House Call with Carol Hughes

Cycling bill makes imminent sense

The challenges that stand in the way of greater participation in cycling across Canada may not seem like  a big concern in the North where longer commutes for work are often necessary. That said, any attempt to create a positive climate for cycling, whether it’s for a commute, exercise, or recreation, is a good thing for the country. With that in mind, an NPD Bill to create a national cycling strategy has been tabled. Hopefully it will enjoy broad support across the country and among MPs of all stripes. It makes sense for the environment, our infrastructure and even in terms of public health!

Our country is facing many challenges including soaring healthcare and infrastructure costs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and traffic congestion. Cycling can be a part of the solution. Cycling is a sustainable transportation solution that is low cost, environmentally friendly, and encourages healthy living. With a little planning and encouragement from the federal government we can make great leaps from a modest investment.

With Canada set to invest in infrastructure heavily over the next decade, the time to pursue a cycling strategy seems perfect. Advocates have long called for a national strategy where the federal government would work with provinces and municipalities to increase commuter, recreational and tourism cycling across Canada. This Private Member’s Bill will bring all levels of governments together with cyclists and industry to build a plan that will encourage and facilitate more Canadians on bicycles.

According to Anders Swanson, the chair of Canada Bikes, “getting the right conditions for a bike-friendly nation takes coordinated effort and strong leadership. Adopting an ambitious national cycling strategy and investing heavily in cycling infrastructure throughout Canada are key steps that combine to make cycling easier and more convenient for everyone.”

The strategy itself is fairly straight forward. It will commit the federal government to set clear targets for the expansion of cycling friendly infrastructure; encourage more Canadians to choose cycling as their mode of transportation; improve national safety standard measures, such as side guard rails for trucks; support the cycling industry in Canada; and increase education for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.

Adopting this would put Canada among a group of OECD countries that have seen a significant increase in cycling as a result of their strategies. Right now Canada lags behind in many indicators, including the number of children who cycle to school which remains at two percent. Compare that to Germany where 15 percent of children cycle to school, or the Netherlands where a whopping 50 percent cycle to school.

In Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, the group Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA) has been working to make Manitoulin more bike friendly. In addition to the benefits for residents, the group sees bike routes as a tourism anchor. Their annual Manitoulin Passage Ride is a perfect example of how cycling can build tourism and allow people to take in the beauty of the Island at a more leisurely pace.

A National Cycling Strategy will lead to a healthier society, more livable communities, safer cycling options, reduced congestion, and significant savings for our health care system. Additionally, Canada’s unique landscape is a perfect draw for cycling tourism. It’s an idea that only makes sense.”