Cycling in Canada
Cycling in Canada is perceived and practised in various ways across such a huge, geographically, economically and socially diverse country. Among them are cycling for practical reasons such as communing to work or school, for sports such as road racing, BMX, Mountain bike racing, freestyle BMX, as well as for pure recreation. In addition, bicycle infrastructures vary widely across the country.
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 medalist in Lori-Ann Muenzer who won the Women's sprint in Athen in 2004. Canada's first winner of one of road racing's three most prestigious Grand Tours was Ryder Hesjedal in 2012.
Pleasure and commuting cycling
The bikeability or bicycle-friendliness of Canadians regions varies considerably. There are thousands of kilometres of bike paths in Canada's major cities. Rural bicycling is quite popular in less-remote using the many low-traffic rural roads and long distance trails available. Most of Canada's northern landmass completely lacks any bicycle infrastructure.
In general Canadian cars are larger and Canadian speed limits much higher than in Europe. Consequently many Canadians use a "pedestrian" style of riding (riding on sidewalk or the shoulder), rather than the vehicular style (behaving the same a car) favoured in Britain or mainland Europe. Although pedestrian cycling is technically illegal, as cycles are vehicles under the laws of all the provinces, is the most common method in small town and suburban Canada (where pedestrians on sidewalks are rare). Vehicular cycling is limited mostly to the centres of major cities. Canadian cycling advocates typically are in favour of segregated cycle facilities (bike paths and bike lanes) so that cyclists do not have to ride in mixed traffic with motor vehicles. Recognizing that Canadians typically do not use the vehicular style, the province of Nova Scotia passed law requiring all motor vehicles to give cyclist 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) of clearance to protect people riding on the shoulder. The narrow streets of Downtown Halifax (the provincial capital) are generally too narrow to allow riding on the shoulder, however.
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 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. Toronto is not the only city to grapple with cyclist-motorist conflicts, however.
Before the widespread adoption of private automobiles by the middle class in the mid twentieth century, bicycles were relatively popular in Canada, although Canada's snowy winters posed a problem, especially before there were industrial-sized snowploughs in every city. Travel by horse and carriage (or sled) or streetcar were more robust. As Canadian suburbanized cars became the main mode of transportation, and cycling shifted to being something done for fun or sport. The advent of the mountain bike in the later twentieth century made off-road cycling particularly popular.
In the twenty-first century with longer and longer commute times between suburbs and central business districts, many middle-class people have been moving back into the city, in a process of gentrification, this has created a more dense urban environment less like the mid-century New World norm and more like Old World cities where cycling commuting is more popular. This has led to a new era of cycling advocacy and conflicts with motorists over funding and planning decisions, and space on the road.
Cycle commuting facilities
The amount of segregated cycle facilities varies widely across Canada.
- 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; 500 km of new bike lane and paths planned over 2009-2019 period
- Halifax: 75 km of bike lanes and 11 km of "wide curb" lanes shared by cyclists and motorists
- Montreal: 530 km of bike lanes and shared routes, plans for 800 km total network by 2015
- Ottawa: 140 km of lanes reserved for bicycles and 205 km of paved shoulder used by cyclists and for on-street parking, Capital Pathway is a 220 km network of urban and trails through parks. First segregated bike line opened in 2011 of Laurier Avenue, Bixi shared bikes introduced in 2011.
- Regina: five total bikes routes, both shared and bike-only
- St. John's: first bike routed scheduled to open in August 2011
- Toronto: 117 km of bike-only lanes, 145 km of shared roadways and 168 km of off-road paths, plans for 500 km of bike lanes, 249 km of off-road paths and 260 km of shared roadways, some bike lanes removed in 2011. Bixi shared bikes introduced in 2011.
- 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
For an international comparison, New York has about 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) of total bikes routes.
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.
Cycling by city
A City of Calgary's report 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.
Montreal's began a pilot implementation of Bixi bike sharing 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 major urban streets have lanes that are for cyclists only. These lanes are not demarcated by any type of barrier such as those that are increasingly being installed in Vancouver and Montreal. These lanes occur frequently enough so that most cyclist commuters can spend most of their commute relatively free from traffic.
Ottawa also has its portion of the 220 km long Capital Pathway that it shares with the city of Gatineau. This pathway 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, so motorized vehicles are not a concern. 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. Gatineau Park has a 90 kilometres of trails for mountain biking and for extreme thrill riders near Camp Fortune.
There is a commercial public bike-rental system. Ottawa's city transit have bike racks on all buses that are part of its express routes (transitway routes), but quite infrequently on its buses which do local routes. Bicycles are also easily taken aboard the light rail train.
A City of Ottawa plan intends to increase cycling from 1.7% in 2001 to 3% in 2021, and to increase the number of peak-hour cyclists from 4500 to 12,000.
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.
Vancouver's cycling has increased 180% between 1994 and 2004. The separated bike lanes cause an increase in ridership of four times in that studied area. Over 1 out of 8 of its lanes, bikeways and paths was a separated lane.
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