Cycling is an essential means of active transportation that provides lots of health and environmental benefits. However, many Canadians prefer other means of transportation.
Bicycle Toronto Style By James Schwartz
According to the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), only 1 per cent to 3 per cent of trips in Canada are made on bikes. This is considerably lower than in other countries such as Denmark, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, or Sweden, where people use bikes for approximately 10 per cent to 27 per cent of their trips. One of the main reasons for these low numbers is safety, which is an important issue — especially in huge cities like Toronto. According to Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Collision Statistics from 2009, each year, approximately 50 Canadian cyclists die, and about 450 are seriously injured (requiring hospitalization) due to collisions with motor vehicles. Plus, there are many other cycling security hazards, such as streetcar tracks or insufficient lighting of bike routes that deter Canadians from travelling by bike.
The Importance of Proper Cycling Environment
Even though commuting by bike is becoming more and more popular in North America, the number of people commuting to work in North America is low compared to European countries. One of the main reasons is the lower risk of injury associated with cycling in European countries. As AJPH informs,
An analysis of traffic injuries indicated a two to three fold higher risk of death and an eight to 30 fold higher risk of injury while cycling in the United States vs. Holland and Germany, using either of the traditional transportation denominators: per trip or per kilometer traveled.
Many Canadian cities lack proper cycling amenities, such as bike lanes on major streets, cycle tracks, off-street bike paths, and park trails. There’s evidence that a city’s cycling environment significantly affects the risk of cycling injuries. According to the University of British Columbia,
“Purpose-built bicycle-only facilities (e.g. bike routes, bike lanes, bike paths, cycle tracks at roundabouts) reduce the risk of crashes and injuries compared to cycling on-road with traffic or off-road with pedestrians.”
Apparently, most of the collisions resulting in deaths or serious injuries happen on major streets with no bike infrastructure.
Bike Path In Toronto By Peter Kudlacz
Moreover, as the Environmental Health Journal claims, it has been proven that perceived safety improvements in bicycle transportation have an aggregate elasticity value greater than one. This means that a 10 per cent increase in perceived safety generates an increase of more than 10 per cent in the share of people commuting by bike. Improving cycling infrastructure attracts more and more new cyclists, which in turn makes motorists and cyclists more accustomed to each other, resulting in lower injury rates. Plus, a larger community of cyclists means stronger lobbying force for cycling resources.
Another study by the University of British Columbia indicates that people prefer to ride on bike-only paths, multi-use paths, residential street bike routes, and cycle tracks rather than major streets or other streets with high car traffic. Building new cycling infrastructure not only reduces the risk of traumatic injuries to cyclists, but also promotes cycling as an urban means of transportation, with resulting personal and public health benefits.
Cycling Safety in Toronto
Even though the City of Toronto estimates that there are more than 900,000 adult Torontonians who ride their bike daily and about 20,000 who use their bikes for commuting to work, we can’t say Toronto is a bike-friendly city overall. Jared Kolb is an executive director of Cycle Toronto, a member-based cycling advocacy organization with more than 2,200 members and 15 business members. He told us that cycling along routes with heavy cycling traffic such as Harbord, College, St. George and Beverley, and along the Waterfront is relatively safe. However, he added,
Unless you live in the immediate vicinity of these routes, finding a safe place to ride in Toronto is challenging. Toronto lacks a complete network of cycling infrastructure. One of the things we often hear from people is that they wish to ride more often, but that safety is the number one thing holding them back. Building a network of protected bike lanes across the city, supported by a network of low-speed residential roads is an important part of getting us there.
There are some initiatives aimed at improving conditions for cycling in Toronto: Toronto has a well-established municipal government Cycling Office and the city has developed the Toronto Bike Plan that should “create a safe, comfortable and bicycle friendly environment in Toronto, which encourages people of all ages to use bicycles for everyday transportation and enjoyment.” The City of Toronto also offers the Cycling Ambassadors program, in which a team of experts reach out to communities across Toronto to deliver safety messages and promote cycling, and the Bicycle User Group Network, aimed at encouraging and supporting cyclists who wish to improve conditions for cycling in Toronto.
Moreover, the City has launched a bicycle sharing system, Bixi Toronto, that offers 1,000 bikes and 80 terminal locations with 1,500 docking points in Toronto’s downtown core. The program allows users to rent bicycles on a per-use basis. It first appeared in Toronto in 2011. However, Bixi’s business model wasn’t very successful, and the Montreal-based company faced financial problems and filed for bankruptcy. Luckily, the City of Toronto saw this coming and took over the assets of Bixi Toronto. The bike sharing system is now under the Toronto Parking Authority, which is keeping it going until a new private operator is found. Adrian Currie is the chairman of the board of directors of Community Bicycle Network, a registered non-profit organization with a rich history of serving Toronto‘s cycling community. He told us,
Girl On Bicycle In Toronto By James Schwartz
Overall, Toronto is a bike-friendly city. With a population of nearly 3 million people and for a city as big as we are, we are not doing too badly. We have a public bike lending system, Bixi. We have many small not-for-profits that provide much needed cycling services. We have a separated bike lane, bike boxes (near the University of Toronto), bike lockers throughout the city, and a bike station at Union Station. We have Bike Month and a well-organized and extensive bike route network of bike lanes that travel all over the city.
From 2002 to 2010, the cycling infrastructure in Toronto expanded from 166 kilometres to 430 kilometres. In 2011, Toronto city council brought new plans for the city’s cycling infrastructure. They included new bike lanes on Bloor Street East in 2011, bike lanes on Wellesley in 2012, bike lanes on Harbord Street and Hoskin Avenue in 2014, and an assessment of the feasibility of separate bike lanes on Adelaide Street or Richmond Street.
