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Measuring Bicycling Infrastructure Across Canada:
Leveraging Open-Data

Active transportation, such as walking, bicycling, and skateboarding to get around, is an important method by which Canadians move through their environment. While its benefits are typically thought of as reducing road congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, active transportation is also a crucial way that many Canadians achieve daily physical activity. Physical activity has many physical and mental health benefits, including chronic disease preventionFootnote 1. In 2018, Canadian adults reported using an active form of transportation for an average of 1.7 hours per weekFootnote 1.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) developed the Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Sleep (PASS) Indicators, consisting of 55 indicators that together help build a picture of the PASS behaviours of CanadiansFootnote 2. The PASS Indicators include several indicators related to active transportation.

Evidence shows that the safer an individual feels on their cycling route, the more likely they are to cycleFootnote 3. This can be particularly true for those who are less confident cycling, and could reduce a barrier for individuals to begin cyclingFootnote 4. Bicycling infrastructure is often built to keep riders safe, but not all types of infrastructure provide equal levels of safetyFootnote 5. PHAC is currently working to develop a surveillance indicator to better understand bicycling infrastructure across the country. Open data provides one possible information source for reporting on this indicator.


Open-data refers to data that is free to access, use, modify, and shareFootnote 6. A growing number of Canadian municipalities have created open-data portals as a way to publish their data on a range of topics and make it accessible for all. These open-data datasets can be rich sources of information that can be leveraged for many uses, including public health. Datasets that include the location and types of bicycling infrastructure within municipalities are relatively common. The purpose of this investigation is to test the potential of using open-data on bicycling infrastructure to create a new PASS Indicators measure for active transportation infrastructure.

Most municipalities have their own data portals, so gathering every active transportation dataset across Canada would require identifying each municipality with a portal and searching it for relevant data. As a first step in determining if such data could be used for a national indicator, this investigation explored open-data from the two largest municipalities within each Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) in Canada. Bicycling infrastructure data was not available for every municipality considered, indicating that there are gaps in the data. The municipalities for which data was obtained accounted for approximately 42% of the Canadian population. The nomenclature used in each dataset differed between municipalities but was kept in this tool in order to show the data as it is provided.

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Next steps

PHAC funded the development of a simplified naming convention for bicycling infrastructure, the Canadian Bikeway Comfort and Safety (Can-BICS) classification systemFootnote 7. Can-BICS was created to help bring consistency to the variation of names currently employed for cycling infrastructure, and streamline the process of developing a PASS Indicators measure of the amount of bicycling infrastructure by type across municipality.

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