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.

Comments

I really wish there were more bike stands around where I am. I would be more tempted to bike to more places if there was somewhere for me to park it. Thank you for this story.

We need more stands thoughout the city, but the right kind. I see so many stands where I wouldn't tie my bike up to. The Valu Mart in Mimico has one so low I can't even get my wheel in it. One of my local libraries has a wheel buster that nobody uses as does my local No Frills.

The worst are schools. In Ward 6, Lakeshore Planning Council cycling subcommittee checked out the bike parking in every TDSB school in the Ward. There were schools with zero. We did not find one school with appropriate parking. Many that did have parking had it in a place that was really easy to steal or vandalize the bikes. This is an organization that has policies to provide Safe Routes to School. Some of the schools get special funding to get students to take active transportation to school. This is a pattern repeated throughout Toronto.

We can make a difference by suggesting appropriate bike stands. The examples I have just given are the people that are actually trying to accomodate cyclists. They just don't know what is appropriate.

Great Article! It's good to see Toronto is on the map as a strong cycling city. And I agree that we have a long way to go to make our city more bike friendly. However I would like to point out that you didn't mention climate at all.
Our city was covered in over 200cm of snow this winter. This is a major road block in getting cyclists on the streets. Not to mention getting serious advocates to help with the cause. Portland doesn't get snow, neither does any city in the Netherlands.
Cycling in the Netherlands is a way of life, because it's easy. It's completely flat there, there's no harsh weather and everything is close. Little old ladies go to get their groceries by bike.
So let's be kind and gentle to our strong and hardy Canadian cyclists who get out there even though it's hard.
Keep cycling Toronto! We'll get there, one day we'll have bike lanes that stretch all the way to Barrie and beyond.
Thanks to people like I Bike TO for keeping the issues on the table.

No city in The Netherlands gets snow??!!

Tell that to anyone who has lived there during the winter.

Fortunately, the Dutch government is rather efficient at clearing snow from the cycle paths - unlike the Toronto government.

Since seeing is believing, here is a video of cyclists in the snow in Utrecht:

http://www.youtube.com/user/markenlei#p/c/F2C046E49FA49F5A/6/2rETLfzQrIw

And here are some photos and a description of how the Dutch government cleaned up after a 30 cm snowfall. Since such snowfalls are not unusual, they did a good job of it:

http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2009/12/mondays-cycle-paths-mostly-snow-free...

Sarah you are right. Snow is a major roadblock to getting cyclists out in the winter. One of the major reasons is the city doesn't clear the bike lanes properly.

Contractors are paid to clear the roads. That includes bike lanes. They don't do it or do it inadequately. Keep calling 311 and complain. At least they have to respond. This has been a topic since this page began.

If we don't get proactive it is about to get worse. As a cost saving of $200,000, transportation wants to drop clearing the Martin Goodman Trail. I will not ride next winter if that is the case. Councillors such as Perks and Grimes argued last year that the trail is a transportation corridor and it was cleared. Unless noise is made it is very possible it won't happen again.

As for no snow in the Netherlands, some of my favourite Dutch masterpieces are the skating on the canals pieces.

Kevin, 30 cm of snow IS unusual in the Netherlands. Most places don't get more than a dusting at a time and when it piles up it's a problem for cars (and trains). The bigger problem for cyclists in the winter there is ice.

Larry,

About as unusual as in Toronto. None of the Dutch were screaming "Snowpocolypse" the way certain Toronto media outlets were this past winter.

None of the Dutch were screaming "Snowpocolypse" the way certain Toronto media outlets were this past winter.

Who cares about Toronto media?

A quick look at normal highs and lows in Toronto and Amsterdam shows that Toronto is a lot colder than Amsterdam in the winter. Snow sticks around in Toronto, as the normal highs are below freezing. In Amsterdam, the normal lows are barely below freezing.

In Toronto, snow builds up, partly melts on the warmer days, and then refreezes into lumpy ice. This will sit in curb lanes until the first few really warm days. At the same time, even cleared paths will have ice on them, from snow melting on the side of the path on sunny days. The cleared Martin Goodman trail was still a handful this winter. And unless the City goes and salts the heck out of it every day, that's how it's going to be until global warming makes Toronto as warm as Amsterdam. (Probably not in our lifetime.)

I'm sure there are better weather sites, but here's Amsterdam Shiphol's yearly weather:
http://www.wunderground.com/NORMS/DisplayNORMS.asp?Airport...
and Toronto Island:
http://www.wunderground.com/NORMS/DisplayNORMS.asp?Airport...

Thirty cm of snow in NL would be even more unusual than in Toronto. As Ed rightly points out, winter temps are not nearly as low as here.

Scenes like these are the exception, but even then there isn't the hysterical reaction because they're always prepared for it to some degree:

http://www.nufoto.nl/fotos/179374/verkeer-ondervind-hinder-van-sneeuw-in...

http://www.nufoto.nl/fotos/131429/sneeuw-brengt-gevaar-op-de-weg.html

Thirty cm of snow in NL would be even more unusual than in Toronto. As Ed rightly points out, winter temps are not nearly as low as here.

Scenes like these are the exception, but even then there isn't the hysterical reaction because they're always prepared for it to some degree:

http://www.nufoto.nl/fotos/179374/verkeer-ondervind-hinder-van-sneeuw-in...

http://www.nufoto.nl/fotos/131429/sneeuw-brengt-gevaar-op-de-weg.html