How you feel about bike lanes may depend on where you live, poll suggests

Canadians in major urban areas are largely in favour of separated bike lanes, a new poll suggests — but that doesn't mean they want those lanes built where they live.

People in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver are most likely to say there are too many bike lanes

Respondents in Western Canada were more likely to respond that there were either too many or the right number of bike lanes in their cities. In this file photo, cyclists make their way down the 5th Street S.W. cycle track in Calgary. (CBC)

Canadians in major urban areas are largely in favour of separated bike lanes, a new poll suggests — but that doesn't mean they want those lanes built where they live.

How you feel about bike lanes — whether there are too many or not enough, if they should be separated, and who's to blame in cyclist/driver conflict — all heavily depend on where you live, how you commute and how old you are, suggests the new public opinion poll by the Angus Reid Institute released Thursday.

"Cities in this country are undergoing as profound a change in terms of how different modes of transportation share the road as we've seen in 100 years — probably since between the time people who were driving horses with buggies were sharing the road with nascent drivers in these newfangled things called cars," said Shachi Kurl, the executive director of the Angus Reid Institute.

The poll surveyed 5,423 people in March in metro centres across the country — Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax, central Toronto (in the 416 area code) and suburban Toronto (in the 905 area code.). 

In Canada, according to the poll, bicycling is the third most popular way to get from A to B.

The poll found seven per cent of Canadians surveyed opted to bicycle multiple times a week, while 16 per cent chose transit and 78 per cent drive.

Despite the relatively small numbers of cyclists, city planners have long been putting an emphasis on infrastructure that encourages more bicycle traffic.

And the poll suggests broad support for separated bike lanes: 65 per cent of respondents said they are a good thing, while only 17 per cent said separated lanes were outright bad.

However, whether people want to see more bike lanes built is another matter.

Albertans least likely to say separated bike lanes are good

Canadians on the western side of the country were considerably more likely to hold the view that there are already too many bike lanes in their city.

More than 30 per cent of city-dwellers in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary said their cities had "too many" separated lanes for cyclists.

Alberta in particular seems slow to warm to bike lanes — Calgary and Edmonton were the only two of eight metro centres surveyed where fewer than half the respondents said separated bike lanes were a good thing. 

Calgarians also led the pack in saying there were too many separated bike lanes, at 37 per cent, followed by Edmonton at 36 per cent.

On the flip side, in two cities, more than half the people polled — Winnipeg (66 per cent) and Halifax (58 per cent) — said there were far too few separated bike lanes in their cities. 

Montrealers, more than people in any other city in Canada, say separated bike lanes are a good thing, with four out of five of Montrealers surveyed behind them.

Suburban Toronto stands out for having had the highest percentage of respondents — one in three — who say bike lanes in their area were a "bad thing," followed by Calgary and Edmonton.

Bob Sutton, a bike courier in Toronto, sees road rage from cyclists and drivers alike but says drivers must understand that cyclists have the same right to use the roads. (Adrian Cheung/CBC)

"This is about mindsets and change," Kurl said. "In the cities of Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary, we have seen in more recent years a push from those municipal governments to increase the number of bike lanes, and of course people aren't generally comfortable with change, and that will change in itself over time, I think as people get more used to it.

"But for the time being anything new, anything confusing, anything divisive will often provoke a little bit of backlash."

Cyclist/driver conflict — who is to blame?

When it came to conflict between cars and bikes, the poll suggested big divisions based on certain demographics.

Overall, two-thirds of Canadians said there were too many cyclists in their communities who regularly don't follow the rules of the road, while nearly an equal number of respondents said too many drivers don't pay enough attention to bicycles.

"If you're under the age of 35 you're much more likely to say it's drivers responsible for conflict, and not cyclists.... Older people are more likely to blame the cyclists, younger people are more likely to blame the drivers," Kurl said.

Kurl attributes this divide to road-rule confusion and said people who were taught to drive more than 20 years ago likely weren't getting much instruction on how to share the road with cyclists.

"I think we're at the point where probably more instruction would benefit everyone," she said.

Unsurprisingly, what one prefers to drive had a huge impact on poll respondents' opinions: 70 per cent of respondents who reported biking several times a week said drivers were more likely to blame for conflict, while only 33 per cent of drivers blamed their fellow motorists.

Winnipeggers the most likely to blame drivers

Winnipeg is the only Canadian city where the majority of people feel that drivers carry more of the blame when it comes to bad interactions between the two groups.

Nearly two thirds of the 526 Winnipeggers surveyed said there was "quite a bit of conflict" between drivers and cyclist, and 52 per cent lay the blame with those on four wheels, not two.

Winnipegger Doug Foster says both cyclists and drivers need to pay more attention when they're on the roads. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"I think we have a lot more impatient drivers," said Doug Foster, 56, of Winnipeg, a longtime car and truck driver. He says the only time he's on two wheels is when he rides his motorcycle.

"It's tit for tat, I mean basically a lot of people don't pay attention, that goes for cyclists and drivers," he said.

Bob Sutton knows how aggressive drivers can get on the streets of Toronto. He's worked as a bike courier for 13 years and has seen every illegal and dangerous move under the sun.

The president of Bike Calgary, a non-profit cycling advocacy group, took issue with the poll focusing so heavily on an us-vs.-them divide between cyclists and motorists. 'I do think the conflict is a bit exaggerated,' says Agustin Louro. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

"You've really got to watch traffic. Even with the new bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide, drivers don't look — I'd say 50 per cent of the time — before turning," Sutton said. 

He said tension and anger continues to grow on the streets and called on drivers to do their part. 

People who drive downtown feel like cyclists aren't allowed to be on the road," he said. "But we're legally part of traffic, expect that we're going to be there.- Toronto bike courier Bob Sutton

"People who drive downtown feel like cyclists aren't allowed to be on the road," he said. "But we're legally part of traffic, expect that we're going to be there."

The president of Bike Calgary, a non-profit cycling advocacy group that offers a course on commuter cycling skills, took issue with the poll focusing so heavily on an us-vs.-them divide between cyclists and motorists.

"I do think the conflict is a bit exaggerated," said Agustin Louro. "A lot of people bike and drive and take transit and walk, so I think that … narrative is overblown and not really very helpful."

The Angus Reid Institute's online survey was conducted from March 6 to 15 among a representative, randomized sample of 5,423 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum.

A survey of this size has an expected margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said that only 12 per cent of people in Vancouver and 15 per cent in Halifax said they already had enough bike lanes. In fact, 30 per cent of people in Vancouver said they had too many separated bike lanes, while 12 per cent of people in Winnipeg felt the same.
    Jun 28, 2018 8:34 AM MT

With files from Holly Caruk, Adrian Cheung and Craig Desson