Active Transportation Planning and Travel Behaviour Change in a Post-COVID-19 Canada (Update: Sept. 2021)

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered mobility trends across Canada. Municipalities quickly reacted by realigning policy with a much stronger focus on active transportation. Examining pandemic-related street reallocations, their evolutions, and impacts over time is a critical research challenge, which presents an opportunity to learn from both short-term responses and long-term permanent changes and creates a new baseline for active transportation planning in the future. Short-term responses may also produce longer-term habit formation and travel behaviour change representing a "new normal" for Canadians post-pandemic. In addition, the current policy response has raised concerns of equitable access to active transportation infrastructure for marginalized communities who were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Our new research project, funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) grant, will make important, novel contributions to understanding the dynamics of active transportation planning and the potential for supporting desired changes in travel behaviour among the Canadian population. This 4-year research project focuses on municipalities in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, ON; the Montreal Metropolitan Area, QC; and the Metro Vancouver Area, BC. Home to 38% of Canada's population, these regions are have been impacted the most by the pandemic.

Specifically, we will examine three broad research questions:

  1. How did Canadian municipalities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of active transportation planning, and how do these street allocations vary across municipalities in terms of their scope, scale, and socio-spatial equity?

  2. What were the motivations and processes that led to these pandemic responses, and how will these short-term wins and losses inform longer-term, resilient, active transportation policy and planning?

  3. Will these new policies and facilities influence longer-term habit formation, improved safety perception, and shifts toward active transportation (particularly cycling and micro-mobility options) in the Canadian population, including low-income and immigrant groups and people of colour??

The research is a collaboration between Dr. Raktim Mitra (Principal Investigator) at Ryerson University's TransForm Lab, Dr. Paul Hess at the University of Toronto, Dr. Meghan Winters at Chatr Lab at Simon Fraser University, and Dr. Kevin Manaugh at McGill University.

Community partners on this grant are The Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) in Toronto, Vivre en Ville in Montreal and Hub Cycling in Vancouver.

Update: September 2021

Our first report of this study has now been released! Entitled "Usage and Public Support for Pandemic-Time Street Reallocation Projects in Three Canadian Urban Centre", this report explores the use and public support for new bicycle lanes/ paths, street closures, slow/quiet streets, and street cafés/patios in three major Canadian urban areas - Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

Cover Photo by Sean Marshall (2021). This photo was made available for use under a Creative Commons License.