Cycling in Canada

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Bicycle commuters in Ottawa

Cycling in Canada is experienced in various ways across a geographically huge, economically and socially diverse country. Among the reasons for cycling in Canada are for practical reasons such as commuting to work or school, for sports such as road racing, BMX, Mountain bike racing, freestyle BMX, as well as for pure recreation. The amount and quality of bicycle infrastructure varies widely across the country as do the laws pertaining to cyclists such as bicycle helmet laws which can differ by province.

Sport cycling

Sport cycling is a minority sport in Canada. Various disciplines are practiced across the country to different degrees. In Quebec older, more "European" disciplines like road racing and track cycling are popular (they also have smaller following in English Canada). Newer "extreme" disciplines like bicycle motocross, cross-country cycling, downhill mountain biking and freeride are relatively popular in areas with the appropriate facilities. Many ski hills and resorts in Canada are converted to downhill biking in the summer months. Mountain biking in British Columbia is quite popular, in particular freeride originated on the North Shore near Vancouver.

Canada's only cycling gold medallist in Lori-Ann Muenzer who won the Women's sprint in Athens in 2004. Canada's first winner of one of road racing's three most prestigious Grand Tours was Ryder Hesjedal in 2012. Two Canadians have worn the yellow jersey in the Tour de France: Alex Stieda (who led the race in 1986) and Steve Bauer (who won the opening stage of the 1988 Tour, led the race for five days, and eventually finished fourth overall). Bauer was also the first Canadian to win an Olympic medal in road racing, finishing second in the road race at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, before taking a bronze at the Road World Championships in Barcelona later that year.

Recreational Cycling

The bikeability or bicycle-friendliness of cycling in Canada varies considerably by region. There are thousands of kilometres of bike lanes or paths in Canadian cities. Many multi-use trails connect cities and suburbs on old rail right of ways, known as rails to trails. Rural bicycling is quite popular in less-remote areas using the many low-traffic rural roads or wide shoulders on rural roads. A long distance multi-use trail that will have many sections for cycling, is slated to be completed in 2017, see Trans Canada Trail. There are also predetermined recreational cycle routes such as the Golden Triangle. It is somewhat not uncommon to see cyclists travelling across Canada on the shoulder of the Trans Canada Highway. Most of Canada's northern landmass completely lacks any bicycle infrastructure.

In comparison to Europe, Canadian cities are not as bike friendly. Canadian cars are larger with more blind spots, cities have higher speed limits, highways often travel in or near the core of the city and there is more on-street parking which can present more door zone hazards for cyclists. Consequently, some inexperienced cyclist will use a "pedestrian" style of riding where no cycling facilities exist in order to feel safer cycling in the city such as by riding on the sidewalk, rather than on the roadway. Although pedestrian cycling is technically illegal - as bicycles are deemed to be vehicles under the laws of all provinces - it is a common method in small town and suburban Canada (where pedestrians on sidewalks are often rare). Canadian cycling advocates typically favour cycling facilities like bike paths and bike lanes that provide a buffer between motor vehicles and cyclists. Protected bike lanes or cycle tracks have been adopted in strategic corridors in Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Ottawa with plans to add protected bike lanes in Victoria, Winnipeg and other cities across the country wanting to improve rates of active transportation.[1]

In 2011 the province of Nova Scotia passed a law requiring all motor vehicles to give cyclist 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) of clearance to protect people riding on the shoulder.[2] The narrow streets of Downtown Halifax (the provincial capital) were originally designed for horse, cart and bicycle and they thus require drivers to share the road with a mix of other users. The city is small and reasonably easy to navigate by bicycle as infrastructure is gradually improved each year.

Commuting Cycling

Bicycling to work has grown in popularity due to a grassroots cycling advocacy movement across Canada along with improvements to bicycling infrastructure in cities. Bicycling infrastructure has an impact on the perception of risk and safety which may impact the likelihood that people will commute by bicycle.[3]

For the 2016 Census Journey to Work data noted that the number of people living in Census Metropolitan Areas commuting by bicycle has increased by 87.9%, which is more than twice the pace of overall commuter growth.[4] Canada's overall percent of bicycle commuters from the 2016 census was 1.4%.[4] The top five Census Metropolitan Areas by percent of bicycle commuters are; Victoria (British Columbia) at 6.6%, Kelowna (British Columbia) at 2.7%, Ottawa-Gatineau (Ont./Que.) at 2.4%, Vancouver (British Columbia) at 2.3% with Montreal (Quebec) and Saskatoon (Saskatchewan) tied with 2.0% of people commuting by bike.[4]

