Six Reasons to Support an Ambitious Cycling Strategy

Bike Path, HamiltonOn November 30, 2012, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation released a Draft Cycling Strategy that is intended to replace the Ministry’s 1992 Bicycle Policy. The proposal has been posted for a 60 day public comment period which ends on January 29, 2013.  So, here are six reasons why decision-makers, public health professionals, and members of the public should support a well-funded and ambitious Cycling Strategy for Ontario.

An Ambitious Provincial Cycling Strategy can:

  1. Reduce the number of people who die from acute and chronic diseases associated with air pollution. 
  2. Reduce the number of people who develop chronic diseases by increasing levels of physical activity.
  3. Reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

When researchers in the United States assessed the health benefits that would result from the elimination of all short automobile trips (i.e. round trips that are less than or equal to 8 kilometres) and the replacement of 50 per cent of these short trips with cycling trips, they found that improvements in air quality and increases in physical activity could produce health benefits worth more than $7 billion per year among the 31.3 million people in the areas examined.

These health benefits were equivalent to about 2.5% of the 2004 health care costs for the five midwestern states included in the study. The researchers estimated that the scenario would:

  • Prevent 433 deaths, 2,000 asthma attacks, 75 Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease cases, 93,607 emergency room visits or hospital admissions, and 660 heart attacks and related hospital admissions each year by improving air quality; and
  • Prevent 700 deaths from chronic diseases each year by increasing physical activity.

The researchers also found that the 20% reduction in vehicle miles travelled would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the region by 1.8 million tonnes or 20% per year (Grabow, 2011).

4.  Reduce the number of vehicle-related injuries and deaths among cyclists. 

Bike Lane, Burlington KPIn June 2012, the Chief Coroner of Ontario released the report, Cycling Death Review, which examined the deaths of 129 cyclists that occurred in Ontario over a 5 year period (2006-2011).  In that report, it is noted that more than 26,000 Ontario residents visit an emergency ward each year due to an injury sustained while riding a bicycle.  That report also indicates that while the 129 deaths were called “accidental deaths”, all of them were predictable and therefore preventable.

The Coroner’s report notes that: Denmark reduced deaths among cyclists by 35% by providing segregated bicycle tracks or lanes alongside urban roads; the state of Victoria in Australia reduced head injuries among cyclists by 51% within one year of implementing a new law requiring helmets in 1990; and the United Kingdom decreased fatalities among cyclists who collided with the sides of heavy trucks by 61% by requiring truck guards (Chief Coroner, 2012).

5.   Increase access to jobs, school, recreational facilities and other amenities among vulnerable populations.

A community that provides cycling facilities provides an alternate means of travel for those who do not own vehicles or cannot drive because of age, ability or income.  These facilities can give children, adolescents, and people living on low incomes, greater access to jobs, schools, recreational facilities and other amenities (WHO, 2011).

6.  Save money on transportation systems.

Cycling infrastructure is extremely cost-effective.  When the U.K. Sustainable Development Commission assessed the costs and benefits associated highways and cycling infrastructure using changes in travel time, travel costs, accidents, noise and greenhouse gas emissions as the costs and benefits considered, it found that major cycling infrastructure projects produce benefits that are worth 11 times as much as the costs, while local highway road schemes produce benefits that are worth 4 to 5 times as much as the costs (Sustainable Development Commission, 2011 as cited by TPH, 2012).  In Portland, Oregon, for example, where the 3 to 7% of travel is done on bicycles, only 1% of the capital expenditures for transportation are directed at cycling facilities (Wallasper 2010 as cited by TPH, 2012).

Policy Paper

For information on policies that could be incorporated into a provincial Cycling Strategy, see Share the Road Cycling Coalition’s Green Paper (2010).


  • Grabow, Maggie, Scott Spak, Tracey Holloway, Brian Stone Jr., Adam Menick, Jonathan Patz. 2011.  “Air Quality and Exercise-Related Health Benefits from Reduced Car Travel in the Midwestern United States”, Environmental Health Perspectives.  November 2011 (38 pages)
  • Chief Coroner of Ontario. 2012.  Cycling Death Review.
  • World Health Organizations (WHO), 2011. Health co-benefits of climate change mitigation – Transport Sector.
  • Toronto Public Health (TPH), 2012. Road to Health: Improving Walking and Cycling in Toronto.  April 2012.

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director (Volunteer), Creating Healthy and Sustainable Environments (CHASE) Kim Perrotta/LinkedIn