People in Peel drive when they could walk, but don't blame car culture, planners say

Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon have a transportation riddle to solve: why are so many people opting to use their cars on shorter trips that could be easily walked or cycled?

Region updating transportation plan in effort to get more people out of their cars

A cyclist walks his bike in an area of Brampton with no bike lanes. The majority of people in the area still opt to drive rather than bike or walk for short trips. (Asha Hassan)

People in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon are opting to use their cars on shorter trips that could be easily walked or cycled, according to numbers put out by Peel region.

Only 17 per cent of trips under two kilometres, or about 25 minutes on foot, are actually walked. The number is even lower for potential trips by bicycle: 0 per cent take their bikes out for trips under seven kilometres.

That's a problem for planners, who are currently at work on updating the region's Long Range Transportation Plan with the goal of promoting sustainable transportation and cutting the number of cars on the road. The plan is expected to go to Peel regional council in September.

So what's stopping people from walking or cycling short trips?

The infrastructure issue

Gil Penalosa, who founded a non-profit organization called 8-80 Cities and advocates for cyclists and pedestrians, dismissed the idea that simple car culture is to blame for so many people opting to drive short distances.

"Infrastructure creates culture," he said.

The problem, said Penalosa, is the way communities in Peel were designed and constructed.

"They could have been some of the nicest cities in Canada. Thirty-five years ago they were just fields." Instead, he said, "the region of Peel has been built around cars."

Gil Penalosa believes the only way to get people in Peel biking is to add protected bike lanes. Painted lanes just won't cut it, he says. (Region of Peel)

Wayne Chan, manager of sustainable transportation in Peel, agrees — it's not that people aren't interested in active transportation.  

"Most of the residents recognize that they need to be active. They know the benefits," he said.

"It does have a lot to do with infrastructure," said Arthur Lo, another member of the sustainable transportation team who works with Chan.

Among the infrastructure problems cited by the Long Range Transportation Plan team are roads heavy with truck traffic, missing sidewalks, unsafe crossings, and limited effort put in by the region to encourage cycling and walking prior to 2012.

Changing the tide

Penalosa argues there are concrete actions Peel could take to draw more people to active transportation.

"It's not about putting signs, or doing classes, or putting racks on buses. The only way to get new cyclists is to lower the speed limits in residential areas and to create a grid of protected bikeways," he said.

Places like Mississauga, which has begun work on a painted network of bike lanes the city hopes will one day be 900 kilometres long, aren't doing enough, said Penalosa. 

"Painting lines on the road does not work."

For pedestrians, Penalosa says lowering speed limits is the key to getting people out and about.

"When the speed limit goes down, people walk a lot more. They don't like walking when the cars are going by too fast."

Eric Chan, project manager for the Long Range Transportation Plan update, said the Peel Region's goal is to make half of the trips taken sustainable by 2041.

His team held public consultations last week and will do so again before the summer, looking for the public's suggestions on ways to improve transportation in the region, including for would-be cyclists and pedestrians.

"Getting the behaviour to change takes time. It's not that people don't recognize, it's harder to break the cycle," explained Chen.


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