An initiative sponsored by the Association pour la santé publique du Québec

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Municipal decision-makers can play a key role in the promotion of a physically active lifestyle through their heavy influence on the direction given to development, the transportation system, and urban design.

In order for the population to make walking and bicycling an integral part of their daily life, it is necessary to provide safe, convenient, and attractive paths. To this end, four strategies have been shown to be effective in the literature and recognized as such by numerous experts.

1. Reduce the volume of automobile traffic

It has been demonstrated that intensive motor vehicle traffic diminishes people’s sense of security, which in turn discourages the use of active transportation. Indeed, the number of accidents in a city is directly proportional to the volume of traffic [1].

  • Each day, ten pedestrians are injured in Quebec, half of these in Montreal [2].
  • On average, eight children (pedestrians or cyclists) are injured per week on the roads of Montreal [3].
  • The number of children injured in road accidents is considerably higher at intersections with a high volume of automobile traffic [4].

Maintaining existing volumes of traffic or increasing them does not contribute to improve road safety for motorists, pedestrians, or cyclists. In order to encourage walking and bicycling, it is necessary to restrict the expansion of road capacity, enhance the supply of public transit, and ensure good connectivity [5].

Public transit: health benefits

Aside from helping to reduce road congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, public transit contributes also to encourage a physically active lifestyle.

  • Public transit users walk on average 19 minutes per day and about one-third walk more than 30 minutes per day [6].

Improving alternative modes of transportation to the automobile has a positive impact on the economy of municipalities, both by facilitating transportation for workers and by improving accessibility to all geographical areas [7]. Moreover, the economic effects of congestion cause losses in the order of several billion dollars per year. For example, for the Montreal area alone, these losses have been evaluated at more than $1.5 billion per year [8].

Proposed actions
  • Cease increasing the capacity of the road network and review road projects likely to increase the volume of automobiles in circulation.
  • Dedicate a larger portion of investments and public space to modes of transportation more efficient and safer than the automobile.
  • Increase resources allocated to fund public transit and improve service quality and accessibility.
  • Systematically integrate reserved lanes for public transit whenever roads are resurfaced.
  • Limit parking spots in the vicinity of employment centres, business centres, and institutions in order to dissuade the population from using their automobiles.
  • Facilitate intermodality between active transportation and public transit:
    • Provide for bicycle racks on buses
    • Provide for space for bicycles on subways and commuter trains
2. Lower the speed of vehicles

Aside from the number of automobiles on the roads, their speed, too, constitutes a risk for pedestrians and cyclists [9]. The risk is particularly higher on main arteries and in local streets invaded by heavy commuter traffic [10].

Road signs and markings alone are not enough to protect pedestrians. Safe urban design, especially via traffic-calming measures, constitutes one of the most effective intervention strategies to reduce road injuries and to encourage walking and bicycling [11].

Physical traffic-calming measures carry various advantages:

  • They are durable and do not required an intensification of police surveillance [12].
  • They tend to protect everyone regardless of age, physical aptitude or language spoken.
  • They reduce speed, traffic flow, and conflicts between different users, thus contributing to render streets more user-friendly.

Traffic-calming measures

Traffic-calming measures are a combination of measures, especially of the physical variety, that reduce the negative effects of motor vehicle use, alter driver behaviours, and improve conditions for other road users [13].

Examples of traffic-calming measures [14]:

  • chicanes
  • road narrowing
  • automobile traffic diverters
  • raised pedestrian crossings or intersections
  • bollards
  • curb extensions or bulb-outs
Proposed actions
  • Install physical measures that reduce the speed of motor vehicles and the chances of a collision between road users [15, 16]:
    • on main arteries and collector streets
    • at intersections
    • in areas with a high concentration of motor vehicle traffic generators
    • in residential neighbourhoods near parks, schools, and playgrounds
  • Systematically integrate traffic-calming measures and physical changes to road designs that favour active transportation when planning road resurfacing projects.
3. Build and maintain safe, quality walkways and bicycle paths

The presence of sidewalks, walkways, and bicycle paths increases the practice of physical activity [17, 18]. It has been reported that, in neighbourhoods perceived as safe by parents, children are five times more likely to walk to school and they are less inclined to be overweight [19]. Moreover, putting in benches, planting trees and flowers, and installing a pedestrian-centred lighting system are elements that encourage the practice of walking [20].

Conversely, deficiencies in pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure, such as the lack of pedestrian crosswalks, overly wide intersections, the absence of pedestrian lights, and sidewalks poorly cleared of snow and ice in winter, are impediments to the adoption of active mobility and present a risk for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists [21].

Proposed actions
  • Dedicate a portion of the roadwork budget to building infrastructure conducive to active transportation.
  • Plan, design, implement, and maintain a safe, convenient, and efficient network of pedestrian and bicycling routes taking into account the needs of all road users [22, 23, 24]:
    • Offer adequate lighting in the evening and at night
    • Plant trees and flowers
    • Design wider sidewalks
    • Put in bicycle paths
    • Ensure the presence of benches, bicycle stands, and drinking fountains along pedestrian and bicycle routes and recreational trails
  • Render pedestrian crosswalks and intersections safe in order to diminish pedestrian exposure to the risk of being struck by a vehicle [25]:
    • Provide enough time for older persons and children to cross
    • Provide refuge islands for pedestrians on main arteries and wide streets
    • Provide traffic lights specific to pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists
    • Render pedestrians more visible through raised intersections, curb extensions or bulb-outs, or other safety measures
  • Remove snow and ice from pedestrian routes, with priority given to areas with heavy pedestrian traffic and around schools [26].
  • Ensure an ample supply of bicycle parking that is safe, well lit, accessible from the street, and located near the entrances to the buildings or parks that they serve [27].
4. Ensure a more compact and multifunctional land use

Urban sprawl on the outskirts of large cities and the construction of highways in urban areas are associated with a sedentary lifestyle and foster a higher prevalence of overweight [28, 29].

