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Turning car trips to cycling trips

Raktim Mitra

Researcher Raktim Mitra found that there are opportunities to improve policy and practice to support cycling.

More than four million trips taken by Greater Toronto and Hamilton area (GTHA) residents are trips that have high potential for being shifted from motor vehicle to bicycle, says a new Ryerson University study.

The findings will inform the next Regional Transportation Plan, and municipal policy and planning practice in the GTHA, in creating cycling-friendly and healthy communities, a goal of both the Regional Transportation Plan for the GTHA, The Big Move and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

“We know that the popularity of cycling in downtown Toronto is growing exponentially, but our findings indicate there are critical opportunities to improve both policy and practice to support cycling across the entire GTHA,” said Raktim Mitra, who is the principal investigator on the study and a professor in the School of Urban and Regional Planning.

“If only one in five (20 per cent) of the trips that we identified as cyclable trips were actually cycled, that would take 716,000 cars off GTHA streets every day. It would also contribute to a significant reduction in congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and make a major improvement in physical activity levels among GTHA residents,” Mitra said.

The researchers examined current patterns of cycling in the GTHA, quantified cycling potential in the region and identified areas with high propensity for cycling.

A potentially cyclable trip is defined as a trip where:

    - the primary mode of travel was not walking or cycling, and;

    - the trip distance was between one and five kilometres, a distance that can be easily made by bicycle in under 20 minutes.

GTHA residents take 14 million trips every day. The majority (63 per cent) of these trips are short trips less than five kilometres, and yet, only six per cent of these short trips are currently either walked or cycled. In comparison, 4.35 million trips within the GTHA can be considered potentially cyclable trips, which is one-third (i.e., 33 per cent) of all trips that are not currently taken on foot or a using a bicycle.

“While current cycling rates in many suburban municipalities in the GTHA remain low, our research has found that there is high potential for increasing cycling for transportation outside of the downtown core,” said Nancy Smith Lea, director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT), a collaborator on the report.

Other key findings from this report are:

    - More than half (53 per cent) of the estimated potentially cyclable trips are short trips, between one and three kilometres in length. All regional municipalities produce very high volumes of short trips that could potentially be cycled.

    - The potential for cycling was higher among unemployed travellers and among women. Women currently make more trips that can potentially be cycled (54 per cent) compared to men (46 per cent). However, only 30 per cent of current cyclists on GTHA’s roads are female.

    - Currently only 1.1 per cent of school or work-related trips by 11 to 16-year-old youth are cycled. However, the research suggests that at least 27.5 per cent of all trips to school or work by this age group can potentially be cycled.

    - One-fifth (22 per cent) of all trips to/from the GO transit stations (and four per cent of all transit access trips) could potentially be cycled. Promoting cycling for these short transit access/egress trips can play a critical role in solving the region’s “last mile/ first mile” problem.

The report is a collaboration between Ryerson University’s TransForm Laboratory and the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, with funding from Metrolinx, an agency of the Government of Ontario.