Data on cycling behaviour neglects equity-deserving groups: study

A study has revealed that the limitations of Statistics Canada’s cycling data are impacting women and marginalized people participating in cycling.

Photo credit: Snapwire
A recent study revealed that the limitations of Statistics Canada’s cycling data are directly impacting women and marginalized people participating in cycling.

Currently, the long-form census bike-to-work data is the primary evidence transportation engineers and planners use in order to make a case for spending on cycling infrastructure.

A study conducted by the University of Waterloo exposes that this census data overlooks essential aspects like leisure cycling and journeys made by specific demographics such as older adults, women, service workers, and those facing housing instability or disabilities. Consequently, this underestimates the true societal value of cycling. Furthermore, regions and communities with limited resources are marginalized, as they are overlooked as a mere gap in data collection, leading to restricted accessibility to cycling opportunities.

“Less than five per cent of the population is biking to work, but it’s estimated that almost a quarter of the Canadian population is engaging in the activity,” said Rebecca Mayers, postdoctoral candidate in the School of Planning. “If all cycling trips were taken seriously, including those that do not end at work, fall outside of regular business hours, take place through alleys or recreational trails instead of streets, decision-makers would have more information to inform and justify cycling plans.”

The researchers point out that there is a precedent for expanding data collection. In the Netherlands, renowned for its robust cycling culture and well-established infrastructure, data is compiled for all bicycle journeys, irrespective of their purpose or destination. This data significantly informs policy-making in the realm of cycling, empowering planning teams to concentrate on specific demographics and urban areas requiring improved infrastructure to ensure a secure and comfortable cycling experience. These demographics include children, seniors, newcomers, and individuals with disabilities. This approach likely contributes to the higher cycling rates for people of all ages and abilities observed in the Netherlands compared to Canada.

“Investing in infrastructure for leisure cycling, like trails, has been shown to increase participation in utility cycling, like going the grocery store,” said Mayers. “We need to challenge the limited belief that investments are only worthwhile if it’s for the purpose of going to work.”

Given the current limitations in how cycling behavior is defined within the Canadian census, the researchers advocate for the implementation of a comprehensive national household travel survey throughout Canada. This would yield accurate data to steer decision-making processes. Moreover, they emphasize the necessity for planners to broaden their perspectives and reevaluate leisure cycling as a viable avenue for boosting participation, investment, and inclusivity in cycling.

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