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Just Add Bikes! How cycling can help build a healthy, vibrant community

By: Sue Shikaze, Health Promoter, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race” H.G. Wells


While it might be a stretch to claim that the bicycle can solve all the ails of the world, it can certainly be one solution to many challenges facing communities today. Making communities bicycle-friendly and getting more people on bikes can address issues of public health, safety, air quality, and traffic congestion. Cycling is a healthy, economical and sustainable transportation option as well as an attractor for tourism and economic development. It is an important quality of life feature that many people look for when choosing where to live, work or play. Not everyone can afford a car or wants to drive and a good cycling environment offers more mobility options. And let’s not forget: cycling is fun!

bikesmeanbusiness

Biking attracts people and brings business to the community


Evidence indicates that there is demand and need for improved conditions for cycling in Ontario. A 2014 poll conducted by the Share the Road Cycling Coalition indicated that 32% of Ontarians cycle at least once a month and 54% of Ontarians said they would like to cycle more often. What would most encourage people to cycle more often is better infrastructure, such as bike lanes and trails.1 The Ontario Medical Association recognizes cycling as an important solution to help address rising rates of chronic diseases associated with physical inactivity. They advocate for better and safer infrastructure in urban, suburban and rural settings, and that, “much more must be done by provincial and municipal transportation departments to make this form of exercise safer.”2

So what does a bicycle-friendly community look like? Assessment of the cycling environment is typically done around the “5 E’s”: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation and planning. These indicators address the range of needs to accommodate cycling.

Engineering refers to on-the-ground facilities and infrastructure. Good cycling facilities are carefully planned, designed and maintained to accommodate bicycles safely, conveniently and comfortably. A well-planned cycling network has good connectivity between routes and destinations, as well as things like secure bike parking and bike racks on buses to provide inter-modal connections. Facilities could include on-road accommodations such as designated bike lanes, separated cycle tracks or paved shoulders, or off-road paths and trails. There are also innovative design treatments such as bike boxes, which provide a designated space for cyclists to wait at an intersection, separated from cars.

greenbikelane
Green bike lane being installed in Thunder Bay


Education needs to address both cyclists and motorists to ensure that they know how to safely share the road. The goal of public education programs is to increase the knowledge and awareness of all road users on their rights and responsibilities, as well as to build practical skills. Education initiatives can include cycling skills workshops, share the road campaigns and tip sheets.

sharetheroad

Share the road promotion – an example of education


Encouragement initiatives are intended to get more people on bikes and to normalize cycling as a viable activity for both transportation and recreation. While it may be true that “if you build it, they will come”, many people still need encouragement to get rolling. Encouragement includes promoting the benefits of cycling, and of places and opportunities to cycle. Initiatives such as the Commuter Challenge, Active and Safe Routes to School and SMART Trips give information and incentives to support and encourage people to cycle more often. Cycling maps, signage and clubs are also ways that communities encourage cycling.

Enforcement ensures that all road users follow the rules of the road and share the road safely. In addition to traditional methods such as issuing tickets and fines, enforcement can also include education and public relations programs that remind cyclists and motorists of their responsibilities under the law. Recent updates to the Highway Traffic Act are intended to improve safety for cyclists, including the requirement for motorists to leave at least 1 metre of space when passing a cyclist, increased fines for dooring a cyclist and increased fines for cyclists who don’t use lights when needed.

Evaluation and planning refers to having systems in place to evaluate current activities and programs, and planning for the future. Becoming a more bicycle-friendly community is a process that requires ongoing measurement and monitoring in order to identify and meet future needs. The amount of cycling taking place, rate of crashes, and economic impact are all aspects of tracking progress. The development of a Cycling Master Plan is a key tool for planning, implementation and evaluation.

Plus a ‘P’: Partnerships

Cycling has multiple benefits for communities and can help address many issues including health, economic development, environment, sustainability and equity. Potential partners who have an interest in cycling include municipalities, public health, law enforcement, schools, community organizations, cycling clubs and committees, workplaces, business community, tourism and economic development, trails and environmental groups. Different partners have different skills, knowledge and resources; no one group can do it completely on its own.

If you are looking for an opportunity to learn more about making your community bicycle-friendly, meet other like-minded professionals and find out about innovative cycling initiatives, consider attending the annual Ontario Bike Summit hosted by the Share the Road Cycling Coalition. It is THE premier cycling networking and professional development event in Ontario. Whether you are an advocate or elected official, a professional in planning, transportation, health, tourism or economic development, there is something for you at OBS to get informed and inspired.

The 9th annual Ontario Bike Summit takes place on April 11 & 12 at the Eaton Chelsea in Toronto. This year’s theme is “Just Add Bikes: The role of cycling in urban mobility and community building”. The agenda features speakers from across Ontario and North America who will share successes for building bicycle-friendly communities. Presentation themes will include advocacy best practices, risk management, complete streets implementation and more. You will also hear from municipal and provincial elected officials about why cycling matters to them. Keynote and workshop sessions are carefully curated by a panel of professionals with cycling expertise from across the province, and selected to create a program that features the most innovative, current, and state-of-the-art initiatives for cycling. Sessions address issues and opportunities that are most relevant to communities, from policy to implementation to evaluation.

The Ontario Bike Summit has put cycling firmly on the radar of decision-makers at all levels of government. Find the 2017 draft agenda, registration information and more details at http://www.sharetheroad.ca/ontario-bike-summit-p157286 

pre summit

Participants in the pre-summit bike tour led by the City of Toronto.

 

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About Share the Road:
The Share the Road Cycling Coalition is Ontario’s premier cycling advocacy organization working to build a bicycle-friendly Ontario – a place where a cyclist of any age or ability can ride safely, wherever they need to go. Share the Road works with municipal, provincial and federal governments, the business community, public health practitioners, road safety and other not-for-profit organizations to enhance access, improve safety and educate the public about the value and importance of safe cycling for healthy lifestyles and healthy communities. www.sharetheroad.ca

 

1 Share the Road Cycling Coalition, (March 2014), polling conducted by Stratcom Communications
2 Ontario Medical Association, (2011), Policy Paper: Enhancing Cycling Safety in Ontario.

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