Six Things We Learned from Ryerson's Cycling Report
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Six Things We Learned from Ryerson’s Cycling Report

Here's what you need to know about cycling patterns in the GTA.

Ryerson University recently released a report that is the first of its kind in Canada. Cycling Behaviour and Potential in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area [PDF] is a nearly 100-page document that analyzes current cycling patterns, with an eye towards how Metrolinx and the municipalities in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) can increase cycling.

Written by Raktim Mitra, Ian Cantello, and Greggory Hanson, three researchers from Ryerson’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, as well as Nancy Smith Lea from the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT), it received funding from Metrolinx, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

There are 14 million trips made on a daily basis in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Anyone can tell you that Toronto has a travel problem. The roads are clogged with cars, there is a dearth of hard-rail transit that Metrolinx is trying to remedy slowly but surely, and those who could be cycling aren’t. For me, a commuter, a cyclist, and someone who can’t drive, a lot of the problems brought up in the report were common knowledge. What was enlightening was the breadth of these problems across the region and the surprising areas that potential is hidden.

Here’s what we learned from the report.

1. 4.35 Million Trips Within the GTHA can be Considered Cyclable

In 2011, an estimated 126,000 cycling trips were made each day. That’s a 61 per cent increase from 10 years before, but it works out to an abysmal less than one per cent of all trips. Seventy-eight per cent of Torontonians still use cars to get around. Add walking to the cycling figures, and we get 6.1 per cent.

Of the 14 million trips that are made on a daily basis in the GTHA, the authors believe that at least one-third have the potential to be cyclable. That’s 4.35 million potential trips. The authors note that shorter journeys between one to five kilometres in length are the most accessible to cycling or walking. These include cycling to work, transit stops, school, or running errands.

Photo courtesy of Cycling Behaviour and Potential in  the Great Toronto and Hamilton Area.

Photo courtesy of Cycling Behaviour and Potential in the Great Toronto and Hamilton Area.

But it was noted that municipalities “where there are concentrations of non-residential use … as well as some degree of jobs-housing balance, are the areas that show higher potential for cycling.”

2. Transportation Studies May Not Represent Who Actually Cycles

Data analyzed in the study is courtesy of the Transportation Tomorrow Survey, which started in 1986 and has been conducted every five years since. It’s the largest transportation survey of its kind. The cross-sectional household survey was conducted in 2011, and the problem is that this data is only based on people with a landline. That might exclude a significant portion of younger individuals who only have cell phones. The authors admit this excluded population is “more likely to walk and use bicycles more often than other population groups.”

3. One in Five Trips Involving the Use of GO Transit Could be Cycled

The highest potential for cycling outside of Toronto is among residents in municipalities who commute via GO Transit. More than 72,000 transit egress trips (for example, trips from a transit stop to a final destination)—3.6 per cent of all egress trips across the GTHA—could potentially be cycled, compared to the 4,400 that are currently. Specifically, 34 per cent of egress trips in Halton could be cycled.


Photo courtesy of Cycling Behaviour and Potential in the Great Toronto and Hamilton Area.

The authors of the report don’t shy away from holding Metrolinx accountable for not developing cycling-friendly GO stations, which would mitigate the first/last mile problem, the journey from home to a transit station, or from the station to the workplace. How do we get people away from driving the first and last mile of their journey? Metrolinx has a huge responsibility as a key stakeholder in creating dense, mixed use and complete communities when developing the land around stations. This includes bike storage protected from the elements and pathways conducive to cycling as opposed to car-exclusive parking lots.

For eight months, I have been commuting to Ajax two to three times a week to work with a filmmaker at her home office. For much of the year, I’ve cycled from my house at Christie Pits to Union Station, popped my bike on the train, and then cycled to her house. At the end of the day, I do it all again. It is possible. As an avid city cyclist, it is an obvious choice. It’s up to municipalities and Metrolinx to encourage new habits in commuters through engagement with their beleaguered car-addled populations.

4. Women “Are the Way Forward”

Fifty-four per cent of potential trips could be cycled by women versus 46 per cent that could be made by men. This is because most short trips across the GTHA are made by women, and right now, only 30 per cent of riders on the road are women. It’s critical that there be more accessible and safe spaces for women in cycling, not just at a community level but a policy level as well. Downtown Toronto has gender parity comparable to cycle-friendly cities in Europe like Amsterdam and Copenhagen. But it’s in the suburban areas where women are facing more obstacles to cycling. The authors don’t mince words about the need to promote the untapped potential of female cyclists from Hamilton to Oshawa. In their conclusion they state, “Closing the gender gap in cycling is critical.”

There are inroads being made with women-identifying bike clubs and safe spaces where they can learn about the basics of bike maintenance. There is a long history of machismo in the cycling world. Last month, in a piece for Dandyhorse, Tammy Thorne (Torontoist‘s publisher) examined the hostility women face in Toronto’s bike-shop scene. There has to be an attitude check and inclusiveness that span the entire culture of cycling, one that doesn’t exclude but rather embraces diversity and accessibility.

5. The Cool Kids are Doing it and You Should Too

There is a reason why Toronto has the highest propensity for cycling in the GTHA. Older neighbourhoods, density, and a celebration of cycling make the option a hell of a lot more accessible for people living within the city limits. With its bike shops, community spaces, activist groups, and media outlets dedicated to cycling activism, Toronto has embraced its eternal cyclist. The city has worked hard in recent years to make amends for its delayed reforms. From long-awaited bike lanes on Bloor Street to the development of the Bike Share program, this positive spin makes a difference.

The report says cycling behaviour is heavily influenced by local culture and advocacy in communities, followed by the number of cars in a household. They are the other wheels on the road that create an accepting space (or don’t) for others to join. The propensity to cultivate a positive cycling environment is dependent on an infrastructure that reinforces good cycling habits. That comes down to bike lanes, storage, and community engagement.

6. But the Real Kids Aren’t

Only 4,500 trips are cycled by those under the driving age (11-16 years old) across the GTHA on a daily basis. With 85 per cent of all trips being less than five kilometres in length, this is a highly promising demographic to engage with cycling-focused policy and programming. Whether it’s through road education or bike maintenance courses, we can cultivate a new generation of cyclists.

Distances to schools haven’t changed much over the years. Neighbourhood characteristics that encourage cycling tend to be older (for example, developed prior to 2000), with higher density and slow speed limits. Newer communities need to make efforts to embrace diversified infrastructure for the current and future generations of cyclists.

It’s exciting to know this report will be influencing the way Metrolinx proceeds with its transit expansion. GO Train lines have resulted in the development of communities based on proximity to the stations. The GTHA won’t be slowing its expansion down any time soon. So much of the report’s data was based on the 2011 TTS, but the next one is scheduled to be released soon. It will be interesting to see how much the data has changed. If cycling in the GTHA can grow by 126,000 trips daily between 2001 and 2011, growth in 2016 will be undeniable.

With the rising interest in making more pedestrian- and cycle-friendly spaces, the focus on bike lanes, and even the spike in cargo bikes, here’s hoping the municipalities and the province will heed the advice in the report and give us a truly bike-friendly Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.