Ottawa – Gatineau in Canadian top 10 People for Bikes City Ratings

The closure of our street allowed for better cycling in a safe environment on vehicles people had never biked on before.

Last week, People for Bikes released its annual City Rankings Score for cycling. I think we did very well as a region: Ottawa ranks in the 91st percentile, Gatineau in the 98th percentile. As a region, we are in the 95th percentile. The total number of cities ranked is 767, the majority of them US cities and towns.

This year, People for Bikes researched no less than 660 US cities and 107 international cities in 12 countries worldwide for its annual City Ratings. I mentioned before in this blog post, that it was a shame that Ottawa was not included in the list last year, but after I inquired and had some back and forth emails with the City of Ottawa and People for Bikes, we are included this year.

I am happy to report that Ottawa and Gatineau are in the top 10 in the list of Canadian cities. In the overall ‘worldwide’ list of 767 cities, Ottawa ranks 72nd place and Gatineau a fantastic 19th place. Ottawa comes after 22 European cities (which is not surprising), one Australian city (Canberra) and 48 North American cities (including Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton but ahead of Vancouver).

North American city ratings

If we take a closer look to North American cities only, Ottawa scores a very good 49th place out of 702 North American cities, which brings Ottawa in the top 7%. This is probably a somewhat fairer way to compare, as many European places (but not all, such as Seville) have had a head start of several decades.

Network scores for Ottawa and Gatineau

Detailed Network Score for Ottawa: 49 (average of all cities is 26)
Detailed Network Score for Gatineau: 70 (average for all cities is 26)

Drilling even deeper, In the overall big city category with 114 cities, once again European cities score high, but if we filter them out, only Brooklyn, Montreal, Edmonton, San Francisco, Calgary, Seattle, Manhattan, Queens, Portland and Laval are scoring better than Ottawa. Ottawa with a score of 51, is on par with large European cities like Manchester (50) and Hamburg (53).

Gatineau does even better though in the North American listing at place number 8 out of 702, thanks to its high scoring network component, but we’ll get to that a little later. Being number 8 counts for a place in the top 2%. In the mid size North American cities list, Gatineau scores 3rd, after Berkeley and Davis.

How would our capital region score as one entity?

As the NCC is responsible for many of our pathways, we should also take a look at the region. Having Ottawa and Gatineau into one capital city region, our region would be ranking in 36th place in the overall total ratings of 767 cities with a rating of 59 points. Note a rating is not the same as a place on the list as several cities have the same score.

In the Large Cities only list, the Capital region would be 18th. Filtering out the European cities, only Brooklyn (62 points), Montreal (61), Edmonton (60) and SF (60) score better. That’s right, Ottawa-Gatineau as a region ranks higher than Portland, OR (54 points): we are in good company. You will not find our region in the list as a region though, I did the math based on the methodology People for Bikes decribes on the website.

In the list of 42 Canadian cities only, both our cities are in the top ten. Gatineau scores 1st out of 42 cities and Ottawa 9th. Both Gatineau and Ottawa rank best in their respective provinces.

But why does Ottawa rank lower than Gatineau in the city rating when it appears so similar in development?

Let’s look at some numbers. If you look at the data below, you’ll notice that there is not much difference between Ottawa and Gatineau in the Community Score. Ottawa scores actually marginally better. However there is a large discrepancy in the Network Score. I believe the reason is Ottawa’s large rural areas (lowers voice: “Ottawa is 90% rural”) where we have less cycling infrastructure and likely even less that happens to run past schools, services and job locations. This I believe has a negative effect on the score.

Ottawa is 90% rural” says Major Jim Watson (photo rights: JimWatsonOttawa)

Gatineau has a lot less rural surface and has roughly twice the metro density of Ottawa and an even denser urban area (source: Wikipedia), so its network is closer to more people. I think, if you’d measure Ottawa’s inner Greenbelt area only, we would mirror Gatineau’s results.

Network ratings average for all cities in the City Rankings is 28
Community ratings average for all cities in the City Rankings is 48

Looking at the community scores below, you will notice that despite high network scores, people don’t find cycling particularly safe in our region with a rating of around 42 points. Yet cyclists in Utrecht, the nr.1 city on the list, rate their cycling safety at only 31. O, those ever critical Dutch (*hides passport and clogs*).

