Special Report: Cycling

Recommendations for Improving Ontario's Cycling Strategy

The Province of Ontario is currently undertaking a five-year review of its Cycling Strategy.

By Kevin Love
Published March 23, 2018

The following text was submitted to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation as part of their public consultation for updating Ontario's Cycling Strategy. The current Ontario Cycling Strategy dates from the year 2013, and is being reviewed for its five-year update.

The following recommendations are broken down in accordance with four of the five action categories of the Ontario Cycling Strategy. No recommendations are made for the fifth category, cycle tourism.

Action Category #1: Design Healthy, Active and Prosperous Communities

Statement of the Problem: Healthy Communities

Right now, motor vehicle operators kill and injure an unacceptably large number of people in Ontario. In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), local Medical Officers of Health have determined that:

the health impact of traffic-related emissions in the GTHA is estimated to be over 700 premature deaths each year, with an economic impact of over $4.6 billion. Traffic-related emissions are also estimated to be responsible for over 2,800 annual hospitalizations due to heart and lung conditions.

The same report found that the victims are disproportionately young children, the elderly and pregnant women.

In at least two Ontario cities, Toronto and Hamilton, the Public Health Department and Medical Officer of Health have looked at the health consequences of tolerating motor vehicle operation in those cities. The results are horrific.

In April 2014, Toronto Public Health released their report, Path to Healthier Air [PDF]. This shows that motor vehicle operators poison and kill an average of 280 people in Toronto each year. Another 1,090 people in Toronto are hospitalized each year because they are poisoned by motor vehicle operators.

This report is an update of the Toronto Public Health report of November 2007, which also determined that the financial costs of people being poisoned by motor vehicle operators in Toronto was an annual average of $2.2 billion.

In 2013, the City of Hamilton's Public Health Department worked in partnership with Ontario's Ministry of the Environment to produce their "Air Quality Progress Report 2013". This found that motor vehicle operators in Hamilton produce more pollution than all other sources, with 50 percent of the total air pollution in Hamilton caused by motor vehicle operators. Of particular concern are cancer-causing fine particles in motor vehicle pollution. The public health consequences of motor vehicle poisonings are horrific:

As part of their Vision Zero consultation, the City of Hamilton also collected information on motor vehicle crashes. From this source, we see that deaths and injuries due to motor vehicle operators crushing people are also horrific.

Ontario-wide statistics are available for the human and financial costs of traffic violence [PDF] due to motor vehicle crashes in Ontario.

However, there does not appear to be Ontario-wide information on the number of people killed and injured by being poisoned by motor vehicle operators. Nor do we have information on the financial costs of this poisoning.

Vision Zero: Statement of the Solution and Recommendations for Implementation

Recommendation #1: Ontario should set a goal of Vision Zero. Zero deaths caused by motor vehicle operators. Zero poisoning deaths and zero crushing deaths.

It is difficult to achieve a goal without measuring progress towards its accomplishment. Using the same methodology as the Toronto and Hamilton Public Health Departments, the Province of Ontario can measure poisoning and crushing deaths caused by motor vehicle operators in order to track progress towards achieving Vision Zero.

Recommendation #2: Ontario should measure deaths caused by motor vehicle operators, including all citizens of Ontario poisoned and killed by motor vehicle operators.

There are several ways of effectively implementing Recommendation #1 by a progressive mode shift to replace the use of private motor vehicles for transportation in Ontario with walking, cycling and public transit. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that people in Ontario are willing to embrace this mode shift whenever walking, cycling or public transit are the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of safely travelling from A to B.

Recommendation #3: Ontario's transportation infrastructure and land use policies should have as their goal to make walking, cycling or public transit the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of safely travelling from A to B.

There currently do not exist goals or targets in Ontario for cycling mode share, or for mode share for walking or public transit.

Recommendation #4: Transportation mode share targets should be set for Ontario and for each region in Ontario.

Action Plan Category #2: Improve Cycling Infrastructure

Right now, a serious obstacle to improving cycling infrastructure in Ontario is our poor quality of design engineering standards. Many people have criticized the current Book 18 of the Ontario Traffic Manual. One such criticism comes from the perspective of the Netherlands' approach to bicycle safety.

My home city of Hamilton, Ontario has many examples of the profoundly dangerous infrastructure of Book 18. One current example in Hamilton is on Golf Links Road approaching the Lincoln Alexander Parkway. Note the photograph of an unprotected bike lane with two motor vehicle lanes to the right of the bike lane and two motor vehicle lanes to the left of the bike lane.

Golf Links Road approaching the Lincoln Alexander Parkway in Hamilton (Image Credit: Google Street View)
Golf Links Road approaching the Lincoln Alexander Parkway in Hamilton (Image Credit: Google Street View)

Needless to say, this grossly unsafe design gets approximately zero bicycle traffic. Would you send your 12-year-old daughter riding to school on this bike lane? I definitely would not.

Another notoriously bad design in the current Book 18 is the notorious "door zone bike lane." By putting a bike lane into the door zone of adjacent parked cars, one creates the crazy situation where the most dangerous place on the entire road to ride a bike is in the bike lane. My home city of Hamilton has an example of this on Dundurn Street South.

Dundurn Street South in Hamilton
Dundurn Street South in Hamilton

The recognized world-class benchmark design engineering standard for bicycle traffic infrastructure is the Dutch CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic. Which does not allow the dangerous infrastructure that we see in Hamilton and other Ontario cities.

