Big Moment for Walking and Cycling
Originally published in the Commentary section of TheStar.com. The original posting can be seen here.
By Nancy Smith Lea, director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, and Eleanor McMahon, Founder & CEO of Share the Road Cycling Coalition.
The existing transportation system for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is not meeting the current and future needs of this growing region — economically, socially or environmentally. It is fragmented, inefficient, inequitable and underfunded. Gridlock costs our economy $6 billion a year; the transportation sector is one of the main contributors to climate change and air pollution, and we have one of North America’s longest commute times.
The Big Move, the 25-year regional transportation plan, is an ambitious plan that will dramatically improve transportation in the GTHA. On Monday, Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for developing the Big Move, will announce its recommendations on how to pay for these transportation improvements.
It is critical that bicycling and walking are not forgotten in the Big Move given the important role they play in the daily lives of citizens in our city, and in our region — and the benefits inherent in encouraging more of us to walk and ride more often.
Other regions with similar transportation challenges to ours (e.g. Los Angeles, Chicago, Vancouver, Montreal) are leaps and bounds ahead of us in embracing transit plans that include funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure with excellent results.
Mayors of Ontario’s large urban areas recently stood united on the need for new provincial revenue tools to fund the Big Move and a recent Ipsos-Reid poll found that 85 per cent of Toronto residents also agree. Interestingly, support for these new taxes increases significantly if the revenue is dedicated to public transit (82 per cent), cycling (51 per cent) or walking (47 per cent) while there is much weaker support for funds dedicated to new roads (19 per cent) or highways (14 per cent).
These results were reinforced in an Omnibus survey of 1,500 Ontarians by the research firm Strategic Communications Inc. on our behalf. When asked about support for provincial funding of active transportation, 73 per cent of Ontarians agree that walking and cycling infrastructure investments should be included as part of the Big Move.
Cycling and walking need to be an integral part of any city’s transportation planning. The Stratcom survey found that 7 per cent of the population or 182,000 people are riding their bikes every day in the City of Toronto. And we know that every trip we take begins with a walk.
Our research tells us that active transportation enjoys growing support — and there is also growing awareness of its wealth of social, economical and environmental benefits. Yet it’s far too easy for walking and cycling to get lost in this big conversation we’re having about regional transportation.
Toronto would do well to follow the lead of a growing number of world class cities such as New York and London that are prioritizing cycling and walking investments and encouraging citizens to make both a part of their daily routine.
- On a typical weekday, approximately 47 per cent of automobile trips in the GTHA are less than 5 kilometres, distances that are easily walked — and bikeable in 20 minutes.
- The pent-up demand for cycling is significant: 67 per cent of Torontonians want to cycle more and would if on-road and at-work facilities improved, yet commuting rates by walking and cycling in the GTHA are among the lowest in the country.
- Active transportation produces virtually no greenhouse gas emissions and its health benefits are numerous.
- It’s cost effective: the entire 4,500 kilometres of new walking and cycling infrastructure proposed in The Big Move could be built for the same cost as only 18-kilometres of a new four-lane city road.
We have a very serious, yet solvable, transportation problem in the GTHA. Public transit investment is obviously critical to the solution — but active transportation isn’t just a nice-to-have add-on. Walking and cycling are important transportation options in their own right.
Once safe, connected walking and cycling networks are built, thousands of GTHA residents will be more comfortable choosing to walk or bike for local trips and to connect to transit for longer trips.
This is a pivotal moment for transportation investment in the GTHA and a huge opportunity to substantively improve public transit, active transportation and our quality of life across the region. So let’s get a move-on and ensure that cycling and walking have a prominent role in the Big Move.