Bike lanes installed on urgent basis across Canada during COVID-19 pandemic

Been meaning for years to bicycle to work, as a way to improve your fitness and save money on gas and parking?

Now is your chance.

Municipal governments across Canada are moving quickly to create clearly marked bicycle lanes in order for people to travel safely through cities. A number of city councils have approved road closures, either partial or complete, as an emergency alternative to public transit.

Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Kitchener, Toronto, Montreal and Moncton have all recently extended their cycling networks, according to Vélo Canada Bikes, a national advocacy group for cycling.

“We’re doing a lot of work that was meant to be spread out over a few years in a few weeks,” said Toronto mayor John Tory said in an interview. “It’s going to keep people safer, because it’s going to give people an alternative to the transit system, where they’re still a bit anxious.”


The World Health Organization has issued guidelines on how to get around during the COVID outbreak, which include “whenever feasible, consider riding bicycles or walking” to help with physical distancing and physical activity.

Safe transit for essential workers

But many of the bike lane extensions introduced in Canada during the pandemic are are temporary, marked with portable stanchions. Permanent bike lanes typically involve lengthy public consultations with merchants and residents, a process that isn’t feasible given the urgent need for transportation options right now.

WATCH | Is it safe to take public transit during the pandemic?

If you need to get somewhere during the pandemic, Andrew Chang looks at whether it’s safer to use public transit or take an Uber. 1:03

Toronto-based urban planner Jennifer Keesmaat said transportation alternatives are critical as many workplaces begin to reopen. As well, essential service workers need to get to their places of employment.

“In the absence of having a vaccine and being unable to pack everybody on transit the way we have in the past, cycling is a viable option,” said Keesmaat, Toronto’s former city planner.

Urban planner Jennifer Keesmaat calls herself a fairweather cyclist. She said Montreal is the ‘bike capital of Canada’ despite its cold winters. (Lauren Pelley/CBC)

“It’s simply impossible for everybody who takes transit to get into a car, and secondly, it’s not affordable,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have access to a car or can’t afford one.”

Keesmaat hopes the new bike lanes will become permanent. She is the chief architect of the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities, a statement signed by 100 well-known Canadians calling on political leaders to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to “kickstart” a move toward more accessible, equitable, and sustainable cities. The list of 20 priorities on the declaration includes protected bike lanes.

A man wearing a protective mask rides his electric scooter in a bike lane, in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, March 16, 2020….

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