Portland is by far the bike-friendliest city in North America, but Toronto is still okay
Portland is tops for cycling in large North American cities, BikePortland.org reports on a new study, Analysis of Bicycling Trends and Policies in Large American Cities: Lessons for New York, by John Pucher of Rutgers University and Ralph Buehler of Virginia Tech. Toronto, while still higher up in terms of percentage of cyclists commuting (especially in the core), it seems to be falling behind in other measures. Pucher and Buehler make comparisons among American cities on a number of different cycling statistics, including cycling levels, safety and policies. They then compared the data from the large American cities to three large Canadian cities, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Canada overall came out looking good in some areas. Even though cycling rates have been rising faster in the US, the percentage of bike commuters in Canada is still double that of the US.
The number of bike commuters in the USA rose by 64% from 1990 to 2009, and the bike share of commuters rose from 0.4% to 0.6%. Over the shorter period from 1996 to 2006, the number of bike commuters in Canada rose by 42%, and the bike share of commuters rose from 1.1% to 1.3%. From 1988 to 2008, cycling fatalities fell by 66% in Canada and by 21% in the USA; serious injuries fell by 40% in Canada and by 31% in the USA.
These national statistics, however, gloss over local differences. By looking at the city level, Portland pulls strongly ahead. Portland is just super bike-friendly on all fronts: policies, enforcement, bike facilities, cycling levels. And a lot of this was achieved in the last 10 years though the groundwork for this was laid about 20 years ago with some key complete street-friendly policies (such as the long-standing law to dedicate 1% of the state highway fund to footpaths and bike trails).
Toronto is notable for its extensive bike parking program - with its numerous post and rings - but even here some cities are pulling ahead. The report also mentions Toronto's pioneering role in bicycle training and cycling ambassador program, the latter which is no longer operating. Toronto is also falling behind in its bikeway network.
Several central Toronto (and Vancouver) neighbourhoods have bike mode shares that exceed 10%, though the suburban rates are less than 1% bringing the Toronto average down to 1.7%. Lower Manhattan, by comparison, as a bike mode share of 2%. The average for Portland from 1990 to 2009 went from 1.1% to 5.8%, the highest rate of cycling for any large North American city. So Toronto has a pretty healthy cycling population in its core compared to other North American cities, but fails to have the policies to match it.
Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver all have the highest percentage of female bicycle commuters at 35 to 37%, even exceeding Portland which is at 33%. Looking at the gender divide is important in getting a sense of the comfort that cyclists feel using the streets. The split is still pretty awful when compared to Netherlands and Denmark.
Toronto is also an anomaly in that it has a fairly low fatality rate in comparison to its low average bike mode share. This may be a result of cycling being concentrated in central Toronto where traffic can't go as fast. For the cities studied in general there is a pretty good indication that as cycling rates rise the number of fatalities drops and vice-versa. Working to improve the comfort level for all cyclists - young and old, female and male - has been shown in many cities to increase the overall number of people choosing to bike regularly.
Toronto is close to the bottom of kilometres of bike lanes and paths per 100,000 population. At the lower end is New York at 8 km, Chicago 9, Toronto 11. Montreal is at 27 and at the top end is Minneapolis at 70 and Portland at 73. New York and Chicago, however, are quickly catching up so Toronto may soon find itself way at the bottom. Unlike New York and Chicago, Toronto doesn't have a mayor that is prioritizing a good network in the core (though perhaps an unlikely champion in Councillor Minnan-Wong).
Like the Maple Leafs, Toronto may end up having lots of cycling "fans" but fail to be a contender.
I don't think it's all bad. There are signs that cycling is still becoming more popular; more bike stores are opening; Bixi Toronto is launching. It will still be a ways to reach Portland's booming bike industry and culture, but then at least Toronto got bikesharing before Portland did. We can at least put that on our mantle.