that Lawrence Avenue is now three lanes instead of two.
So tell me a story that happened to you on Lawrence Avenue.
I remember when we had our famous blackout – I remember that well. I used to live at Lawrence and Midland and what I did was put on my fluorescent jacket and I directed traffic right at the corner. That was cool! I loved it! I did that! I got a nice letter from the Mayor too. This was back in August of 2003. I think that was kind of neat.
I really am glad I stopped to talk to you today, especially getting a sense of how involved you are in the community.
Well like I said, I am not afraid to speak my mind. If you don’t say anything and I don’t say anything how are we going to improve ourselves? This is me. And some people might get offended but you always want to improve yourself. Getting back to cycling, I hope whoever our new mayor is really respects us cyclists because it’s the way of the future – it really is! I like to see things happen. Whenever the city asks me to volunteer I’m always there. So why don’t we do it the other way? If I ask for proper bike lanes why don’t they listen to me? I’ve given myself to you as a city, so why don’t you do something for all cyclists?
I think I know the answer, but if there was any one thing you could see erected on Lawrence Avenue it would be…
You know it. Bike lanes. They don’t have to be elaborate. [Lucy springs out of her seat to motion to the cement slab on the sidewalk.] That is a metre right there and it would help us feel more confident and the driver would keep away. But I really recommend more adults take a bicycle safety course. You have to have command! You are a vehicle! Education; I really want to see that.