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How does the Toronto bikeway network compare with other cities?

Posted by Chris Bateman / September 20, 2012

toronto bike laneChicago's official cycling website opens with a hearty letter of welcome from mayor Rahm Emanuel: "One of my top priorities ... is to create a bike network that allows every Chicagoan - from kids on their first ride to senior citizens on their way to the grocery store - to feel safe on our streets." Toronto, well, let's say we don't have that.

Endorsements from elected officials aside, it's worth taking a look at how Toronto compares with other North American cities in terms of bike lanes, parking and other important measures of cycle-friendliness now our mayor is talking us up to foreign leaders.

On paper, it turns out, we're competitive. When comparing the 416 with Vancouver and Montreal - our closest Canadian rivals - and Chicago, New York City, and Portland in the United States, we come up roses in terms of existing and proposed bikeways (a catch-all term for every type of bike path).toronto cycling statsRelative to our population, though, we tend to lag behind. Portland, a considerably smaller city, rivals us in number of bike lanes yet it has a population of just 600,000 people. According to a 2011 study, "Bicycling renaissance in North America? An update and re-appraisal of cycling trends and policies" by J. Pucher, R. Buehler & M. Seinen, the Oregon city has 73 kilometres of bike lane per 100,000 people.

By comparison, Toronto has just 11 kilometres of lane per chunk of its population. Chicago and New York City trail with 8 and 9 respectively while Vancouver and Montreal more than double our figure with 26 and 27 kilometres of lanes per 100,000 people.

The number of proposed bike lanes each city is planning to install is also important. Chicago, which just hosted our mayor, aims to significantly bolster its network and increase the number of journeys made by bike before 2015. Montreal also has a plan to double its network by 2020.toronto bicycle statsBike parking, though it always seems hard to find a space, is an area where the stats say we punch above our weight. Figures cited in the above study, though it's now four years old, show us with the most parking spaces of all the other cities in the study, which include Chicago, Montreal, New York City, Portland, and Vancouver. With population factored in, we're second to Minneapolis. Toronto usually installs 500 to 1,000 new ring and post locks each year.

Attitudes toward cycling is something a little harder to measure but it is just as important as infrastructure. Portland, a city with a large community of regular cyclists, sees roughly 6 percent of its population ride to work. At the last census in 2006, 1.7 percent of Torontonians hopped into the saddle for the same reasons. Broadly speaking, cities in the west seem to have more support for cyclists.

Vancouver, for example, has an excited video on its website introducing a new separated bike line on Dunsmuir Street. It's hard to imagine the same video being made here - especially when you see the city's mayor pull up on a bicycle to endorse the project.

So, we're a little behind the competition in terms of kilometres of bikeways but it could be worse. That said, proposed bikeways aren't bikeways. Toronto has been slow to implement cycling infrastructure and quick to remove it of late. The Jarvis Street debacle aside, perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome is a change in attitude that makes cycling a safer, more desirable option for commuters. How do you think we can achieve this? Is licensing cyclists a way of creating an even playing field for all road users? Tell us below.

Photo: "Bike Lane" by Kiril Strax in the blogTO Flickr pool. Table: "Bicycling renaissance in North America? An update and re-appraisal of cycling trends and policies" by J. Pucher, R. Buehler & M. Seinen

Discussion

21 Comments

Mikey / September 20, 2012 at 03:14 pm
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I would also take a look at [KM of bike path/km^2 Urban Surface Area] or something, not just population.
Matt / September 20, 2012 at 04:35 pm
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I would also take a look at the state of the roads that we have to cycle on compared to other cities. Not to mention the comparison of how well public works departments and contractors replace tarmac post-hole-digging/mess-creation in other cities... just sayin...
W. K. Lis / September 20, 2012 at 04:49 pm
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Rob Ford has a bike path that follows the Humber River just behind his home near Scarlett Road and the Humber River. Does he even know it exists?
tim / September 20, 2012 at 04:53 pm
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Number of kilometres means little. Montreal appears to lag behind Toronto, but Montreal has a great network of separated protected lanes. Toronto has lines painted on the pavement, which don't connect to each other, ending abruptly at complicated intersections where you most need a bike lane. We do, however, have enviable recreational trails through the ravines. Don't know if these are included in our total kilometre count.

And why is licensing used here as comment bait? Do any of the other cities mentioned here license cyclists? Didn't think so. Licensing cyclists in nonsensical. It would only discourage and punish casual cyclists.
David / September 20, 2012 at 05:00 pm
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Grew up in Toronto, live in Winnipeg. Never heard of any city licencing cyclists. If so, it's an option. Otherwise, Winnipeg sounds to be at the same stage as Toronto although nothing tops the park and waterfront bike trails.
Johnny replying to a comment from tim / September 20, 2012 at 05:21 pm
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I agree. The separated bike lanes (and their excellent condition) in Montreal put their city WAY above Toronto.