Recommendation #5: Reform Book 18 of the Ontario Traffic Manual by bringing it into conformance with the CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic.

Action Category #3: Make Highways and Streets Safer

The overwhelming source of danger on our highways and streets is posed by motor vehicle operators. Many ways of achieving Recommendations #1 and #3 effectively employ key constraints upon motor vehicle operation to eliminate this danger by achieving a mode shift to walking, cycling and public transit. One such constraint is short-term storage or parking of motor vehicles.

As stated in Section 6, Item 1.4 of Ontario's 2016 Climate Change Action Plan, it is current Ontario government policy to eliminate minimum car parking requirements from municipal zoning bylaws in Ontario. A quote from this source:

1.4 Eliminate minimum parking requirements

Minimum parking requirements would be eliminated over the next five years for municipal zoning bylaws.

Recommendation #6: Ontario should immediately implement its existing policy to eliminate all minimum car parking requirements from municipal zoning bylaws.

Another key constraint upon private motor vehicle operators is the fact that they get in each other's way and cause traffic congestion. It has been amply demonstrated that, thanks to the phenomenon known as Induced Demand, it is futile to attempt to eliminate this congestion by building more roads for cars. And yet such attempts, at extraordinary cost, have been repeatedly made in Ontario and repeatedly failed.

Ontario still has some official plans to repeat this record of failure. One example is the proposed expansion of Highway #6 through Hamilton. Cost estimates currently range upwards of a mind-boggling $750 million for this absurd boondoggle.

Recommendation #7: Immediately cancel all plans in Ontario for inappropriate expansion of automobile highway infrastructure.

Another step towards achieving Recommendation #3 is through changes to Ontario's Highway Traffic Act to implement what has become known as an "Idaho stop law." Starting in 1982, the US state of Idaho changed their laws to allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and to treat red traffic lights as stop signs. Since 1982, this measure has been found to increase traffic safety in Idaho.

Idaho stop rules have also become the de facto behaviour in major Ontario cities such as Hamilton and Toronto. It is inappropriate to maintain laws that people do not follow and that police do not enforce. Such a rule also helps make cycling the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of safely travelling from A to B by improving safety and helping people to maintain momentum while travelling.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has an essay explaining why stop signs discourage cycling [PDF]. Another excellent resource [PDF] was developed by DePaul University for the City of Chicago.

Recommendation #8: Change the Ontario Highway Traffic Act to implement an Idaho stop law.

The most important way of achieving cycling safety is through appropriate infrastructure. The second most important way of achieving cycling safety is through the "safety in numbers" effect. The more people cycling, the safer it is to cycle.

Unfortunately, there is one provision of Ontario's Highway Traffic Act that actively discourages cycling, thereby making it more dangerous for the remaining cyclists in Ontario. This is Ontario's notorious child helmet law, which mandates the wearing of bicycle helmets for children under the age of 18.

In Australia, their introduction of an all-ages bicycle helmet law had the effect of reducing the number of cyclists by approximately one-third. By losing the "safety in numbers" effect, this made cycling much more dangerous in Australia. Some demographics, such as female secondary school students, had a much sharper drop in numbers.

Fortunately, the effect of Ontario's law has been largely mitigated by police not enforcing it and by large numbers of secondary school students refusing to obey it. It is inappropriate to maintain laws that people do not follow and that police do not enforce. However, this law does provide some social pressure, particularly upon younger children. This makes cycling more dangerous for children in Ontario by reducing the number of children cycling.

Recommendation #9: Improve the safety of children cycling by repealing the child bicycle helmet law.

Closely related to this is the negative branding of cycling by promoting the use of helmets for transportation cycling by adults. This makes cycling more dangerous in Ontario by discouraging people from cycling.

Recommendation #10: Encourage safety through the "safety in numbers" effect by immediately ceasing all forms of helmet promotion for transportation cycling.

Action Category #4: Promote Cycling Awareness and Behavioural Shifts

An excellent example of effective awareness promotion resulting in behavioural shift is Ontario and Canada's current promotion of the dangers of tobacco consumption. This has discouraged tobacco use by educating the public about the dangers of tobacco consumption. Cancer and tobacco use have been effectively associated in the public mind.

Similar anti-cancer promotion should be directed at car drivers. One very effective means of anti-cancer promotion for tobacco is labelling laws on tobacco products to educate users on the cancers caused by tobacco consumption. Similar labelling laws should be used to educate car drivers on the cancers caused by the fine particles and other lethal cancer-causing poisons created by car use.

There is one key difference between cancer caused by tobacco use and cancer caused by automobile use. With the elimination of second-hand smoke, tobacco users are only hurting themselves. Car drivers are poisoning and killing everyone else.

However, the effectiveness of tobacco education does provide an example for how to properly associate cancer with car use in the public mind. Mandatory labelling of the purchases of everything from automobiles to gasoline has the potential to educate the public about the cancers caused by automobile use.

Recommendation #11: Educate the public about the cancer deaths and other health consequences caused by automobile use through compulsory labelling laws with the purchase of automobiles, automotive products and gasoline.

Kevin is a professional accountant and a retired infantry officer with the Canadian Forces. Kevin keeps encountering people who were students of his father, Dr. Robert Love, who was a professor at MacMaster University from 1977-2008. He lives near Durand Park in Hamilton and is currently Vice-Chair of the Hamilton Cycling Committee.


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