I was curious to find out what made Ottawa such a great cycling city, after it earned a gold award this week as a Bicycle Friendly Community from the Share the Road Cycling Coalition.
The award rates cities based on their achievements in support of cycling planning, infrastructure, education, culture and enforcement following a methodology developed by America’s largest cycling advocacy group, the League of American Bicyclists. Ottawa is the first Canadian city to reach the gold standard, however I could find no specific explanations of what it did to achieve that success.
So I did what any self-appointed internet authority would do; I checked out Google.
Google Maps provides a moderately useful network of bike routes that can be used to derive directions for cyclists. Obviously, Ottawa must have a massive lattice of bikeways criss-crossing the city, right? Well, it kinda does actually! At a glance, one can detect a strong pattern of continuous bike lanes that reach each corner of the city, all surrounded by a slew of shorter little connector paths.
Compare this to Rob Ford Land, which is a mish-mash of disjointed routes sparsely sprinkled with tiny routes representing parkettes or subdivision shortcuts. Not even close (all maps in this post were screen-captured to the same scale).
And how do these two compare to other Canadian cities? Actually there are some surprising contenders in this competition for green lines in Google Maps. Surrey, Kitchener-Waterloo and Fredericton all look like nicely bikeable cities, judging them as I am from the comfort of my office chair.
In the eyes of Share the Road (an Ontario organization), Kitchener ranks no better than Toronto, each winning a silver award. So obviously there must be more substance behind the judging than just a glance at internet maps.
Other cities like Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Montreal seem to have pockets of strong cycling infrastructure, but with enough neglected areas that I would have to rate them as second-class networks.
It will be interesting to revisit these maps on Google in a few years to get an indication of the progress each municipality is making. Or in the case of Toronto, how much further we’re falling behind.