Cycle Toronto Provides Comment on the Draft Province-wide Cycling Network

Cycle Toronto provided the following comment on the Draft Province-wide Cycling Network. Learn more about the draft network and provide comment of your own here!  Comments due by May 26th 2017.

Cycle Toronto supports the government’s objective of encouraging cycling among Ontario’s diverse population

Ontario’s cycling policy, as expressed in its CycleON strategy, includes keeping cyclists safe and encouraging more people to ride bikes. As part of its strategy to encourage cycling as a viable mode of transportation, the province is establishing a province-wide network of fully connected cycling routes. Cycle Toronto is pleased that the government is taking these steps, which contribute to better health outcomes and are an important part of the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The Policy Proposal Notice dated April 12, 2017 requests public and stakeholder input to guide identification of the final province-wide cycling network. The objectives of the network described in the notice (including promotion of recreational cycling and cycling tourism, connecting municipal cycling routes, identifying areas of provincial infrastructure that promote cycling, and prioritizing future cycling infrastructure investments) are consistent with the broader goals of the CycleON strategy. Cycle Toronto supports these objectives, but we believe the goals of the cycling network should be framed more broadly in order to fully meet the province’s inclusionary objective of encouraging more cycling by its population.

Cycle Toronto believes that a broad range of cycling activity - beyond recreational and tourism purposes - should be encouraged. Similarly, we believe that policies and initiatives should encourage cycling among a broad range of  demographic groups. Such policies and initiatives must recognize that some of those groups are (for now) underrepresented among the cycling population, including women, older cyclists and persons with disabilities.

The following guiding principles inform our comments:

1)       Cycling in Ontario should include but not be limited to recreational or tourism purposes. In developing the province-wide cycling network, the government should consider that the network will be used for a wide range of utilitarian purposes, including commuting, shopping, and goods transportation.

2)       The design of the network must consider the needs of the broad diversity of cyclists who will be using it. The province-wide network must be safe for all who use it, it must provide meaningful facilities for cyclists along the route and it must be accessible by all cyclists in Ontario, including persons with disabilities, women, children and older cyclists.

3)       Consistent design standards and internationally accepted best practices should be applied provincewide.

The network must consider the needs of utilitarian cyclists

The CycleON strategy recognizes that there is “significant potential in Ontario” to increase the number of people who regularly ride their bikes to work or school.  The province-wide cycling network should function as a backbone for local cycling networks, enabling commuting and other utilitarian uses for both shorter and longer trips (including rides which cross municipal boundaries).  By no means should the provision of a provincial cycling network preclude the development of other local cycling infrastructure such as on-street cycle tracks, local connections or the provision of paved shoulders on all rural roads.

A province-wide network that includes use of bikes to commute to work and school would support cycling as a component of a multi-modal commute. The October 2016 Ryerson University report Cycling Behaviour and Potential in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area recognizes a very high potential for cycling outside Toronto among residents in municipalities who commute via GO Transit. Many of the steps necessary to achieve this objective (including developing the land around transit stations, creating secure and safe bike storage and permitting cyclists to bring their bikes aboard GO trains at all times, including rush hour) are beyond the scope of this submission and have already been proposed elsewhere. However, for the province-wide cycling network to facilitate commuting to work and school, the network route must be connected to regional and local transit hubs in as many places as possible.

The needs of recreational and utilitarian cyclists generally, but not always overlap.  For example, meandering, scenic detours or challenging topography may be desirable for a recreational route, but could be a hindrance to meaningful utilitarian cycling.  On the other hand, ensuring strong connectivity from the province-wide cycling network to transit hubs and local routes would encourage utilitarian cycling while also supporting the objective of increasing recreational and tourist cycling.

