Brampton, Bicycle Friendly Community – Who Cares?

Do you care that City of Brampton was awarded Bicycle Friendly Community Bronze status in spring of 2017?

Probably not. The state of cycling in the City likely is not top of mind for most Brampton residents. Yet, the achievement of this award represents an important milestone, and not just for those who regularly bike in the City.

Here’s why, according to David Laing, Chair of BikeBrampton.

Brampton currently faces a number of serious issues related to its rapid growth and land-use policies. With a population approaching 600,000 (according to the 2016 census), Brampton is Ontario’s 4th largest City being bested only by Toronto, Ottawa and Mississauga. With a growth rate of over 13%, it is also one of North America’s fastest growing Cities. Yet Brampton struggles with urbanization and its growth is mostly “out” not “up”.

Brampton’s population density is roughly half that of Toronto’s. Suburban sprawl means longer commute distances. Providing frequent and therefore convenient public transit is economically out of the question for all but the most densified routes. The result? Most people use single occupancy vehicles to get around. But the car centric culture comes with costs and a host of problems.

Driving everywhere means traffic demand quickly outstrips road infrastructure leading to congestion, long commute times and added stress. The costs of building and maintaining roads create a huge financial burden for the municipality. Development charge revenue from new homes doesn’t cover the costs of providing and supporting this infrastructure. The City’s growth, therefore, becomes an ever increasing burden on the existing tax base.

Driving everywhere means the population is being robbed of a significant opportunity for physical activity. Sedentary living increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and other heart, lung and circulatory diseases. It is not hard to draw a link between this inactivity and the fact that Brampton’s emergency care units are among the busiest in the country!

Driving everywhere means we are clogging the air with climate changing carbon emissions and disease causing pollutants. More than 30% of the carbon emissions in Ontario come from the transportation sector. Thousands of premature deaths in Ontario and thousands more hospital admissions are associated with breathing dirty air. Recent studies also link air pollutants with increased risk of contracting dementia related diseases. In summary, Brampton has major health and environmental problems related directly to its car-centric tendencies.

So what has traffic congestion, pollution and land-use planning to do with Brampton becoming a Bicycle Friendly Community? It means City staff and politicians recognize that Brampton’s future as a livable city depends on more people cycling. It means the City embraces cycling as a legitimate transportation alternative. And it means Brampton’s planners recognize they must develop higher density neighbourhoods that are walkable, bikeable and environmentally sustainable.

The Bicycle Friendly Communities Program measures capacity across five categories referred to as the 5 “E”s.

The first “E”, Engineering, or the physical infrastructure, represents the ability for residents to use a bicycle to get from place to place safely and conveniently. This may involve separated bike paths or bike lanes or it may involve on road, “paint on pavement”, markings like sharrows or urban shoulders. Working with its various partners, the City has opened new pieces of cycling infrastructure in the past few years including urban shoulders on many city streets, extensions to the Etobicoke Creek Trail both at the north and south ends. And, in the spring of 2018, the City opened the Franceschini bridge connection across the 410 just north of Williams Parkway dedicated solely for walking, cycling and other forms of Active Transportation.

Often pathways and existing secondary roads can be combined to form a comprehensive cycling network without huge investments. Properly designed, the network is one of the biggest factors in encouraging more cycling behaviour. In order to do so, it must meet three main criteria: Connectivity, convenience and safety. With the Active Transportation Master Plan due out by the end of 2018, Brampton is now well on its way to defining this type of cycle network.

Encouragement, the second “E”, is where Brampton excels. From virtually nothing five years ago, Brampton now boasts a whole range of cycling related events. Bike the Creek, Brampton’s signature ride, attracts hundreds of participants each June and showcases many of Brampton’s and Caledon’s natural and cultural heritage attractions. Bramalea Cyclefest, put on each spring by the All People’s Church, rides along the Chinguacousy trail and includes visits to Chinguacousy Park and Professor’s Lake. The Brampton Bike Hub hosts two programs, Pedalwise, a cycling mentorship program and Bikewrx, a basic bike repair skills program. And Brampton’s Cycling Advisory Committee continues to host a series of Community Rides starting at locations throughout the City. These rides always end at a local store for a complementary beverage or ice cream cone that delivers guilt free calories!

Peel Police kick off bike season with Neighbourhood Policing Unit (NPU) officers patrolling on bikes. They provide friendly enforcement on the paths and other areas not easily accessible by cruiser. Enforcement is the third “E” of the program,. And, with the introduction in 2016 of a law requiring motorists to pass cyclists leaving at least one metre of space, Peel officers have yet another enforcement tool they can use to make City roads safer.

In the winter season, NPU officers help out with the fourth “E”, Education as they promote cycling and walking safety by visiting schools throughout the Region. Brampton is also home to Peel Police’s Safety Village which helps elementary students practice skills in a safe environment. In 2016 Brampton’s Cycling Advisory Committee trained 6 new CAN-BIKE instructors. And Brampton Recreation continues to offer a range of cycling skills training courses, at attractive rates, for both children and adults.

The last “E” in the Bicycle Friendly Communities program is Evaluation. An extensive monitoring and measurement plan is part of the City’s Active Transportation Master Plan. Brampton is installing bike counters at strategic locations and collecting data from a mobile GPS tracking app that produces a cyclists’ heat map.

Becoming a Bicycle Friendly Community is a game changer for Brampton. There is no question that cycling popularity in the City is on the rise. And recent studies by Share the Road Cycling Coalition suggest that cycling activity will continue to increase as safe, convenient infrastructure is installed.

Increased cycling in Brampton will help to relieve some of the traffic congestion while at the same time making Brampton a healthier and more environmentally sustainable community. More cycling will help offset rising taxes, increase road safety and make our neighbourhoods more friendly and liveable.

These are just some of the great reasons why we should all care deeply that Brampton has received this Bicycle Friendly Community Bronze award!