Mapping Biking and Bikeability in Toronto

BikeScoreTM (map pictured above) was developed by a cycling research group at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. This map is explained further at the end of this article.


The Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank is a research partnership, located at the School of the Environment, University of Toronto, devoted to increasing cycling for transportation. Its work is made possible through the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Mapping Biking and Bikeability in Toronto

Text by: Trudy Ledsham

Maps are powerful storytellers, but are not often used to understand cycling behaviour. The simple bicycle has been marginalized in transportation planning in a fashion similar to its marginalization on the street (there is probably a story in this).  Not only are cycling facilities on the ground less well developed than those for walking, driving and transit, but the data are also more limited. Most mapping related to cycling emphasizes routes and facilities rather than travel patterns.  At the same time, lots of Torontonians transport themselves on two wheels and over the last decade these numbers have steadily increased.

The Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank is mapping cycling behaviour in Toronto in order to understand who rides, where they ride and what trips taken by other means might be suitable for cycling. Our group includes researchers from urban planning, business, economics, ecology and evolutionary biology, history, public policy and political science. Our partnership also includes non-profits and an entrepreneurial cycling shop interested in how social outreach by organizations and businesses can help more people decide to cycle. They all have something important to add.

Other researchers have found three key things interact to affect cycling participation. The obvious being urban design and infrastructure as it supports or discourages cycling. Slightly less obvious, but still really important- traffic rules and development policies such as speed limits, intersection rules, traffic calming, bike parking, and accident follow-up. Less obvious still, but critically important-accepted behavioural norms and the social infrastructure that supports cycling culture. When riding a bicycle is a common, accepted, and supported transportation option, those who do not yet ride are more likely to see themselves as able to ride.

For these reasons we wanted to know which neighborhoods in Toronto would be most likely to support new cyclists. Our mapping work uses a number of sources including data from BikeScoreTM which was developed by Meghan Winters of Simon Fraser University. Bike Score TM rates bikeability based on bike lanes, connectivity, hills and destinations. By changing their framework to report the data by ward we found some anomalies: some wards, such as Parkdale, have a low BikeScoreTM but a very high number of cyclists.

For people just starting out, riding a bike to work or school is not always a quick and easy shift. There are common barriers that hold them back: sometimes it is fear; sometimes money; sometimes even image. What route should I take? Is it safe?  - Will I smell? (Only of fresh air!) Is it too far? What if my bike breaks down? What if I’m too tired to get home? Will people laugh at me? Am I too old? The streets, seen from the windows of buses or cars, can seem overwhelmingly dangerous. Side streets aren’t always obvious. A bike might cost months’ worth of transit service Do I need special gear? Will I look poor (or rich)? Will my children be safe? What about carrying my stuff?  When left unanswered, these questions can paralyze anyone considering city cycling for the first time.

Behaviour change programs focus on reducing barriers to participation and have been used successfully in health promotion and energy reduction efforts such as “stop smoking” and “turn out the lights” campaigns.  Similar work is seldom done to promote cycling. Why not? For one thing, it is a far more complex change. We lack “car cessation” drugs and turning out the lights is just not as complicated. Our research project focuses on combining successful behaviour change work from environmental psychology with recent active transportation research.

Developing behaviour change programs for cycling requires an understanding of the behaviour patterns of Torontonians who already ride.

The maps that follow are just a small selection of the maps available in our recently released report Mapping Cycling Behaviour in Toronto. The full report is available on the project’s website

Bicycle Mode Share under 5km

Our research group found most bike trips in Toronto were less than 5km long. In fact, 74% of bike trips in Toronto were less than 5km and most were less than 3km. The proportion of cycling trips was highest in neighbourhoods with more destinations and people (population density) within a 5km radius. Where travel distances exceed 5km the bike is not a viable option for a wide range of people. But for trips under 5km, many people are able to cycle.

When mode share (proportion of trips taken by a transportation choice i.e. walking, car, transit, cycling) in Toronto is examined just for trips less than 5km, cycling trips account for a larger proportion of mode share than when longer trips are also considered. In some wards, like Ward 19, more than 10% of daily trips under 5km were taken by bike.

This level of cycling creates a more visible presence for the bike and consequently helps those who are considering biking to see it as a viable option. Cycling visibility contributes to the “safety in numbers” concept that suggests where there are more people cycling the safety of cycling increases. It is particularly important for people to see others like themselves cycling.

When we consider neighborhoods that would be suitable for behaviour change programs a visible cycling presence makes the change more achievable and is a key program component.

Every cyclist on the road is encouragement for those thinking about cycling.

Auto Mode Share Under 5 KM

For trips less than 5km Toronto Public Health recently concluded cycling may be faster and more convenient than driving. Given that most cycling trips in Toronto are less than 5km, we began to look for trips by other methods that would be suitable for cycling.

Cars (and light trucks, SUVs and vans) account for 68% of all trips in Toronto and many of those trips were less than 5km in length. This map can make it appear that it is only the suburban commuters (where transit is very poor) using cars for less than 5km. However, even in the city’s central neighborhoods, where transportation options are better, the number of car trips less than 5km is still a significant proportion.

Ward 28 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) has the lowest proportion of car trips under 5km (26.9%) but also has the highest public transit mode share (39%) as would be expected for a ward housing the city’s main transit terminus Union Station. In Ward 19 (Trinity-Spadina), which has the highest cycling mode share (10.45% for trips under 5km and 7.5% for all trips), autos account for 40% of all trips under 5km.

Ward 25 (Don Valley West), whose western edge butts the Yonge Street subway has the highest automobile mode share for trips under 5km.  Fully 84% of trips less than 5km in the ward are taken by car and 47% of all trips taken by car in the ward are less than 5km.


BikeScoreTM was developed by a cycling research group at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. It attempts to do for cycling what WalkscoreTM does for walking; that is measure the suitability of a neighborhood for cycling.

Using BikeScoreTM  and comparing it to actual cycling activity  we found that some of the wards with the highest rates of cycling ranked very poorly on bikeability. In Toronto however, we are starting with a very low baseline of cycling infrastructure. The city has only just installed its first few kilometres of separated bike lanes. The bike paths in Toronto that are separated from traffic are mostly in the valleys and while great for weekend jaunts, are not particularly useful for most commuters. We found most cycling trips occurred in neighbourhoods where homes were within a reasonable 5km ride of employment options, shops and services.


Clarification: The Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank did not create BikeScoreTM or the concept of bikeability-this was done by Meghan Winters and her team at Simon Fraser University. The Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank simply re-purposed some of their data to illustrate ward based differences. The publishers apologize for any misleading material in the article Mapping Bikeability in Toronto in the latest issue of dandyhorse.


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One response to “Mapping Biking and Bikeability in Toronto”

  1. Patrick says:

    Really great article.

    Makes you realise that every bicycle on the road is important when you consider people only feel comfortable when they see ‘groups’ of others doing something.

    The more people cycling, the more people that will follow!

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