Policy Precedents: How Research Identified Strange Bedfellows

Over the years, evidence of how city design impacts health has been piling up. Today, we know that good community planning makes physical activity the easier choice and this in turn helps combat chronic illness like diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Yet development of cities continues without consideration of health impacts, and the efficient movement of cars continues to take precedence.

But, across the country, there are signs of progress. Towns, cities, and provinces are taking action to address the social and health inequities that occur as a result of poor design. Over the past few months I have been digging into the actions they are taking, and here are some highlights:


“Cycling is a core part of Ontario’s transportation system and is integral to fostering healthier and more prosperous communities. Increasing cycling opportunities in Ontario offers many benefits, including improved well-being, lower rates of chronic conditions and reduced health care costs as a result of active living, reduced traffic congestion in urban areas, a cleaner environment and increased tourism opportunities across the province.”

This was my favourite example of inter-ministerial collaboration, in part because of the strategy’s seemingly strange bedfellows. The Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport and the Ministry of Education are key stakeholders in Ontario’s Cycle Strategy. If that comes as a surprise to you, here’s why:

  • According to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport (2018), cycling tourists not only spend more time in the province, they also spend more money. When compared to the average visitor who spends $171 per trip, cycling tourists spend $255.

  • Active transportation makes a marked difference in the lives of students. According to the Ministry of Education (2015), “Research has shown that increased levels of physical activity lead to better academic achievement, better concentration, better classroom behaviour, and more focused learning. Other benefits include improvements in social and emotional behaviour, physical capacity, self-concept, and the ability to manage stress.” (p.1)

These ministries have an important role to play, and their presence as partners in this strategy show just how broad the impact of active transportation can be.


“Most Edmontonians recognize it makes sense to work with our climate, instead of trying to hide from it. So while tunnels and pedways do provide shelter on the most bitter of winter days, people want activity outside, on the streets, throughout the winter months: outdoor cafés and public spaces that make the most of the sunshine and block the wind and walkways and bike paths that are relatively easy to navigate twelve months of the year”

Edmonton’s strategy not only recognizes and celebrates winter, it also takes into consideration planning that accommodates active transportation and physical activity in all seasons. For example, the strategy considers walkway and bike route maintenance, inviting streetscapes year-round, and even mounds of snow that provide opportunities for play. The strategy excels in its identification of partnerships, listed under each action item. Potential partners include external organizations, municipal departments, universities, and provincial ministries.

Edmonton’s Winter City Strategy isn’t only about making winter fun, it’s also about accessibility, equity, and making the city vibrant year-round.


“The City of Charlottetown, Town of Stratford, Town of Cornwall and the PEI Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal are working together to develop an exciting plan to help improve conditions for cycling and walking in the Greater Charlottetown Area. The Regional Active Transportation Plan will recommend ways to develop comfortable and attractive pedestrian and cycling facilities that will connect major activity hubs throughout Charlottetown, Stratford and Cornwall.”

We can see the value of this regional strategy play out in the Calgary area’s commuter needs. 47% of Airdrie residents commute to Calgary for work and many more commuters come from Cochrane, whose population has grown by nearly 50% over the last six years. Throw in Okotoks, Black Diamond, and Turner Valley and we have quite the region.

“Projects are selected for funding based on which applications meet Bike BC’s goals of promoting cycling as a form of transportation such as to and from work, promoting tourism cycling, creating healthy living environments, and reducing traffic congestion and cutting greenhouse gas emissions through safe and effective cycling infrastructure”.

Bike BC is a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure mandate that covers up to 50% of the cost of a project for a city or town, to a maximum of one million (whichever is less). This is a strategy that recognizes different stakeholders, tourism, environment, commuting, and traffic flow, and incorporates them into the plan itself.


The Active Neighbourhoods Canada project looks at active transportation through a health equity lens, but we recognize that stakeholders with different perspectives are also calling for change. This got us thinking about creative ways to connect stakeholders, to take action together, and ultimately, to build a more active Alberta.

Manchester, a community in Calgary’s south east, is a perfect example. Though sparsely populated, the community is growing – and fast. Between 2009 and 2014, Manchester grew 118% compared with Calgary’s 12%. Home to many new Canadians, Manchester experiences higher than average levels of housing insecurity and poverty. But in recent years, the community has started to change. Breweries are popping up in the area and, as a result, Manchester has become part of “the Barley Belt”. This summer, the breweries of the Barley Belt called for better active transportation options in their community to connect Calgarians and tourists to their businesses.

We too work in Manchester and have developed a close relationship with their community association and social workers. We would love to see transportation options and safe infrastructure in the community. As we’ve discussed, so would the breweries. So, in the case of Manchester, a community where different stakeholders are calling for the same thing, what would a partnership look like? Perhaps at first glance, breweries and active transportation champions seem like strange bedfellows. But when we think about the outcome we hope for, equitable transportation options and safe streets, could this strange partnership make these outcomes a reality? And perhaps such a partnership has the potential to be a new precedent. A precedent that demonstrates how different groups, sectors, or ministries can work together to reach a common goal, though strange bedfellows they may seem.

Barley Belt YYC:


Ontario Cycling Strategy:


Winter City Edmonton:


Bike BC:


Prince Edward Island Regional Active Transportation Plan:




City of Airdrie. (2018). Labour Market. Retrieved from https://www.airdrie.ca/index.cfm?serviceID=481

City of Calgary. (n.d.). The City of Calgary Community Profiles: Part B – Community Character (socio-economic information) Manchester. Retrieved from http://www.calgary.ca/CSPS/CNS/Documents/community_social_statistics/Manchester_b.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2015). Quick Facts for Parents: Learning about Active Transportation, Including Cycling. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/transportfact.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport. (2018). Tour by Bike: Ontario’s Cycling Tourism Plan. Retrieved from http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/tourism/cycling.shtml

Crowther, S. (2017). In the shadow of Calgary, Cochrane’s growth takes off. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/calgary-and-edmonton/in-calgarys-shadow-cochranes-growth-takesoff/article35692836/