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More Victorians are cycling, walking to work: Latest census data

Transportation behaviour shifted during pandemic

By Nina Grossman
December 9, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

More Victorians are cycling, walking to work: Latest census data

Transportation behaviour shifted during pandemic

By Nina Grossman
Dec 9, 2022
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

More Victorians are cycling, walking to work: Latest census data

Transportation behaviour shifted during pandemic

By Nina Grossman
December 9, 2022
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 More Victorians are cycling, walking to work:  Latest census data
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

The transportation habits of Victorians shifted during COVID-19, but there’s more to the story: even while fewer people hopped on the bus, overall, more people got to work on bikes, buses, and on foot in 2021 than five years before.

Census data released by Statistics Canada Nov. 30 reveals a municipality where roughly 15% of workers over 15 years old chose active transportation—cycling, walking, rolling—to get to work in 2021. That number jumps to 19% for commuters travelling less than 15 minutes, and dips to 10% for commuters with 45 minutes to an hour on the road.

Meanwhile 23% of commuters, overall, fell in the “sustainable transportation” category, which includes public and active transportation.

It’s a trend that’s shifted, in part, because of the pandemic, said Sarah Webb, manager of sustainable transportation planning & development for the City of Victoria. Webb was eager to compare the 2021 data with the federal government’s last data release in 2016.

It’s a shock to no one, but one of the most notable changes was the number of people working from home, she said. In 2016, 8% of the population was working from home, compared to 30% of the population in 2021.

“It’s a real shift in terms of where people are travelling and how people are travelling—or not travelling, for that matter,” Webb said. But even with more people working from home, rates of active transportation are higher.

“While we did see a decrease in public transit use overall, we have continued to see growth in sustainable transportation mode share. So we do still see people walking, biking, and cycling, with a higher population in 2021.”

In 2016, 80% of commuters reported going to a regular place of work but in 2021, that number was down to 59% (a number that includes people who don’t work).

“It just has shown the kind of evolution of mobility and remote work, and really thinking about how our transportation systems have been impacted and changed over time as we experienced the pandemic,” Webb said.

But unemployment and work from home trends are only one part of a much older story when it comes to active transportation in Victoria. Eric Doherty, a freelance transportation consultant, said Victoria has had a long history of sustainable transportation, starting with streetcars.

“We started out with a fairly compact city actually created around a streetcar network,” he said. “And even some of the suburban areas have pockets of transit-oriented development that came up around the streetcars and urban rail lines.”

Pandora Avenue, Oak Bay Avenue, Hillside Avenue, Esquimalt Road, Fairfield Street and many other streets were served by streetcar lines until the 1940s, and those neighbourhoods were built around that access to transit.

Map of Victoria's streetcar system circa 1939. Image: Dr. Patrick Dunae / Submitted

That infrastructure, downtown density, and of course, mild weather, puts Victoria at a distinct advantage when it comes to making cultural shifts in the name of climate action, Doherty said.

“Here, it’s going to be so much easier than Calgary or the Fraser Valley,” he said. “Because we’ve got all these places that are really set up for walking.”

Doherty said seniors and people with disabilities must be part of a larger transition to sustainable transportation. Under the city’s current bylaws and interpretation of the provincial Motor Vehicle Act, wheelchairs and mobility scooters are prohibited from using bike lanes and routes, he said.

“That’s a real problem,” he said. “There may not be any enforcement. But you can be sure that there's some harassment.”

Capital Bike executive director Adam Krupper credits, in part, the same cycling activism that led to the development of the Galloping Goose and E&N Trail with the level of active transportation seen today.

“I think that created a sense of excitement about biking in this community that has never faded and has only grown over time,” Krupper said, adding that the compact, fairly flat nature of the city makes cycling a continuously attractive way to get around.

Finally, he said, cycling infrastructure makes biking safer—both in perception and in reality—something likely to be factored in by Victorians when deciding how they want to work in the morning.

“Doing the tough stuff of getting that grid built downtown was a huge step forward, because the downtown is such an employment hub for the city,” he said. “Having a physical barrier between the road and the cyclist is, literally, a make it or break it, for most people. We know that 60% of the population wants to ride, but they don't want to ride if it means they feel like they're in danger.”

Compared to cities like Copenhagen, where four times as many people cycle to work, Victoria has some work to do. But Webb notes that Statistics Canada data doesn’t necessarily provide the whole picture—especially because it's focused on commuting only.  Both she and Krupper point to studies like the Capital Regional District’s Household Travel Survey, which they hope will provide a more fulsome picture of active transportation across Greater Victoria, including recreational trips.

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Nina Grossman
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