Active transportation policies in Canada
Active transportation is a necessary and utilitarian determinant of health and includes walking, cycling, in-line skating, and other human-driven modes of transport while increasing active behaviours.1
In addition to walking/cycling infrastructure, active transportation includes a variety of interventions such as built environment strategies, public transit, and school-based active transport interventions.
A combination of built environment strategies, including street connectivity, street design and mixed land use likely increase physical activity levels in children, adults, and older adults.2,3,4
Cycling infrastructure (e.g., cycling lanes and city-wide networks) may increase active transportation cycling behaviour at a population-level.
Investments in public transit may increase total physical activity levels, especially among females and those closest to transit locations.
Policy at the federal level
The report Let’s Get Moving calls on provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to review and support active transportation through integrated public transportation systems, enhanced bicycling infrastructure or incentives for people to drive less.
In 2021, the Infrastructure Canada launched an Active Transportation Fund to support governments in improving active transportation infrastructure across Canada.
Provincial/territorial active transportation policy analysis
The degree of policy adoption is LOW — no or very few jurisdictions have adopted evidence-informed policy action, and/or the breadth of the policy action is limited in scope. This rating is expected as direct policy action related to this domain is primarily municipally governed. While there is an opportunity for provinces and territories to provide policy guidance and/or funds, municipalities are often ultimately responsible for implementing this policy action.
- Acts or regulations related to active transportation exist in all provinces and territories. However, these tend to be enabling policies rather than policies that have a direct impact on increasing physical activity in the population. For example, Municipal Acts, Hamlet Acts and Community Charters enable, but do not require, local governments to pass bylaws and plans governing transportation. Direct policy actions related to active transportation tend to exist at regional, municipal, or local levels.
- All provinces and territories have acts or regulations, such as Highway Traffic Acts, that describe the rules of the road for motor vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. Several provinces and territories also require cyclists to wear helmets and require motor vehicle drivers to maintain a minimum distance when passing cyclists on the road. While these policies enable the safe usage of transportation infrastructure, they do not directly impact active transportation.
- Québec’s Bicycle Policy promotes cycling as a means of transportation and aims to improve infrastructure for cyclists. Similarly, their Public Transit Policy aims to increase the use of public transit throughout the province. Quebec’s Sustainable Mobility Plan envisages a sustainable mobility system that encourages active transportation.
- Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement provides guidance on how to design active and healthy communities and calls for open public spaces that facilitate active transportation and recreation and provide access to shorelines. The policy statement also requires land-use planners to provide:
- an appropriate mix of residential, employment, recreational and open spaces to support healthy, livable, and safe communities to planning active and healthy communities
- a range of housing types and densities to support the use of alternative transportation modes and public transit in areas where it exists
- British Columbia’s Cycling Policy takes a creative approach to improving bicycling infrastructure at the provincial level by requiring new or upgraded highways to include provisions for cyclists.
- The Active Alberta policy takes a holistic approach to improving the health and wellness of the population through recreation, active living and sport. One of the priorities of the policy is to increase the use of active transportation by implementing best practices in land use and transportation planning.
- Provinces and territories that do not have active transportation policies have an opportunity to increase the population’s level of physical activity through stronger policy action. Provinces and territories can also commit to providing local governments with additional supports to improve active transportation in cities, towns, and villages. Manitoba, for example, is developing a provincial active transportation policy and has developed an active transportation planning guide to help municipalities implement stronger active transportation policies. Provincial and territorial governments can also incentivize the use of active transportation by providing public transit tax credits.
Municipal active transportation policy analysis
The degree of policy adoption is HIGH – most jurisdictions have adopted comprehensive evidence-informed policy action. This rating is expected as direct policy action related to this domain is primarily municipally governed. While there is an opportunity for provinces and territories to provide policy guidance and/or funds, municipalities are ultimately responsible for implementing this policy action.
