Vancouver and Canada's Resurgent Love for Cycling

Canada has seen a resurgence of cycling activity, there has been a 42% increase in the number of daily bike commuters between 1996 and 2006 and slow but steady growth in bike share of work commuters, from 1.1% to 1.3%. A major reason has been the movement of many commuters from the suburbs back into the cities. This ‘gentrification’ of the city has meant a denser urban environment and more mixed-use development similar to those of Europe than to its Southern neighbour the USA. Travel distances have therefore fallen and made cycling a more attractive option

This has led to tensions between car and bicycle in many Canadian cities over funding, planning decisions and space on the road, such as Vision Vancouver’s hotly debated downtown bike lanes. Even more so in Toronto with its highest per capita rate of bike-car collisions of any Canadian city and successful mayoral 2010 candidate Rob Ford’s naming progressive cycling policies as a “War on the Car” with Toronto City Council then voting to remove three of the bike lanes added by the previous council.

Despite these tensions cycling has, thanks to increased modal share, become a lot safer; from 1988 to 2008, the total number of cyclist fatalities fell by 66% in Canada with a 40% decline in serious injuries. Canada has 2.39 cycling fatalities per 100 million km cycled, just about the same rate as France (2.04) and Germany (2.43), much better than the US rate (5.74) though far from Denmark (1.03).

The generally larger Canadian cars and higher speed limits has meant that many cycling advocates tend to promote cycling infrastructure to be separated from the roads rather than promoting the ‘vehicular’ style of cycling, mixing bikes and cars together. This has been the policy of Montréal with a 3 - 1 split in favour of Off-street paths to On-street lanes, though less so in Toronto and Vancouver with a split of approximately 1.5 - 1 and 1.2 - 1 respectively. This is still however a much higher split than the rest of North America with the US favouring on-street lanes.

This vehicular style of cycling, riding with the traffic, is concentrated more in the city centres with slower traffic, while segregated infrastructure is seen as a safer option further out on faster connecting roads. With less traffic, tens of thousands of kilometres of rural roads and many long distance trails available, cycling in the Northern landmass is becoming more popular despite the limited infrastructure.

Source: (2011) Bicycling renaissance in North America? An update and re-appraisal of cycling trends and policies by J.Pucher, R. Buehler & M. Seinen

Canadian cities and cycling

Montreal has 530 km of bike lanes and shared routes and has pledged $10 million for their 2011-12 cycling network. The proposed plan would add 70 km of bicycle routes by fall 2011. The city is promising a cycling network of 800 km by 2015, and has hosted the Bixi bike-sharing system since 2009.

In Ottawa there are 140 km of bicycle lanes and 205 km of hard shoulder used for cyclists. Ottawa also opened its first downtown segregated bike lane on Laurier Avenue in July 2011 and the Council also has also approved the Ottawa Cycling Plan, a 20-year initiative. Ottawa is also a Bixi bike sharing city.

There are 117 km of bike-only lanes, 145 km of shared roadways and 168 km of off-road paths in Toronto, also a Bixi city, with the City council approving the Bikeway Initiative in 2011, which will include over 500 km of bike lanes, 249 km of off-road paths and 260 km of shared roadways

Calgary’s multi-use pathway and on-street bikeway network…

"...has almost doubled from 550 Kilometres in 1999 to 1.087 kilometres in 2010. In 2010, Calgary had 712 kilometres of multi-use pathways and 355 kilometres of on-street bikeways, 326 kilometres of which were signed bikeways and 27 kilometres of which were bikeways with pavement markings – bike lanes and marked shared lanes”

Source: The City of Calgary, p.17

Vancouver, Velo-City host 2012

This brings us to Vancouver.

Vancouver will be the 2012 Velo-City host; it is a city that is becoming more and more cycle orientated, at present it has 400 km of cycling infrastructure including 330 km of on-street bike lanes. Since 2008, 67 lane-kilometres of cycling routes have been added in Vancouver: 36 km are local street bikeways; 11 km of off-street paths and separated bike lanes were created; 15 km of painted bike lanes; and 5 km of painted shared-use lanes.

The City achieves an overall cycling mode share of 3.7% for trips to work, with several neighbourhoods near the Metro Core approaching 12% bike mode share; the lowest cycling mode share occurs primarily in neighbourhoods in the south and east of the City. In the Downtown core, combined cycling and walking represents more than 41% of the journey-to work mode share.”

The 10-Year Cycling Master Plan aims to invest $25 million to expand cycling infrastructure by 2011 in order to increase citywide cycling to 10% of all trips, to implement new on-street bicycle parking while also improving conditions of existing bikeways. The city is planning to add 55 km of new or improved cycling routes over 2010 and 2011.

In a city with almost 30% pavement and 30% transport budget being spent on bicycles, Vancouver is in an ideal position to build a really strong and viable cycling city.


Ceri Woolsgrove, ECF Policy Officer- Road Safety & Technical Issues- is from the UK and has worked extensively in London, Brighton, Liverpool (UK), Hang Zhou (China) and now in Brussels. His previous employment was for an organisation representing the transport industry in Brussels. Ceri has a Master’s degree in Globalization and International Policy Analysis from the University of Bath, and Social and Political Thought from the University of Sussex

Interested in attending Velo-city 2012 in Vancouver? Registrations are not open yet, but a dedicated website is on its way and can be found here: In the meantime, you can read over the Velo-city 2012 blog. You can also look at the Velo-city series and .

Posted on September 08, 2011