The 2011 Statistics Canada National Household Survey recorded that the highest proportion of bicycle commuting to work metropolitan areas in Canada were; Victoria (British Columbia) at 5.9%, Kelowna (British Columbia) at 2.6%, Ottawa (Ontario) at 2.4% and Kingston (Ontario) at 2.2%. Victoria has a very mild climate year-round compared to the rest of Canada which may help explain why the proportion of cycling commuters is so much higher, coupled with a compact core and strong bicycle culture. Victoria is home to one of Canada's earliest Bike to Work events that has grown into the popular bicycle commuting campaign in British Columbia known as Bike to Work Week BC occurs in May each year and pits workplace teams in friendly competition with other workplaces in their community for a variety of prizes.[5]

In Toronto, the country's largest city, and the city with the longest average commutes in all of North America, cycle-communing has quickly gained popularity. In 2010, however, Toronto had the highest per capita rate of bike-car collisions of any Canadian city[6] and bike activists have demanded more bike lanes to make cycling safer. This was derided as "the war on the car" by successful mayoral candidate Rob Ford in the 2010 election. He was supported by media personality Don Cherry's rant against "the pinkos out there who ride bicycles" at Ford's inauguration. In July 2011, Toronto City Council voted to remove three of the bike lanes added by the previous council and most were removed the following year, the Jarvis bike lane was removed by Fall 2012 despite protesters.[7] Toronto is not the only city to grapple with cyclist-motorist conflicts, however.


Interest in early Velocipede bicycles exploded during the winter of 1868-69 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada as evidenced by advertisements.[8] The first person in North America to ride a Penny Farthing style bicycle was Albert Lane who in Montreal rode an imported 50 inch coventry on July 1, 1874.[9] He also co-founded the first bicycle club in Canada, the Montreal Bicycle Club in 1878 which later joined with the Lacrosse and Snowshoe clubs to form the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association in 1881.[10]

Before the widespread adoption of private automobiles, bicycles were a popular mode of transport in Canada,[citation needed] although Canada's snowy winters posed a problem for year-round use. Travel by horse and carriage (or sled) or streetcar offered a more robust alternative. As Canadian became more suburban after World War II, cars became the principal mode of transportation for many people, and cycling shifted to being solely for sport or recreation.

In the 1970s a bike boom saw a sharp increase of bicycle sales in Canada, documented in CBC archives. The advent of the mountain bike in the later twentieth century made off-road recreational bicycling particularly popular.

In the twenty-first century, with longer and longer commute times between suburbs and central business districts, there has been a trend towards urbanization, with people moving into cities. together with gentrification, this has created a more dense urban environment less like the mid-century North American norm and more like Old World cities where cycling commuting is more popular. This has led to a new era of cycling advocacy and can create conflicts with motorists over road space prioritization, funding and planning decisions at the local municipality level.

Cycle commuting facilities

The amount of purpose-built cycle facilities varies widely across Canada.[11]

  • Calgary: 960 km of total bike routes including 355 km of on-street bike lanes (some which are not marked by lines painted on the road, only by signs)
  • Edmonton: 117 km of on-street bike routes (12 km of marked bike lanes, 105 km of signed but unmarked bike routes), plus 275 km of routes shared with pedestrians (including sidewalks and 160 km of paved multiuse trails), and 450 km of unpaved trails;[12][13] 500 km of new bike lane and paths planned over 2009-2019 period
  • Halifax: By 2013, HRM had 226 kilometres (140 mi) of AT facilities (131 kilometres of greenway and 96 kilometres of bike lanes).[14]
  • Montreal: 530 km of bike lanes and shared routes, plans for 800 km total network by 2015
  • Ottawa: As of December 31, 2015: 900 km of cycling facilities, including 435 km of multi use pathways, 8 km of cycle tracks, 200 km of on-road bicycle lanes and 257 km of paved shoulders.[15] 204 km of facilities added between 2011 and 2014.[15]
  • Regina: five total bikes routes, both shared and bike-only
  • St. John's: first bike routed scheduled to open in August 2011
  • Toronto: 209 lane km of painted bike lanes 15.1 lane km of cycle tracks 6.1 lane km of contraflow lanes, 297.4 km of off-road paths[16]
  • Vancouver: 400 km total bikes routes (330 km of which are on-street bike lanes), 55 km of new routes planned for 2010-2011 period
  • Winnipeg: 149 km total, including 13 km of bike-only road routes, plans for 375 km of active transportation routes, which includes multi-use pathways, neighbourhood pathways bike lanes, sharrows and bike boulevards
  • Victoria: 41 km of bike lanes in the city[17] with 775 km in the Capital Regional District.[18] Victoria's first protected bike lane of a planned downtown protected network of bike lanes that are designed for all ages and abilities, or AAA, is planned as a two-way lane on the one-way Pandora avenue. The Pandora protected bike lane opened in Spring 2017 and now sees over 1500 cyclist a day.[19][20][21][22]

