Active Transportation Needs a Federal Champion

Twitter Cycling 2*Reprinted with permission of The Hill Times 

Prepared by Kim Perrotta and Judi Varga-Toth, December 11th, 2017

Canada needs a federal champion for active modes of transportation such as cycling and walking.   At present, no federal minister has been assigned responsibility for supporting active transportation in this country.  Mandate letters, used to set priorities for federal ministers, make no mention of active transportation.  This is a problem for so many reasons!

Active transportation is good for health!  Chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes affect one in five Canadians and are the cause of 65% of all deaths in Canada.  They cost Canadians about $200 billion per year in lost-time and health care costs.  And the rate of chronic diseases is rising rapidly; by about 14% per year.

Physical inactivity is one of the leading risk factors for chronic diseases.  Today, only one in five Canadian adults and one in ten Canadian children get the levels of physical activity needed to maintain good health.  Active transportation is an effective way to increase levels of physical activity because it allows people who have little free time to accomplish two tasks at one time.  They can “get exercise” while commuting to work or school.

People who walk or cycle to work live longer, healthier lives.  A five-year study conducted in the UK found that people who walk to work reduce their risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease by 36%.  It found that people who cycle to work reduce their risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes by 40 to 46%.   There is no drug in the world that can deliver that kind of health benefit!

Active transportation reduces emissions of air pollutants.  Air pollution kills tens of thousands of Canadians each year.  In cities, vehicles are often the most significant source of air pollution.  In Toronto, for example, it is estimated that  440 people will die prematurely and 1,700 people will be hospitalized each year because of traffic-related air pollution.   By encouraging people to replace short car trips with walking and cycling trips, we can reduce air pollution, and the heart and lung diseases, hospital admissions, and early deaths related to it.

Active transportation reduces greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to climate change.  Climate change has been declared the most significant public health threat of the 21st century by the World Health Organization.  This summer, 45,000 Canadians were evacuated from their homes by wildfires that have grown in frequency and intensity because of higher temperatures and longer droughts related to climate change.  Active transportation can reduce GHGs by reducing the number of vehicles on the road.   One study estimated that GHGs from vehicles in San Francisco could be reduced by 14% if people in the community increased the number of minutes spent walking and cycling for shorter trips from 4.5 to 22 minutes per day.

Investing in active transportation will produce many other co-benefits.  It can reduce sedentary behaviour and obesity in children.  It will reduce traffic injuries and deaths among pedestrians and cyclists.  It can increase social equity by making it easier for women, teenagers, seniors, and people who live on low incomes, to access jobs and services. It can boost the economy by promoting tourism and local retailers.  It can reduce traffic congestion.  It can reduce health care costs!!

There are many things that federal government could and should do to foster active transportation in Canada.  It should: share gas tax transfers for active mobility; identify a modal share goal for Canada; create a dedicated active transportation infrastructure fund; and invest in cycling tourism; mandate side guards on large trucks; direct Statistics Canada to improve the data collected on cycling; incent the use of e-bikes; address unfair import duties affecting our bicycle industry; invest in cycling infrastructure for our national parks; ensure that the Trans Canada Trail and other trails are safe for cycling and walking.

The federal government has already recognized its role in protecting vulnerable road users. It must now step up and inspire Canadians to make our communities, large and small, places where people of all ages and abilities can get around actively on a daily basis.  We need a federal champion!

Take action!

Bloor Street West Bike Lane shows need for National Active Transportation Strategy

Prepared by Kim Perrotta MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE, October 20, 2017

Last week, Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee decided to maintain the Bloor Street West Bike Lane.  The bike lane was installed on Bloor Street from Shaw Street to Avenue Road as a pilot project for one year.  It was a watershed moment for bike lanes in Toronto because Bloor Street is one of the busiest streets in the city.  But the debate also exemplifies the desperate need for evidence-based direction from the federal government.

Before the installation of the Bloor Street West Bike Lane, this stretch of road was used by approximately 24,000 vehicles and 3,300 cyclists per each weekday, and recorded, on average, 22 collisions involving cyclists each year.  After the installation of the bike lane, cycling increased by 49% to 5,220 cyclists per week day, while the number of vehicle/cyclist conflicts was decreased by 61% (Toronto 2017).

City staff recommended maintaining the Bloor West Bike Lane on the basis of several evaluation studies which found that: a significant number of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians felt the road was safer with the bike lane; driving time along this stretch increased by only 2 to 4 minutes respectively during peak times; customer spending increased among local businesses; and strong support for the bike lane was expressed by cyclists, pedestrians, local residents, and drivers who ride a bicycle on occasion (Toronto, 2017).

Sixty people and organizations were registered for deputations at this Committee meeting. Despite the positive results from the evaluation studies and the passion of the testimonies, two of the six councillors still voted against maintaining the Bloor West Bike Lane.  Councillor Holyday and Councillor Mammoliti were fixated on the cost of installing the bike lanes, the risk of slowing vehicular traffic, and the loss of parking spots.  It was frustrating and disheartening.

Bike lanes reduce injuries and deaths among cyclists.  They increase levels of physical activity, which reduces chronic diseases, deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer, and health care costs.  Bikes emit no air pollutants and no greenhouse gases.  Bike lanes make jobs, services, and recreational opportunities more accessible to people who cannot drive and to those who cannot afford their own vehicles.  With so many health, environmental, and social benefits, why is it so difficult to get bike lanes installed?

We need to think  about bike lanes differently.  We have to think of them like sidewalks; essential infrastructure that protect people from vehicles while fostering healthy lifestyles.  We have to think of them like soccer fields and hockey arenas; community assets that promote physical activity and social cohesion.  We have to think of them like parks and greenspace; a land use use of land that improves air quality, mitigates climate change, and promotes mental health.

There is a role for the federal government to engage in this debate.  Chronic diseases cost Canada hundreds of billions of dollars each year in lost-time and health care costs.  Bike lanes are a public health priority; one that could be fostered and promoted with a national strategy that includes targets, design criteria, and policies.  Citizens need help getting municipal councillors on side.  The federal government needs to get health care costs under control.  It is time for a National Active Transportation Strategy.

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