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New Provincial Cycling Strategy Draft Is Underwhelming

The Ministry of Transportation is updating its cycling outlook for the first time in two decades, but the changes aren't exactly sweeping.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffstewartphotos/5034189754/in/photostream/"}JeffStewartPhotos{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/pool/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

The Ministry of Transportation has released a draft cycling strategy [PDF], the first update to its cycling policy goals in 20 years. The proposed new strategy aims to improve cycling education, infrastructure, legislation, and interest—but it has received mixed reviews from the cycling community, and for good reason.

Let’s start with some with some facts, as stated in the strategy. Ontario has 630,000 cyclists who hop on a bike daily. Nearly 48 per cent of Ontario residents ride a bike at least once during spring, summer, and autumn. About 50 per cent of those 630,000 daily cyclists use cycling as their main mode of transportation, meaning they use two wheels to get to school, work, shopping, errands, or friends’ homes. The draft doesn’t say where these cyclists are, but we’d guess a lot of them are here in Toronto.

The strategy—prepared partly in response to a scathing coroner’s report on cycling deaths in Ontario that was released earlier this year—is an optimistic read. It has two main goals: working with municipalities, and improving driver and cyclist education. But some of the points it raises are a little vague, and could use clarification.

For example, the ministry has some ambitious ideas for building a provincial network of bike routes. The draft repeatedly references Quebec’s successful Route Verte, which is estimated to generate an annual economic return valued at more than $100 million. Yes, $100 million—mostly in tourism dollars. This is a nice idea, and one that we support, but what about people who live in Toronto and just want to get around town?

What the strategy has to say about working with municipalities is unconvincing. In a nutshell, the ministry acknowledges that most cycling happens on municipal roads. It’s prepared to help municipalities to “develop and enhance their routes.” The draft says just that the ministry will work with cities to revamp any provincial infrastructure that a bike route happens to touch upon (a bridge, for example), but makes no funding promises beyond a vague pledge to “explore options” for including cycling in provincial funding programs.

Another section of the draft talks about how the ministry will pursue cycling education, which is nice to see. Educating drivers and cyclists about how to share the road safely is important. But the strategy doesn’t make any bold new recommendations (like, for example, adding a cycling component to drivers’ license examinations, as suggested recently by the Guardian). The strategy does mention the possibility of consulting the public on amendments to the Highway Traffic Act, though, which could lead to substantial changes at some point in the future.

Bottom line: the ministry’s strategy, in its current form, is a hopeful document, but not a particularly helpful one. It’s open to public input until January 29. You can submit your comments to the ministry here.

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