The best and worst cities for cycling in Canada - Keeping Canada Safe - CBC-TV
Most bike-friendly places in Canada: How does your city rank?
Most bike-friendly places in Canada: How does your city rank?

Photo credit: iStock

Cycling is becoming increasingly popular in Canada, but cycling rates in our urban centres are low compared to many European cities. Could a lack of a safe cycling infrastructure be to blame?
More than half of Canadians who ride bicycles say they have been in, or know someone who’s been in, an accident while cycling. More than 4,200 cyclists were hospitalized in 2014/2015.

Making cycling safer is the responsibility of legislators, drivers and cyclists. Cycling advocates are calling for:

  • More and better cycling infrastructure in cities including protected bike lanes and connected networks of designated bike routes.
  • Side guards on large trucks, although this is controversial. A 2010 National Research Council study concluded: “it is not clear if side guards will reduce deaths and serious injury or if the guards will simply alter the mode of death and serious injury.” However, a UK study found there was a 61 per cent drop in cyclist fatalities in side-impact collisions with trucks.
  • Legislation compelling drivers to give an appropriate amount of distance (usually 1 meter) when passing cyclists, especially when there's no designated bicycle lane.
  • Improved cycling education for drivers and cyclists.

5 Tips for Drivers

  1. “Dooring,” where a cyclist is hit or drives into an opening vehicle door is one of the top safety issues for cyclists. Practice the Dutch Reach until it becomes second nature.
  2. Be aware of cyclists around you. Use your rear and side mirrors, do shoulder checks, and scan around parked vehicles. Know where bike routes are and where cyclists may be crossing your route.
  3. When passing a cyclist, give them lots of room. Some provinces have passed laws requiring drivers to leave a one-meter clearance between the vehicle and a cyclist. When following a cyclist, stay at least three seconds behind.
  4. Signal well ahead of turning or changing lanes. Use your mirrors and do shoulder checks to scan all around your vehicle. Make eye contact with cyclists in your path. Avoid using your horn.
  5. Don’t assume you have the right of way. Even if you have, give cyclists some latitude.

5 Tips for Cyclists

  1. Know the traffic laws as they apply to you, the cyclist. Obey them.
  2. Wear a helmet. Be visible. Have lights and reflectors on your bike and wear reflective clothing. Keep your bike in good running order.
  3. Bike defensively. Keep an eye well ahead of you to see if there are hazards coming up. Err on the side of caution and assume drivers can’t see you. Communicate your intentions, learn hand signals and use them.
  4. Don’t overtake cars from the right. It’s tempting to keep moving between parked cars and slow moving cars, but drivers making a right turn may not be anticipating a bike coming up beside them. 
  5. Stay alert. Don’t wear headphones and don’t use your phone.

Photo credit: Alexia Molina

UBC’s Cycling in Cities Research Program examines how people can be encouraged to cycle, and how our cities can be made safer for cyclists. Their research recently ranked 10 Canadian cities in order of their "bikeability."

The top bike-friendly Canadian cities are*:

  1. Victoria
  2. Vancouver
  3. Montreal

Canada’s most  “bikeable” cities have forged ahead with expanding their cycling networks through formal action plans, such as Victoria’s Biketoria, Vancouver’s Transportation 2040, and Montreal’s Cycling Action Plan. These cities promote cycling as a safe, everyday mode of transportation for all ages and abilities. Connecting neighbourhoods to one another and to downtown cores is an important aspect of encouraging cycling commuters. Montreal is currently the only Canadian City to make the Top 20 Annual Copenhagenize Index, which recognizes the most bike-friendly cities in the world.

Here’s the rest of list, ranked by bikeability:

  1. Saskatoon
  2. Calgary
  3. Halifax
  4. Toronto
  5. Charlottetown
  6. Moncton
  7. St. John’s

The cities deemed least “bikeable” have faced challenges in changing citizens’ attitudes towards cyclists, and in implementing cycling infrastructure. And St. John’s is hilly, making it a real workout for cyclists!

Photo credit: Alexia Molina

The good news is that Canadian cities are recognizing that encouraging cycling can help to address commuter traffic, the health of citizens, and becoming more sustainable.

But enough about city cycling. If you’re yearning to get out of the city, there are cycling events all across the country. Some great Canadian cycling events include:

  • The Ride to Conquer Cancer happens in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. You can ride as an individual or as part of a team to raise money to support cancer research and equipment in the province in which you ride. The rides are of varying lengths, but all are scenic.
  • Gran Fondo: an Italian term that, loosely translated, means “Big Ride.” These mass cycling events have been popular in Europe for decades, and now they’re happening in scenic locations across Canada. To be a true Gran Fondo, the course must be at least 120 km long. Avid cyclists train to try to better their times. But, if you’re not into competition, there’s still a place for you—do the ride at your own pace.
  • More than 20,000 cyclists pedal in the annual Tour de l'Île de Montréal. Riders have a choice of distance options—25, 30, 50, 65, or 100 km. And 50 km of the course is on car-free streets. A great way to tour the island!
  • The 24 Hours of Adrenaline race in Canada’s Rocky Mountains is definitely not for the weak of heart! With challenging climbs and technical descents, it’s a race for experienced riders. As the name suggests, this endurance event lasts 24 hours.

*note: the study ranking cities above studied one city per province and did not include every Canadian city.
**The same UBC team also studied the safest type of routes here.

Related stories:

Also on CBC