What I found a bit odd though is that in the network score (“access to places“), Gatineau scores significantly higher than Ottawa: 70 vs 49, but in the community score Ottawa and Gatineau have similar scores, under network (“How well a city’s bike network connects people to places they want to go“) . In other words: Gatineau’s score tells us there is a high access to places, but users don’t find it safer than Ottawa’s lower rated access to places.

Ottawa Community score: Ottawa cyclists cycle often but don’t feel safe. Average for all cities is 48
Gatineau Community score: Like Ottawa, a high score for ridership but low sense of safety. Average for all cities is 48

What is the takeaway from the city ratings?

This is not a competition. As I mentioned in a previous post, I thought it was important that Ottawa and Gatineau should be included to be able to compare our city with other North American cities working on cycling improvements. I had an inkling that we could rank high, but didn’t expect we would rank so high.

If we compare rankings based on population size and on North American cities only, Ottawa-Gatineau is on the right track. Only four North American large cities do marginally better than the Ottawa-Gatineau region when we filter out European cities. Of the 42 Canadian municipalities, Ottawa and Gatineau are both in the top 10 highest ranked cities, both best in their province. I think there is a good opportunity for multi day casual cycling tourism that Ottawa and Gatineau Tourism should more aggressively build on.

Improvements to access to transit

Due to its large rural component, it will not be easy for Ottawa to improve substantially in the network ranking section, unless we can make major improvements in cycling access to transit hubs and build safe infrastructure in rural Ottawa. Rural Ottawa has very quiet roads, but the maximum speed is higher, so that works against Ottawa unfortunately. That doesn’t mean that rural roads are unsafe but it is less likely that someone takes a bike somewhere.

There are still hundreds of places that need improvements and we can only get that done by communicating with our elected officials and explain what needs to be done like we have done in several on line open houses over the previous few weeks.

Take a look at the rankings yourself here. You’ll also find an explanation of the methodology: PeopleForBikes City Ratings | Every ride. Every rider. Join us. I strongly encourage you to look where Ottawa and Gatineau can improve…..(Note as per June 8, there are some issues with the database filtering options but the team is working on it)

A quick overview

Some background reading

Data Driven City Rankings

The People for Bikes City Ratings is a data-driven approach to evaluate and compare bicycling in U.S. cities and towns and abroad. It helps us understand where the city is doing well and where the city can further improve.

In 2020 the City Rankings scores were rated out of five, but this year, in 2021, the American cycling lobby organisation switched to a 100 point scoring system. Of course, many North American cities will never even get close to the Netherlands’ iconic cycling infrastructure, but that is OK. It allows us to learn from their progress and we can make modifications to our North American situation.

Realise though that collecting the data is a huge undertaking and there might be oversights and errors. For one, you will notice that the job component (can I get to work by bike) for Ottawa ranks as ‘null’, which is a bit odd as universities, hospitals, the downtown core, the IT sector in Kanata all are very accessible by bike generally. I asked about that and the response was that they dot gave this data.

Network and Perception

The 2021 City Rankings calculates the ranking different than 2020 and emphasizes networks. The revised ratings now use only 2 inputs: the quality of the bicycle network (data) and a survey among the community (perceptions).

Bicycle Network Analysis

The network in the City Rankings is analyzed by combing through publicly available data measuring the quality and connectivity of the network. It looks to access to neighbourhoods, essential services, retail and transit, to opportunities to develop oneself (school, work) and to access to recreation. In other words, can I bike to a doctor, can I bike to a mall, can I easily connect to recreational trails, can my kids bike to school, based on safety measures such as MUPs and speed limits on roads etc. The network component counts for 80% of the rating.

You will notice a fairly large amount of smaller towns ranking high in the City Rankings. That is because a small town adding a few protected bike lanes quickly covers its entire population. Let’s visualize a 4 km2 area with several north-south and east-west safe cycling routes. Everyone all of a sudden lives, works and goes to school within easy reach of safe cycling infra and you accomplish a high network score. Look here for the detailed BNA score for Ottawa and Gatineau.

Community Score

The community score looks to ridership, safety, network and awareness and how users experience it. This is a questionnaire for the community. The community score counts for 20% of the ratings.

Score card images are screen grabs from People for Bikes City Ratings website. Graphs are mine.

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