We need a mayor that cycles. Simple as that.
iSkyscraper / September 20, 2012 at 07:09 pm
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Meaningless comparison rooted in the past. In 2012, what is relevant are separated bike lanes, legislation requiring bike parking in workplaces, parking garages and multifamily housing, and bike stations with lockers and showers at commuting hubs. At the moment Toronto has none of the above while all other cities mentioned in the article have shown growth in these facilities.

How does that make Toronto look?
David / September 20, 2012 at 07:36 pm
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We seem to be installing bike lanes for recreational cyclists, but not much for those who want to get from point A to point B.
McRib replying to a comment from David / September 20, 2012 at 08:14 pm
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yeah, those type of bike lanes are being taken out.

but we get reversible left turn lanes y'all! its the future of transportation.
Jo / September 20, 2012 at 08:25 pm
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Are 'mixxed use' paths through parkland really that beneficial tho? Esp. since ambling pedestrians have a tendancy to veer-off all the grass and gravitate onto the only pavement available anyhow...Someone needs to clearly define what "bike path' means if we're ever going to have a proper network of mass-cycling arteries.
HG / September 20, 2012 at 08:26 pm
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I'm not a cyclist, but some of the 'isolated' bikeways are pointless. Not saying we should get rid of them, just that a more integrated network is needed
Shirley / September 20, 2012 at 08:27 pm
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You should have Calgary on that table. The last time I checked, they had more designated route mileage than Toronto with about 2/5ths the population.

It's one of the Cowtown's big secrets - they started building trails in the seventies and have consistently added on and off street routes each and every year.

http://www.calgary.ca/CSPS/Parks/Pages/Pathways/Calgary-pathways-and-bikeways-map.aspx
Michael / September 20, 2012 at 08:42 pm
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You are aware that it rarely snows in Portland correct
B. Ross Ashley / September 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm
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A lot of our pike path kilometrage is recreational, through the parks etc. Darned little of that us useful for getting anywhere I want to go! How much of Portland's and Chicago's is like that?
Douglas Thoms / September 20, 2012 at 10:47 pm
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Yes, I believe we should licence cycling, because after all, so many municipalities already do it. Also, children use bicycles meaning bicycling is really dangerous. In fact, we should start cycling all methods of movement including jogging, walking and rollerblading.

This will be very cheap and will not create a large expensive bureaucracy.

No sarcasm here, oh no
Jordan / September 20, 2012 at 11:05 pm
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We need seperated bike lanes. In all major cycling cities these exist, and on main downtown streets. Most people I ask who don't bike in Toronto do so because of fear for safety. Looking at the number of cycling deaths, they're right.
JJ replying to a comment from Michael / September 21, 2012 at 08:06 am
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It rarely snows in Portland, correct.

HOWEVER

In New York, Montreal, Chicago and ESPECIALLY Minneapolis, that is absolutely not the case.

What a lot of those cities do is follow the example of European cities and those of places like Madison, Wisconsin where their snow clearing priorities are

Major highways
Major arterial roads
Major Bike Paths

The point is that bike lanes in these cities are not an afterthought to the current administration. They're an integral part of their cities' infrastructure. Using weather as an excuse to ignore them is nothing more than a Red Herring.
Christie Preston / September 21, 2012 at 10:00 am
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Here's the thing about biking in Toronto. We need to stop putting in more and more lanes and actually provide bike racks for people once they get to their destinations!
Andrew / September 21, 2012 at 01:35 pm
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A few thoughts:

First, stop talking about licensing cyclists, most of us already have driver's licences which means we already know (even if we don't obey) the rules of the road. Having licence plates on bicycles does nothing to make them safer nor cyclists more accountable for their actions.

Second, comparing Toronto's "bikeways" to any city with separated bike lanes is an apples to oranges comparison.

And third, I argue that we're also losing bike lanes by the fact that the lines in many areas are so faded that for all intents and purposes, a bike lane doesn't exist! Take the top of River St, or Dupont, or Davenport... The lack of maintenance/upkeep equals a removal of lane-mileage!
ARGNYC / September 21, 2012 at 02:01 pm
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Toronto has terrible bike ways. Upkeep is horrendous and not consistent. Biking along city streets are so scary. No consideration from motor vehicles. Drivers need to be educated.

See what New York City has done and continue to do with bike ways. Absolutely incredible!!! That's what I call total commitment to the cause. Hooray to Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York.
rajeshkumarngn3.1 / September 26, 2012 at 07:03 pm
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