How to get more people on bikes

We all want to live and thrive in a city that is safe, healthy and economically vibrant. With a mission to make cycling a viable option for all Toronto residents, Cycle Toronto seeks to improve the city’s investment in cycling infrastructure. The bicycle is an important vehicle (pun intended) that can alleviate congestion, improve public health, make our roads safer for people, and ultimately reduce motor vehicle pollution.

Cycling improves people’s quality of life by improving their physical and mental health. It improves cardiovascular health, reduces rates of obesity and diabetes, and has been linked to a reduction in the rates of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Cycling improves mental health through physical activity and makes commuting more enjoyable, affordable and punctual.

Neighborhoods with infrastructure that makes cycling and walking safe are more pleasant to visit, which is good for local businesses. Toronto has some good examples of this with Bloor St. W, the Danforth and recently Midtown Yonge’s full street pilot.

Car commuting, on the other hand, has been linked to depression and a sedentary lifestyle, which contributes to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It is also linked to personal and public debt and is one of the biggest contributors to Toronto’s pollution. In 2015, the city council approved $919 million to rebuild a section of the Gardiner Expressway that could accommodate only three percent of commuters traveling to the core.

Cities across Canada are increasingly considering cycling as a strategic, sustainable part of their multimodal and active transportation plans — even in cities like Calgary and Edmonton, which experience sub-freezing temperatures and are snow covered for most of the year. Toronto’s ambitious plan to mitigate the climate crisis, TransformTO, has identified the need to build 1,500 miles of bike lanes to meet the city’s goal of walking, cycling, or taking 75 percent of all trips under 3 miles.

Currently, of the city’s 5,400 km of roads, only four percent (around 200 km) have cycle lanes on the road. While the city center now has a bare minimum grid of interconnected cycle lanes, much of Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York has virtually no infrastructure for safe cycling. These areas also have a significant number of multi-lane major thoroughfares, contributing to a dangerous environment for people who have little choice about how to get around. If you can afford it, drive. For those who can’t, it means long commutes waiting for buses and dangerous journeys that require crossing multi-lane arterial roads.

The biggest deterrent for cyclists is the lack of safe infrastructure. The biggest challenge in building safe cycling infrastructure is our cultural and political respect for car ownership. This explains why the majority of our public roads are dedicated to the movement of vehicular traffic before any other mode of transport.

As Toronto grapples with the economic impact of COVID-19, our elected officers must demonstrate innovation and leadership by prioritizing a sustainable future. This includes improved traffic safety and active means of transport. After affordable housing, the most pressing issues Toronto residents want to prioritize are transit, community spaces and mitigating the climate crisis.

Building complete roads with safe cycling infrastructure benefits everyone. It improves the safety of people walking by providing them with a safe buffer from vehicular traffic. It also improves the movement of emergency services vehicles and traffic by providing a dedicated space for all road users.

We call on the city to accelerate the implementation of the cycling network plan by increasing the overall proportion of streets with bike lanes to 20 percent. Toronto needs to invest in accelerating the expansion of the city’s network of quality bike lanes in all boroughs by 2030 to meet its existing goals, and ultimately be more equitable in allocating our public space.

Alison Stewart is Senior Advocacy Manager at Cycle Toronto. She holds a master’s degree in public policy, administration and law from York University.

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