Ottawa in 95th percentile in People for Bikes 2022 rankings

Out of 1105 North American cities researched, Ottawa ranks 52

Recently People for Bikes released its 2022 annual ranking of cycling cities. Unlike last year, European cities are not included due to staff shortages. I am told though that the European rankings will follow in the Fall of 2022.

Compare North American cities with North American cities

European cities usually rank high and I don’t really mind missing the European cities in the list. I prefer to compare North American cities with other North American cities for their similarities in lay out, development and zoning policies (or lack thereof).

Large increase in cities in list

This year, People for Bikes compared 1105 municipalities in the US and Canada. That is a gargantuan task and partially done by hand although People for Bikes is working on more automation.

Using open source databases such as Open Street Maps, People for Bikes collects cycling related data (speed limits, pathways, bike lanes) as well as where schools and other services such as doctors, hospitals, libraries are located. Eventually a report card rolls out of the system for each city. Note the lenght of the total pathway network is not really relevant.

Ottawa in 95 percentile

Despite, or should I say thanks to a critical cycling public in Ottawa, Ottawa is in the 95 percentile (higher is better) of best overall city ranking of 52 out of 1105 North American cities. (last year 49 out of 702 North American cities).

Where does that leave Ottawa compared to other cities? In a pretty good spot actually. Given that Portland, OR, considered a cycling mecca by the cycling advocacy incrowd, is 39th (96th percentile) in the list, Ottawa’s 52 position (95th percentile) with a rating of 51 points is remarkable.

Bicycle Network Ratings

You can read in detail how People for Bikes puts the list together on their own website, including the methodologies, but let’s have a quick look at some of the items.

The ratings are put together based on a (1) network score and a (2) community score.

Network score (not to be confused with network rating)

When we look at the network score, we’ll see that Ottawa has 49 points, placing us 95th in the total list of 1105 cities, between places like Santa Monica, CA, Palo Alto, CA and Cambridge MA.

Community score

Our community score is 57 which sends Ottawa a bit lower down the list at 113, but again in the company of places like Santa Monica, CA, Davis, CA and San Antonio, TX.

Density matters

However, like I mentioned last year, places like New York, Montreal and Vancouver have much higher densities than Ottawa with its thousands of acres of farmland. In other words, build a downtown bike lane in Vancouver and you’ll instantly have a few thousand people living close to a bike lane. Build one in Ottawa’s Fitzroy Harbour and you’ll have a dozen people living close to a bike lane.

Large cities compared

But just like we shouldn’t compare Paris, France with Davis, CA we also shouldn’t compare Montreal, QC with Mosquero, NM (population 55), both in the list of 1105 municipalities.

Given the size of Ottawa, let’s zoom in to more comparable sizes. The ‘large city’ category starts at 300,000 residents and has no upper limit.

The North America Large Cities category contains 85 cities: Ottawa ranks 13th.

Ottawa has just over a million residents now. There are 18 cities in the list with a population of over 1 million: Ottawa ranks 6th out of 18, after Montreal, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Edmonton and Calgary.

Comparing Montreal to Ottawa in the bicycle network ratings

It is interesting to take a look why Montreal scores higher and where Ottawa lacks. Let’s first look at some numbers.

Surface2790 km2432 km2
Density per km23644081
City Rating (in points)5165
Place in total list of 1105 (ranking)52nd8th
Network score (in points)4966
Community score (in points)5761
Large City position in list of 85 cities13th1st
Comparing some 2022 data between Ottawa and Montreal

In the table above you’ll notice that in the community score Ottawa is not far behind Montreal. However Ottawa’s network score is quite far behind.

Let’s zoom in at the network scores of Ottawa and Montreal:

2022 Ottawa Network score (Image: People for Bikes)
2022 Montreal Network score (Image: People for Bikes)

We quickly notice that there are large differences between the two cities. So if Ottawa wants to improve its rating, it is important to look at what Montreal is doing right. We can dismiss the ‘Ottawa is a winter city‘ argument, as Montreal is one too. We can also dismiss that ‘Canada is a big country‘, as both cities are in Canada. Montreal has been taking clues from the Netherlands since the 1990’s while Ottawa clued in two decades later, but Ottawa is now at the forefront in North America implementing the Dutch style intersections.

2021 Dutch style intersection on Bay and Laurier in Ottawa

Invest in access to neighbourhoods and to transit hubs

Looking closer at the network scores, the two items where Montreal is doing significantly better are ‘Neighbourhoods’ (access to parts of the city where residents live) and ‘Transit’ (access to major transit hubs). So there is something to learn for us in Ottawa: improve neighbourhood cycling and connections to transit. The latter one -I hope- will be improved when LRT is finished.

As important as it is to look what can be done better, we should also pause once in a while and realise what has been accomplished over the years since the Corktown bridge over the Rideau Canal opened on September 21, 2006. Being in the 95th percentile (and Gatineau even higher) of the bicycle network ratings shows that we are on our way to a pretty descent bicycle city. Take a look at some local maps here.

You can read more about the ratings and the methodology here: PeopleForBikes 2022 City Ratings | Every ride. Every rider. Join us.

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