Municipalities across Canada are making progress to encourage cycling and make it safer to ride. Recent federal investments, such as the Active Transportation Fund, are accelerating the pace of critically important bicycle facilities (e.g. bike lanes, cycle tracks, etc.) that provide demarcated space for bikes apart from motor vehicles. Cycling facilities offer a huge bang for the buck, especially compared to big-ticket transportation items like highways and subways.
This commitment to cycling infrastructure is supported by a growing body of knowledge that demonstrates, amongst other things that:
- If people are provided with a safe place to ride, they will ride. In the Netherlands, for example, with its extensive bike lane networks, 28% of daily trips are by bike, compared to 1.4% in Canada.
- Bike lanes make streets safer for all road users. Bike lanes also offer important, yet often overlooked, connections for people to get to/from transit.
- Substantial increases in cycling occur in cities that install bike lanes.
- The potential for shifting driving trips is huge, especially in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). “GTHA residents take 14 million trips every day to travel to various destinations… 4.35 million trips [are under 5 km and] can be considered potentially cyclable trips, which is one-third (i.e., 33%) of all trips…”
As governments move forward with creating safer bicycle infrastructure, active transportation practitioners are asking some key questions. After all, we are talking about reversing a century of transportation and urban planning standards. In the car-dominated world we live in, what are the levers or motivators that will compel people to hop on a bike instead of taking a car trip? How important are bike lanes in shifting behaviour? What type of cycling facility will result in people cycling more, and what type of person is most likely to cycle, especially in the suburban context where the majority of Canadians live? New research headed up by Dr. Raktim Mitra at Toronto Metropolitan University on Urban Cycling Facilities and Travel Behaviour Change has helped to shed some light on these important questions.
In this four-year study, the researchers explored different aspects of bicycling uptake in the GTHA in both urban and suburban contexts, in areas with and without cycling infrastructure. Several academic publications and thesis papers have been published over the course of research. Here are some of the more interesting and relevant findings for practitioners and advocates:
When It Comes to Infrastructure, Quality AND Quantity Matter
- A cycle track (protecting cyclists with curbs or bollards) results in more uptake than a painted bike lane.
- Just providing one disconnected bike lane (one of the criteria for inclusion was that only one cycling facility was built in the area in the study period) is not sufficient to entice people to start cycling, especially in suburban environments. Cyclists need a network to get around, in the same way that people driving, taking transit or walking do.
- Protected cycle tracks contribute to enhanced livability in urban neighbourhoods, meaning they are beneficial not only for those who use them, but also for those who live near them.
Cycling is Gendered
- In North America where cycling levels are low, it is well established that the majority of cyclists are men. What’s interesting in this research is the new finding that gender differences don’t arise from anything specific to cycling but are due to women generally feeling less safe than men. Both men and women are equally concerned about the threat of motor vehicles.
- Women 45 years and older and women with children are more likely to cycle if there are cycling facilities.
Tap into the Bike to GO Potential
- Currently, almost all of the cyclists riding to suburban GO stations live less than 5 km away, and do not live across a highway, a significant barrier to all three stations surveyed in the study.
- Those suburbanites most interested in cycling to GO stations, but who aren’t currently, already cycle for recreation or sport but require low-stress cycling facilities to consider incorporating cycling into their commute trip.
- The safety and comfort of bicycle infrastructure is of vital importance in encouraging more suburban transit users to cycle to GO. Protected bike lanes are highly preferred over painted lanes on arterial suburban roads leading to GO stations. Painted bike lanes in the suburban context are not sufficient to induce cycling.
Policy and Planning Matters
- People who already commute by bike occasionally are more likely to cycle more frequently after new facilities are built. This is important since so much of government policy focus is on shifting people out of their cars but assumes that once a shift occurs, they will never switch back. Building new facilities is key in ensuring people don’t switch back to driving. Also, from both an environmental and health perspective, cycling once in a while is a good thing, but cycling regularly is even better.
- Cycling infrastructure is critical for improving safety and increasing cycling but is very politicized. Municipal planners use four principal strategies to get bike lanes built: 1) piggyback on other capital projects, 2) fundraise from other sources, 3) pre-emptively re-route bike lanes, and 4) find a political champion.
This body of work is important, particularly for planners working in the suburban context. It’s a challenging environment to be trying to facilitate transportation options, yet it is critically important work for achieving ambitious net zero and road safety targets.
The bottom line? Suburban communities urgently need networks of protected bike lanes, especially to GO stations and that address major barriers like highway interchanges. It’s a timely imperative as municipalities strive to tackle the climate crisis while enhancing mobility.
Want to learn more? Save the date! Join us for a free webinar on Sep 28th at 4 pm featuring a panel discussion with members of the research team and municipal planners. Details to follow.
Nancy Smith Lea is a Senior Advisor at The Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) at Clean Air Partnership. Since 2014 TCAT has launched six community bike hubs in suburban communities to remove barriers and grow cycling.
 Buehler, R. and Pucher, J. (2021). International Overview of Cycling. In Buehler, R. & Pucher, J. (Eds.), Cycling for Sustainable Cities. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/cycling-sustainable-cities
 Marshall, W. and Ferenchak, N. (2019). Why cities with high bicycling rates are safer for all road users. Journal of Transport & Health, Volume 13, June 2019, 100539. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2214140518301488?via%3Dihub#!
 Mitra, R., Khachatrian, A. & Hess, P. (2021). Do new urban and suburban cycling facilities encourage more bicycling? Transportation Research Part D 97 (2021) 102915. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1361920921002145
 Gutmanis, M. (2022). Do New Cycling Facilities Improve Neighbourhood Livability? Unpublished major research paper, Toronto Metropolitan University
 Garrard, J. (2021). Women and Cycling: Addressing the Gender Gap. In Buehler, R. & Pucher, J. (Eds.), Cycling for Sustainable Cities. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. . https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/cycling-sustainable-cities
 Graystone, M. Mitra, R. & Hess, P. (2022). Gendered perceptions of cycling safety and on-street bicycle infrastructure: Bridging the gap. Transportation Research Part D 105 (2022) 103237. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1361920922000670
 Giacomantonio, S. (2022). Self-identified Women’s Gendered Mobility Experiences and Cycling Frequency, and the Modifying Role of Newly Introduced Cycling Facilities. Unpublished major research paper, Toronto Metropolitan University
 Mitra, R. and Schofield, J. (2019) Biking the First Mile: Exploring a Cyclist Typology and Potential for Cycling to Transit Stations by Suburban Commuters. Transportation Research Record, Volume 2673, Issue 4. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0361198119837229
 Mitra, R., Khachatrian, A. & Hess, P. (2021).
 Wilson, A. & Mitra, R. (2020). Implementing cycling infrastructure in a politicized space: Lessons from Toronto, Canada. Journal of Transport Geography 86 (2020) 102760. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0966692319310968