House Call with Carol Hughes

Cycling strategy makes a lot of sense

The environmental challenges facing us mean we need to re-think how we live. There will be difficulties and opportunities as we consider how we design our cities and especially how we navigate them. Things like public transit will play a big role, but there are quicker solutions that will help us move towards a greener future that should be easy to support. One of those is a national cycling strategy, which New Democrats have been promoting in Parliament.

It’s tempting to think that a cycling strategy won’t do much for us in the North, given that the benefits would generally flow to larger centres that experience significant traffic problems, but there are larger benefits to the country that make the idea important. Additionally, there are good reasons to support creating a bike-positive environment that will flow to the region. To find proof of that, look no further than the work done to make the highway on Manitoulin Island more bicycle friendly which has led to an increase in cycling tourism.

The goals of the cycling strategy are to fight climate change while supporting community planning and design in a way that makes travel safe, convenient and comfortable for everyone, regardless of their mode of transportation. The need for that is obvious and news from big cities regularly carries stories of accidents involving cyclists, often with tragic outcomes.

In addition to safety, the move to cycling will take cars off the road and what will be necessary to meet our climate goals. Often, when a measure is rolled out to help us meet our climate goals the outcomes are explained as having the effect of moving x number of cars off the road. When considered like that, the benefits of a cycling strategy become obvious.

As mentioned, the move would help combat congestion, which may not seem as important for Northerners who rarely experience the problem in the way that big cities do. ln Canada’s largest cities it is estimated drivers spend days a year stuck in traffic. Available data pegs the number of days at seven for Toronto, six in Montreal, and over four for Vancouver. Those are days of emissions going nowhere. Something has to change and replacing some of those cars with bicycles is a start.

In addition to reducing emissions during transportation, the production of bikes is far less carbon-intensive than it is for cars, but there are other benefits. Cycling is a more accessible form of transportation for people with modest incomes and reduces road wear which saves money over time. There are also health benefits and relief for parking congestion too. Best of all, bikes can often be faster and more efficient than cars over short trips.

In Parliament, New Democrats introduced a bill to establish a national cycling strategy that would commit Ottawa to set targets for expanding cycling infrastructure, encourage more Canadians to use bikes to get around and create a public-education campaign on cycling safety for cyclists and motorists. It recognizes how quality transit is essential in making our cities run and how we must do better to reduce traffic in urban centres that have hit record levels of congestion.

It is becoming clear that people want to do their part to reduce carbon emissions. Part of that involves not driving their cars unnecessarily, but often they’re too afraid they’ll be hit on a bike. A cycling strategy would help and encourage communities to plan for changes that will reduce that fear. It’s not the only way we will address our environmental concerns, but it’s a good building block toward greener, safer, and more enjoyable communities.