Despite all this progress, Toronto cyclists have to deal with numerous issues and hazards, such as a lack of bike lanes, dangerous streetcar tracks, pot holes, and parked cars. Yes, there are a lot of plans for improving cycling infrastructure in Toronto, but the implementation is inadequate. Jared Kolb pointed out,
The 2001 Bike Plan called for 495 km of bike lanes. Thirteen years later, we’ve installed 114 km of lanes. In 2013, we saw a mere 2.4 km of bike lanes added to Toronto streets. We’ve seen movement towards the creation of a network of protected bike lanes in the downtown core in recent years, but the pace of installation is glacial. Our political leaders need to prioritize the rapid rollout of cycling infrastructure across the city.
The issues that Toronto has to deal with when developing its cycling infrastructure aren’t very different from the challenges other cities face, as Toronto’s General Manager of Transportation Services, Stephen Buckley, pointed out for National Post. There are problems with Toronto’s narrow streets. Adding a two-way bike lane requires removing a lane of traffic. Removing traffic lanes would infuriate Toronto car commuters, who already have to deal with lots of gridlock and excessively long commuting times. Plus, Buckley suggested that another major reason for the delays is a shortage of staff in Transportation Services.
Bicycles In Toronto Streets By James Schwartz
As CP24.com reported in 2011, a study commissioned by the City of Toronto showed that Toronto had the highest number of accidents involving cyclists in 2010, with 1,145 incidents. That represents approximately 42 accidents for every 100,000 people. Also, the study demonstrates that the most common cause of cycling accidents in Toronto is side-swiping (164 incidents), followed by cyclists crashing into open vehicle doors (144). However, these numbers account only for collisions reported to police, which usually have an additional factor such as a vehicle, a pedestrian, or a streetcar. The overall number of cycling accidents would be much higher if we counted individual cycling accidents that weren’t reported. These numbers sound horrifying — especially if we consider that in the 27 years between 1986 and 2012, there were on average three cyclist fatalities a year in Toronto.
The Most Dangerous Streets in Toronto
There are some parts of Toronto that are bike-friendly and safe, but there are also some streets that are nightmares for cyclists. Adrian Verster, a cyclist and a PhD student studying at the University of Toronto, created a list of the 50 most dangerous intersections for cyclists in Toronto, after his girlfriend got hit by a pick-up truck. He made the list using city records of 31,000 bike collisions that were recorded since 1986. His findings show that the worst intersection for cyclists in Toronto is Lake Shore Boulevard East and Carlaw Avenue, just east of the Don River. This is followed by Queen Street West and Niagara Street in second place and Queen Street East and River Street in third.
Moreover, the Globe and Mail published a map of biking collisions processing 25 years of collision information from Toronto’s Traffic Safety Unit. However, the places located on the map or mentioned in the list don’t necessarily have to be the most dangerous, as the bike traffic there is much higher than in other parts of Toronto. Places that are more dangerous but less frequented didn’t make it to the list and are not located on the map.
Nevertheless, there are some streets that exceed others both in the number of reported accidents as well as in the actual danger. Streets such as Bloor West, Queen West, or Yonge don’t have bike lanes but plenty of traffic as well as parked cars and pedestrians regularly stepping into the street. Riding a bike in these streets or basically any major artery is an adrenaline rush, and cyclists there should be extra careful. As Adrian Currie informed us,
Some of the most dangerous places for cyclists in Toronto are the downtown core, streets that have streetcar tracks, any of the major thoroughfares that cyclists use and some of the many construction zones in the city.
One of the biggest cycling safety issues in Toronto is streetcar lines.The streetcar track is extremely slippery when wet, and if a bicycle wheel gets caught in the track, the cyclist loses control of their bike and the whole situation often ends in an unpleasant fall. The City of Toronto staff released a report on streetcar tracks and cyclist safety in October 2012. The report included a plan for developing streetcar track and cyclist safety strategy, focusing on improving cyclists’ awareness and skills in cycling near tracks, providing guidance to cyclists at key locations, and for inactive streetcar tracks, systematically removing or overlaying the tracks in a cost-effective manner. However, except for the plan, few safety measures have been taken, and streetcar tracks still remain a big problem for cyclists.
Detail Of Bicycle On The Street In Toronto By James Schwartz
Even though certain parts of Toronto are very bike-friendly, there are still many parts of the city that lack proper cycling infrastructure. There are problems with missing bike lanes, streetcar rails, poor lighting of bike routes, or not enough bike parking places. Jared Kolb pointed out,
When you see bikes parked to trees, fences and water pipes, it’s a good sign there’s not enough bike parking. If you’ve never seen this phenomenon in action, visit downtown Toronto during the spring, summer and fall. We need a more expansive strategy to provide short-, medium- and long-term bike parking, especially throughout the core.
Despite all these issues, Toronto boasts a lively community of cyclists who care about their city and want to make it a better place to ride bikes. They are all trying their best, and as one of them, Adrian Currie remarked,
There is always room for improvement. However, overall we are not doing too badly for a major North American city… The Bike Plan may be a bit out of date and we may be behind in implementing some of its recommendations but due to advocacy groups such as Cycle Toronto, things are moving along quite nicely.
Cycling culture in Toronto is strengthening, and hopefully the increasing number of cyclists will reflect in a better and safer cycling infrastructure. There are some issues and obstacles, but Toronto has already shown its great potential for cycling.