New Options for Canadian Urban Biking Policy


By Arman Kazemi

August 14, 2014

Investing in bike infrastructure has the potential to offer huge returns on public investments, according to a new report. Researchers studied Auckland, New Zealand as a model of the positive effects of bike infrastructure on urban environments. But the reports’ findings may have ramifications much closer to home.

Published by Environmental Health Perspectives, the report used five broad policy scenarios to test the outcome of public investment in Auckland’s cycling infrastructure by 2040.

Whether testing for road traffic injury rates, thoroughfare congestion, or greenhouse gas emissions, every scenario resulted in positive returns on public investments in urban cycling infrastructure.

According to the report’s authors, the benefits of pro-cycling policies outweighed the costs of infrastructure like bike lanes, bike-share programs, and reduced speed levels on shared roads.

Depending on the extent and speed of adoption, cities could see anywhere from six to 24 times the return on every dollar spent on bike infrastructure.

These benefits would come in the form of reduced pollution and traffic congestion, as well as “lowered healthcare costs from decreased traffic fatalities” and the boon of increased daily exercise that cycling brings, according to Aljazeera news report covering the study.

As tensions between motorists and cyclists continue to flare in Canadian cities, similar evidence from Canadian municipalities with progressive bike policies validate the report's key findings.

Vancouver, for example, has steadily increased its separated bike routes in the downtown core, with a corresponding rise in pedal traffic that matches the New Zealand study’s projections.

According to official estimates, the number of bikes crossing the Burrard Bridge using the controversial bike median, for example, was at a record 148,000 trips last month, up from 117,000 in the same month in 2010.

The city of Toronto has also taken measures to expand separated bike routes in the city in response to demands from the city’s cycling support groups.

But beyond social and environmental benefits, the study may have missed one of the latest trends that make bike infrastructure so attractive: tourism.

According to a CBC report last month, the government of Quebec is starting to cash in on the expansion of its province-wide cycling network, La Route Verte, thanks to the increased profile it brought the province as an international cycle tourism destination.

The cycling highway, which weaves through most parts of the province along a 5,000 km route, is unmatched in the rest of the country, with provinces like Ontario only starting to catch up.

Clearly, bicycle infrastructure has the potential to produce good returns on investment. From tourism in Quebec to reduced vehicle traffic in Vancouver, sound policy and smart investments can help Canada make a decisive shift away from fossil fuel based transportation.