For an international comparison, New York has about 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) of total bikes routes.[6]

Long-distance bike travellers can use the 4000 km Route Verte network in Quebec as well as other smaller trails across the country. Most of the Trans-Canada Trail will be multi-use, allowing bicyclists for portions of the trail.

Cycling by city


A City of Calgary's report[23] showed that from 1999–2010, there consistently were 9,200 weekday cycling trips entering or leaving the CBD.

In 2010, Calgary had 712 kilometres of multi-use pathways and 355 kilometres of on-street bikeways, 328 kilometres of which were signed bikeways and 27 kilometres of which were bikeways with pavement marking — bike lanes and marked shared lanes.[23]

In 2015 Calgary has launched a strategic protected bicycle infrastructure plan that has been lauded for its ambition by cycling advocacy organization People for Bikes.[24]


As of 2013, Halifax Regional Municipality had 226 kilometres (140 mi) of AT facilities including 131 kilometres of multi-use trails (called greenways) and 96 kilometres of bike lanes.[14]


Montreal is one of the few North American cities to have been listed as a bicycle friendly city on the Copenhagenize index.[25] Montreal has a long history of activism for bicycle infrastructure thanks to the work of Le Monde à bicyclette and was one of the earliest Canadian cities to install bicycle lanes.[26] Montreal began a pilot implementation of the bicycle-sharing system known as BIXI in 2008. Users purchase daily or subscription usages for bikes, located in various depots throughout the city. The Coupe du Monde Cycliste Féminine de Montréal female professional racing event has been held in Montreal since 1998. the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal has also been held since 2010.


Many of Ottawa's urban streets have a combination of cycling facilities, including bike lanes, cycle tracks and paved shoulders. The city also has a series of cycling and pedestrian bridges, four of which have opened since 2014.[27] As of December 31, 2015, the city has 900 km of cycling facilities, including 435 km of multi use pathways, 8 km of cycle tracks, 200 km of on-road bicycle lanes and 257 km of paved shoulders.[15] 204 km of facilities were added between 2011 and 2014.[15]

Laurier Segregated Bike Lane

Ottawa has a portion of the more than 250 km[28] long Capital Pathway Network that it shares with the City of Gatineau. This shared use path extends to most suburban neighborhoods and into rural areas beyond, so that many long-distance commuters use at least part of it. It is a recreational pathway that is shared with walkers and runners, and not only apart from traffic, but mostly through parks, green spaces and along waterways. Ottawa closes over 50 kilometres of Colonel By Drive, Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, the Rockcliffe Parkway to traffic every Sunday morning May to September, effectively turning the streets into wide recreational lanes.[29] Gatineau Park has a 90 kilometres of trails for mountain biking and for extreme thrill riders near Camp Fortune.[30]

There is a commercial public bike-rental system. Ottawa's city transit have bike racks on all buses that are part of the transitway network and on express routes, but quite infrequently on local routes which use 40' buses. Bicycles are also easily taken aboard the light rail train.

The City of Ottawa was ranked as a "Gold" Bicycle Friendly Community in 2013 by Share the Road Cycling Coalition, the first city in Ontario to receive this designation.[31]

The 2013 Ottawa Cycling Plan intends to increase citywide cycling mode share during the morning peak period from 2.5% in 2011 to 5% in 2031 (8% and 12% respectively in the inner area).[32]

St. John's

As of 2016, St. John's had 208 kilometres (129 mi) of AT facilities including 175 kilometres of multi-use trails (of the Grand Concourse) and 33 kilometres of on-street bike lanes.


