Doctor’s Note Winter edition

Dr. Chris Cavacuiti cycling on his street this winter. Photo by Sasha Cavacuiti.

Doctor’s Note Winter edition

Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep cyclists off the road.

By Dr. Chris Cavacuiti, the department of family and community medicine and staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital

Cycling naysayers will often claim that Toronto’s harsh climate will prevent the bicycle from ever becoming a viable form of year-round transportation. Do you think there is validity in this claim?

Based on the research I’ve seen, I’d say there is almost no evidence to support this claim. If weather was a big determinant in terms of whether or not people cycle, then you’d expect studies on rates of cycling to show that places with warm, dry sunny climates would have more cyclists than places with cold, wet climates. However, rates of cycling bear virtually no correlation to the climate. Copenhagen, for example, has an annual temperature three degrees lower than Toronto and gets nearly twice the precipitation we do, and yet about 40 per cent of people cycle to work in Copenhagen. This is far higher than the rates of cycling in many other European cities that would seem more ideally suited to cycling from a climactic perspective.

I’ve heard sceptics say that it is unfair to compare cities in Canada to those in Europe. But even within Canada, we can see that Toronto has a long way to go. For example, the “cold, dark and snowy” Yukon is tied with British Columbia for the highest bike share of work trips (two per cent) and far exceeds both Ontario as whole (at about one per cent) and Toronto (less than one per cent).

In your research on cycling and the weather, were there any findings that particularly surprised you?

A number of researchers over the years have looked at factors that motivate and deter people to cycle. I am always surprised when I read how many people want to ride their bikes more often, and how little the weather influences their desire to ride. 
In most of the studies I’ve come across, weather rarely even cracks the top five in terms of reasons why people don’t ride bikes. I think policy makers need to understand that it is their lack of investment in cycling infrastructure—not the climate—that is keeping people off their bikes.

Any final thoughts?

As a year-round cyclist myself, I’ve become a firm believer in Scottish Comedian Billy Connolly’s perspective on the weather:
 “In Scotland, there is no such thing as bad weather—only the wrong clothes.”

See our interview with a Scottish cycling family as part of our Bike Spotting East set in this issue.

The photo of the Dr. that appears on the winter cover (aka the grid) is by the talented Molly Crealock

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