From coast to coast, Canada has crossed a protected bike lane tipping point

July 30, 2015

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer


Vancouver, B.C., has arguably made the most significant investment in a connected protected bike lane network of any North American city in the last four years. Last month, city bike counts showed a 64 percent jump in bike traffic from 2013 to 2015.

Have you noticed? Something big is definitely brewing in Canada.

Some time in the last year, the world's second-largest country crossed a tipping point in public consciousness. As part of our work, we monitor every mention of protected bike lanes on Twitter. Though there's a steady drumbeat of discussion from across the U.S., Australia and the U.K., in the last six months we've watched in awe as a wave of protected bike lane chatter has been pouring out of every major English-speaking city in Canada: Victoria, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Halifax, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver.

(Note to self: add "piste cyclable" to Twitter search terms so we stop overlooking Quebec.)

Plans in some cities are more advanced than in others. Vancouver has arguably made the most significant investment in a connected protected bike lane network of any city on the continent over the last four years. Calgary is in the early months of an inspiring downtown trial. In Halifax, advocates deserve some sort of award for going street-by-street to measure existing lane widths and create their own detailed plan for a citywide protected bike lane network.

Saskatoon is further behind some of its peers; its first protected bike lane opened on a trial basis this month. But a column in its Star Phoenix newspaper is among the best pithy summaries of the case for protected bike lanes that we've seen in general-interest media.

There is a reason why other cities are in a rush to build more cycling infrastructure. A recent New Zealand study showed that for every dollar spent on cycling it will save $24, but only if a city makes significant investments in cycling infrastructure.

A path here or there don't make that big of a difference. [The] New Zealand study showed the piecemeal bike lanes only increase cycling by five percent[age points]. Having just a few lanes often increases collisions as people try to make their way to protected bike lanes. In some ways it sets back a city's plan to expand cycling.

When cities go all in and build a wide-scale network of cycling infrastructure, studies and projections show that cycling can increase by 40 percent[age points]. Such an increase in the number of cyclists, even in the seven months of good weather that we consistently get in Saskatoon, would take thousands of motorists off our roads and be a game changer when it comes to public health, and reduce traffic congestion. ...

Urban planners bring up two ways to liven up commercial areas: You need to get more people there or you can keep them there longer. Studies show excellent cycling infrastructure accomplishes both. It also attracts pedestrians, and a more vibrant street life has drivers stopping and staying for a while.

The full piece is well-informed and persuasive.

Like the United States and its other peers around the Anglosphere, Canada has a very long way to go before it's made biking truly comfortable and mainstream. But for those of us watching with admiration from the United States, what's happening in Canada right now is a deeply encouraging sign of how broadly a good idea can resonate once it really takes off.

The Green Lane Project helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our weekly news digest about protected bike lanes. Story tip? Write michael@peopleforbikes.org.

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