Toronto has 117 km of bike-only lanes, 145 km of shared roadways and 168 km of off-road paths. The city plans to implement 500 km of bike lanes, 249 km of off-road paths and 260 km of shared roadways.

In 2011, some bike lanes were removed and the Bixi bike sharing was introduced.

The City of Toronto reported from a downtown study that 46% wore helmets, over 19,000 cyclists enter the downtown core daily, and the 24% of roads with bike lanes carried 45% of the bike traffic.[33]


Cycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation in Vancouver, British Columbia.[34] Translink data indicates that cycling has increased by 40% in Vancouver between 2008 and 2011.[34] Statistics collected show that the protected bike lanes (or cycle track) serve thousands of cyclists every month, even in the wet winter months.[35] Over 1 out of 8 of its lanes, bikeways and paths was a separated lane.[36] Many of Vancouver's protected bike lanes are separated from traffic by self-watering planters that feature hardy plants that can withstand the wet winters and dry summers. The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association initially did not support the separated bike lanes that were installed on Hornby and Dunsmuir streets but have since come to accept them, noting that businesses have adapted and the lanes bring a lot of people to the area.[37]

Vancouver promotes cycling to events in the city by suggesting bicycle valet services to event organizers.[38] These bicycle valet services that are usually no cost for cyclists but corral bikes for event coordinators while providing bike owners with a secure place to store their bike under watchful volunteers while they visit the event.

In summer 2016 Vancouver started its own bike share known as Mobi by Shaw Go.[39] Mobi faced initial planning challenges with the province of British Columbia`s mandatory helmet law that is required for all ages and the placement of docking stations away from existing bike rental locations that cater to tourists.[40][41]


Victoria has the highest rate of commuters who bicycle to work in Canada.[42][4] This may be in part due to a mild year-round climate, a relatively flat and compact core and separate municipalities for the suburban areas resulting perhaps less animosity towards dedicated infrastructure for cyclists. Growth in Victoria's bike commuting and bike culture is supported by the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, the Greater Victoria Bike to Work Society, WeBike and everyday people who advocate for making Victoria aka Biketoria into Biketown YYJ.

Victoria has taken many measures to improve the bicycling experience, particularly in the core of the city. Victoria has a planned All Ages and Abilities (AAA) bicycle network for the downtown, with phase one planned for completion by the end of 2018.[43] Victoria has a dock-less bike share system set-up by U-bicycle.[44] All Victoria Regional Transit busses have front racks that can accommodate two bicycles.[45] Bike lockers are also available at some park and ride bus stop locations outside the downtown core and can be reserved through the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition.[46] To help combat bike theft, the Victoria Police Department launched a bicycle registry with stickers starting in July 2015 to help police identify and check whether a bicycle is stolen.[47] Victoria is proposing an update to the existing off-street parking bylaw to require more bicycle parking for new developments and is proposing that at minimum, in the new bylaw half of all new long-term bicycle parking must be in-ground racks for greater accessibility.[48]

Victoria's regional trails connect the downtown core with suburban municipalities along the Galloping Goose, Lochside and E&N Rail Trail. The Galloping Goose Regional Trail in the Vic West neighbourhood has a bike barometer that counts daily cyclist activity along the popular cycling commuter trail.[49][50] Car Free YYJ was started in 2015 by the Downtown Victoria Business Association to close part of Douglas street to motorized traffic and invite people and vendors to enjoy the space, its popularity encourages cycling to the event and corralling bikes in a bicycle valet service.[51]