Periodic school and office closures during the COVID-19 pandemic have minimized the need for active transportation among large population groups. Contrary, fear of virus infection has moved large population groups away from public transit and into more active modes of travel such as cycling. More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of pandemic measures on physical activity and cancer rates.
- Policies related to Active Transportation exist across 26 of 31 (84%) scanned municipalities.
- Active transportation and active urban design policies tend to appear in tandem, likely due to the close linkage between the two.
- Densely populated regions tend to operate with policy specificity including those specific to cycling such as Calgary and London, pedestrian/walking pathways including Ottawa and Surrey, mobility plans similar to Halifax and Fredericton, and trail usage plans with examples in Whitehorse and Hamilton.
- Polices which are intentional with an overt focus on active transportation mechanisms allow for a greater exploration of causes, need, implementation considerations, and innovative strategies, and are seen as a strong approach to encouraging physical activity.
- Active transportation policies and principles are also embedded within ‘all-encompassing’ policies such as the community/neighbourhood/regional plans of Surrey, Regina’s transportation plan, and Edmonton’s street policies.
- Many smaller municipalities seem to lack policy directives to create infrastructure for active transportation (e.g. separated bike lanes, paved pedestrian pathways, etc.) which may put them at risk of not experiencing long-term positive impacts. Building supportive active transportation infrastructure is a crucial mechanism to permanent active transportation behaviour change and should be encouraged across all municipalities.
- Active transportation is referenced within some zoning bylaws, municipal acts, traffic safety polices, and development regulations but are typically not the primary focus or intention of such policies. This is seen as a weaker approach to encouraging physical activity compared to policies directly focused on changing physical activity behaviours.
- Municipalities which do not have an active transportation policy generally consist of either large geographic regions or sparsely populated regions, which may point to a low need or desire from community members, lack of resources, and/or implementation challenges.
Regional/municipal active transportation policies in Canada
|Type of policy||Examples from included municipalities|
|Active transportation||Edmonton; Saskatoon; Brampton; Fredericton; Moncton; Montreal; Quebec City|
|Cycling||Surrey; Victoria; Calgary; Edmonton; Saskatoon; Hamilton; London; Ottawa; Toronto; Fredericton|
|Pedestrian/walking||Surrey; Victoria; Calgary; Hamilton; Ottawa; Toronto|
|Trail and pathway||Whitehorse; Hamilton; Brampton; Fredericton|
|Mobility||Calgary; Hamilton: Fredericton; Halifax|
|Community/neighbourhood/regional||Whitehorse; Yellowknife; Surrey; Vancouver; Victoria; Calgary; Edmonton; Regina; Saskatoon; Winnipeg; London; Ottawa; Brampton; Toronto; Fredericton; Moncton; Saint John’s; Halifax; Charlottetown; Summerside; Montreal|
|Transportation management||Whitehorse; Vancouver; Victoria; Calgary; Vancouver; Edmonton; Regina; Brandon; Winnipeg; Hamilton; London; Ottawa|
Table presents links to relevant policies across 31 included municipalities. This table is for educational and reference purposes only and is not meant to be an exhaustive summary of all active policies in Canada.
1 - International Society for Physical Activity and Health. 2021. Resources. https://www.ispah.org/Resources/
2 - Mölenberg, F.J.M., Panter, J., Burdorf, A., & van Lenthe, F.J. 2019. A systematic review of the effect of infrastructural interventions to promote cycling: strengthening causal inference from observational data. The International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity 16(1): 93. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31655609/
3 - Kärmeniemi, M., Lankila, T., Ikäheimo, T., Koivumaa-Honkanen, H., & Korpelainen, R. 2018. The Built Environment as a Determinant of Physical Activity: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies and Natural Experiments. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 52(3): 239-251. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29538664/
4 - Tcymbal, A., Demetriou, Y., Kelso, A., Wolbring, L., Wunsch, K., Wasche, H., … Reimers, A.K. 2020. Effects of the built environment on physical activity: a systematic review of longitudinal studies taking sex/gender into account. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine 25(1): 75. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33246405/