Like any extraordinary claim, this immediately raised a flag. Average commutes in other places are much shorter than this, and it seemed so unlikely that Toronto should have commutes which were so much longer than everywhere else on earth. I looked it up and found a very interesting website about commuting statistics in Canada.
|These are not cycling statistics, but|
average commute lengths in Canada
for all modes of transport. Why don't
Canadians make even their short
journeys by bike? Because it's
Dangerous. In the Netherlands
journeys of the same lengths are
routinely made by bike.
The same website also reveals that for the whole of Canada, 37.8% of commutes are over a distance of 5 km or less.
Five km is a distance very easily covered by bike, but is that how Canadians make their short journeys ? It turns out that they do not. Ottawa is the leading large city in Canada for both walking and cycling, yet walking accounts for just 7.5% of commutes and cycling for just 2%.
So if distances are not the problem, why do Canadians not use bicycles when their journey distances are short ?
The reasons are the same in Canada as in every other country where few people cycle. The conditions that (potential) cyclists face are simply not conducive to cycling. There is little specifically designed infrastructure and cycling is considered to be like an extreme sport.
Those who choose to cycle in Toronto and across Canada are "road warriors". i.e. they are members of that demographic who are most easy to convince to ride, largely young adults, predominantly male and without dependents. There is not the same wide range of demographic groups as you get with a successful and established cycling culture. As with many other cities around the world, some pockets of Toronto have a higher cycling modal share than others due to specific demographics, but the overall rate of cycling is low. Sadly, the mayor of the city has also recently been taking part in a well publicized "war on bikes" - another thing which makes the background such that cycling is unlikely to flourish.
Distance is an easy reason to give for why the cycling modal share is low, but just as in other places where this excuse is made, a little investigation shows that distances are not the problem in Toronto. In fact, none of the popular reasons given for low cycling modal shares ever really add up. Rather, for cycling to become popular, a good degree of subjective safety is needed, and cycling must be associated with a high degree of convenience and safety. That is the biggest difference between the Netherlands and other countries. We have many examples of what works.
It's the same story in other countries where claims are made that distances are "too long", including the USA. However, the reasons are the same too. Where there is inadequate subjective and social safety, few people cycle. Read previous posts about Canada for some of the reasons why.