See also


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  2. ^ "Road Safety: A Shared Responsibility". One Metre. Government of Nova Scotia. Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
  3. ^ Wang, JYT, Mirza, L, Cheung, AKL and Moradi, S (2014). "Understanding factors influencing choices of cyclists and potential cyclists: A case study at the University of Auckland" (PDF). Road and Transport Research: A journal of Australian and New Zealand research and practice. 23(40: 37–51 – via White Rose University Consortium. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Census in Brief: Commuters using sustainable transportation in census metropolitan areas". Retrieved 2017-12-27. 
  5. ^ "History | Bike To Work BC". Retrieved 2017-12-27. 
  6. ^ a b "Cycling in the city". CBC News. 
  7. ^ Peat, Don; Chief, City Hall Bureau. "Rob Ford applauds Jarvis bike lane removal". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  8. ^ Ingram, Darcy (2012). ""We Are No Longer Freaks": The Cyclists' Rights Movement in Montreal" (PDF). Sport History Review (43): 20. 
  9. ^ kron, karl. Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle. p. 330. ISBN 1241335257. Retrieved 23 Oct 2016. 
  10. ^ Morrow, Don. A Sporting Evolution: The Montreal Amateur Athletic Association 1881-1981. p. 14. ISBN 0-9690839-0-4. 
  11. ^ "Cycling infrastructure in Canada's urban centres". CBC News. 
  12. ^ "Trails & Pathways :: City of Edmonton". Archived from the original on 2013-07-25. Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  13. ^ Archived from the original on November 22, 2010. Retrieved July 22, 2011.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ a b HRM Key Infrastructure Definitions, Regional AT Plan Review, 2013
  15. ^ a b c d "Cycling Network Information". City of Ottawa. 
  16. ^ "Network Status - Bikeway Network - Cycling | City of Toronto". Retrieved 2016-05-17. 
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "City of Victoria All Ages and Abilities Cycling Network FAQs" (PDF). 
  21. ^ "Biketoria Interim Report: Recommended Network" (PDF). 
  22. ^ "Cycling | Victoria". Retrieved 2017-12-28. 
  23. ^ a b (PDF) Archived from the original (PDF) on April 1, 2013. Retrieved May 5, 2015.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^
  25. ^ "The Best Biking Cities on the Planet". WIRED. Retrieved 2017-12-27. 
  26. ^ Walker, Peter (2015-06-17). "People power: the secret to Montreal's success as a bike-friendly city". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-12-27. 
  27. ^ Ottawa, Hans on the Bike-; Canada (2016-01-19). "Ottawa completes 4 bike & ped bridges + 1 overpass". Urban Commuter. Retrieved 2016-05-13. 
  28. ^ "The Capital Pathway: Multi-use Paths in the Capital | National Capital Commission". Retrieved 2016-05-21. 
  29. ^ "Alcatel-Lucent Sunday Bikedays - National Capital Commission". National Capital Commission. 2011-06-28. Retrieved 2011-08-07. 
  30. ^ "Highlight our capital as a unique cycling destination". Ottawa Citizen. 2011-08-05. Retrieved 2011-08-07. 
  31. ^ "Quartier Capitale - City of Ottawa first to receive gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community Award". Retrieved 2016-05-13. 
  32. ^ "Ottawa Cycling Plan". Retrieved 2016-05-13. 
  33. ^
  34. ^ a b
  35. ^
  36. ^ "Home, Property, and Development | City of Vancouver" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  37. ^ "Vancouver businesses switch gears on downtown bike lanes". CBC News. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  38. ^
  39. ^ Vancouver, City of (2016-12-06). "Mobi, our public bike share system". Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  40. ^ "Vancouver's new bike share program proves 'wheelie' popular". Vancouver Sun. 2016-08-05. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  41. ^ "Vancouver bike rental shops fear losing business over city's bike share program". CBC News. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  42. ^ "Table 1.a Proportion of workers commuting to work by car, truck or van, by public transit, on foot, or by bicycle, census metropolitan areas, 2011". Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  43. ^ "Phase 1 | Victoria". Retrieved 2017-12-27. 
  44. ^ "Bicycle sharing, dressed in green, rolls out in downtown Victoria". Times Colonist. Retrieved 2017-12-27. 
  45. ^ "BC Transit - Bike Racks | Rider Info | BC Transit". Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  46. ^ "Store – Maps and Bike Lockers | Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition". Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  47. ^ "Bike Registry". Victoria Police Department. Retrieved 2017-12-27. 
  48. ^ "Off-Street Parking Review | Victoria". Retrieved 2017-12-28. 
  49. ^ Eco-Compteur. "". Retrieved 2018-05-30.  External link in |title= (help)
  50. ^ "'Cycling Santa' Unwraps Victoria's First Bike Barometer | Victoria". Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  51. ^ "Car Free YYJ 2017". Downtown Victoria Business Association. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
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