The network must attract and meet the needs of a diverse user base

The Ontario government recognizes the need for a more cycling-friendly Ontario in its CycleON strategy. Many of its policies, like the creation of a province-wide network, will encourage more Ontario residents to cycle. However, if the government is serious about this objective, policies and initiatives must encourage cycling by individuals who are underrepresented in the cycling population, including older adults, persons with disabilities and women. It appears that this goal of encouraging diversity in the network’s user group has not been taken into account in developing the network so far. For example, we note with some concern that the notice contemplates that the surface of the route of the network will vary. We recognize that a province-wide route will necessarily include a variety of surfaces and topographies from place to place, but it is essential that to the greatest extent possible the surface of the route will enable users of all abilities to access and use the route.  Even a short inaccessible section can render an entire route impassable to users with accessibility needs.

In order to encourage a diverse group to use the province-wide network, considerations must go beyond simply determining the location and quality of the route itself. Cycling must be seen as accessible and safe (and must in fact be accessible and safe) to all users, including the demographic groups whose members are underrepresented in the cycling population. For example, the Ryerson report found that women in suburban areas face barriers to cycling that deter them from cycling, and that closing this gender gap is critical to expanding cycling in Ontario. Overcoming barriers to vulnerable users and encouraging their use of the network requires special consideration of certain features of the route. For example, Cycle Toronto takes the position that where the network intersects with the 400 series of highways, there must be bridges and/or underpasses to allow safe passage for all riders over (or under) those busy highways. But this is not sufficient to meet the goal of encouraging more diverse populations to cycle: to encourage and protect vulnerable cyclists, including older adult cyclists, women and people with disabilities, those spaces must be designed so that they are safe, including that they are adequately lit, have good sightlines and are not isolated.

The use of non-traditional bikes by persons with mobility concerns and the use of cargo bikes for moving goods should be a component of any strategy to increase cycling. These uses, which go beyond recreational and tourist purposes, are important to the development of a low-carbon economy and are consistent with the government’s objective of encouraging active transportation. The network should take into account that its users may include people using a diverse range of all forms of bicycle transportation, including cargo bikes.

The network must consistently use accepted standards and best practices

In order to achieve the first two goals, it is critical to use internationally accepted standards and best practices in bikeway design.  These have been carefully developed over years to ensure bikeways are safe and accessible by all modes and a wide diversity of user types.

For on-road infrastructure, there are a number of excellent international standards such as NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide.  For trails, the City of Toronto's excellent Multi-Use Trail Design Guidelines could serve as a template.  Important factors to consider in these standards include:

  • Design: width, materials, gradients, clearway, intersections with roads and railways, lighting, motor traffic exclusion, bike parking and drainage;

  • Maintenance: Winter, seasonal, and regular upkeep of the routes and supporting facilities like signs, lighting and bike parking;

  • Wayfinding, signage and emergency addressability

Since much of the provincial network is composed of existing infrastructure (trails and on-street bikeways), it is important to establish clear standards and, over time, bring this infrastructure up to the level of these standards.  All new infrastructure should be built to the standards by default.

Finally, the network should emulate models that have proven to be successful. We can learn from the European experience: in Denmark, an accessible cycle highway 22 kilometres long spans 23 municipalities and includes traffic lights designed to ensure that traffic on the cycle highway is managed safely. The highway also provides supports for cyclists, including pumps and repair facilities along the route. To be useful, the network must include the necessary supportive infrastructure for cyclists like that which exists in Denmark.

In conclusion, Cycle Toronto urges the province to ensure that the route is built to the highest standards and best practices, provides strong connections to other infrastructure like GO stations, and ensures safe passage across the barriers created by the 400-series highways. For all of the reasons given above, we believe that the development of the province-wide network should reflect purposes beyond recreation and tourism, and should encourage use by diverse users. In a province with a diverse and growing population, this is the appropriate way to proceed because it reflects the needs of a growing and diverse population, and it furthers the government’s objectives of expanding cycling in Ontario.

Special thanks to Cycle Toronto's Advocacy Committee for their work on this proposal.

By Jared Kolb on May 18, 2017