Conversely, densely built neighbourhoods, where many businesses and services are present, where street connectivity facilitates getting about on foot, and where sidewalks, pedestrian trails, and bicycle paths are found, increase the practice of physical activity, particularly when getting from one place to another [30, 31].

A very strong link exists also between walking and the number of open and recreational public spaces nearby (parks, playgrounds, sport fields) [32]. Children who live in neighbourhoods with a higher number of parks, green spaces, and recreational areas are more likely to engage in active transportation [33].

Build new schools in residential neighbourhoods

When schools are nearby, children walk more. The fact that new schools are being built a little everywhere in Quebec constitutes a golden opportunity to construct living environments conducive to well-being and healthy lifestyle among youths. What’s more, school environments well adapted to the needs of students attract families and maintain them in their neighbourhoods.

Having educational services nearby homes affords a larger number of children the possibility of walking or bicycling to school. In this regard, children who use active transportation to get to and from school can accumulate up to 45 minutes more of physical activity daily compared with children who get to school by motorized means [34].

Proposed actions
  • Ensure a mix of services and different forms of habitation in neighbourhoods.
  • Densify the number of dwellings, businesses, and jobs in communities.
  • Make public spaces, businesses, services, and parks easily accessible by active modes of transportation [35].
  • Increase the number of green spaces in order to encourage people to walk and practise physical activities.
  • Build new schools in the heart of residential neighbourhoods.
  • Before closing a school, evaluate the impact of the closure on active transportation.
Would you like to discuss this topic with us?

Contact Corinne Voyer, Director:


[1] Direction de la santé publique de Montréal. (2006). Le transport urbain, une question de santé. (Rapport annuel 2006 sur la santé de la population montréalaise). Montréal, Québec : Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal. Repéré le 13 juillet 2013.

[2], [9], [10], [15], [21] Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal (2006). Mémoire de la Direction de santé publique sur la Charte du piéton. Assemblée nationale du Québec. Montréal : Direction de santé publique de Montréal. Secteur Environnement urbain et santé. Repéré le 12 juillet 2013.

[3] Morency, P. (2009, octobre). Jeunes piétons et cyclistes blessés à Montréal : problème et solutions, Communication présentée lors de la conférence de presse Les jeunes ne marchent plus pour aller à l’école - Des groupes se réunissent pour sensibiliser les municipalités à leur rôle dans le transport actif sécuritaire des enfants dans le cadre de la Semaine nationale de la sécurité scolaire, Montréal.

[4] Morency, P., Gauvin, L., Tessier, F., Miranda-Moreno, L., Cloutier, M. S. & Morency, C. (2011). Analyse désagrégée des facteurs environnementaux associés au nombre d’enfants blessés par un véhicule à moteur en milieu urbain. Cahiers de géographie du Québec, 55 (156), 449-468.

[5], [16], [23] Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal (2012). Environnement urbain – Transport – Stratégies. Repéré le 12 juillet 2013.

[6] Besser, L. M. & Dannenberg, A. L. (2005). Walking to public transit: steps to help meet physical activity recommendations. American journal of preventive medicine. 29(4), 273-280.

[7] Boucher, I., & Fontaine, N. (2011). L’aménagement et l’écomobilité : Guide de bonnes pratiques sur la planification territorial et le développement durable. Québec, Québec : Ministère des Affaires municipales, des Régions et de l’Occupation du territoire.

[8] TRANSIT (2012). Enjeux – Financement du transport collectif. Repéré le 12 juillet 2013.

[11], [12] Direction de santé publique de Montréal (2007). Pour une approche globale de la sécurité routière. Mémoire de l’Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal sur les projets de loi no 42 et no 55 déposé à la Commission des transports et de l’environnement.

[13], [14] Association des transports du Canada (1998). Guide canadien d’aménagement de rues conviviales. Ottawa : Association des transports du Canada.

[17] Institut national de santé publique du Québec. Direction du développement des individus et des communautés (2010). L’impact de l’environnement bâti sur l’activité physique, l’alimentation et le poids. Gouvernement du Québec.

[18] Davison, K. K. & Lawson, C. T. (2006). Do attributes in the physical environment influence children’s physical activity? A review of the literature. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 3(19).

[19] Kerr, J., Rosenberg, D., Sallis, J. F., Saelens, B. E., Frank, L. D. & Conway, T. L. (2006). Active commuting to school: Associations with environment and parental concerns. Medicine and science in sports and exercise; 38(4):787-794.

[20], [25] Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal (2012). Environnement urbain – Activité physique en milieu municipal – Stratégies. Repéré le 12 juillet 2013.

[22], [27] et [35] Québec en forme (2012). Pour que les jeunes adoptent les modes de transport actif. Repéré le 12 juillet 2013.

[24] Charbonneau, H. (2012). Portrait des pratiques en loisir des personnes de 50 ans et plus au Québec. Communication présentée à la Conférence annuelle du loisir municipal, Montréal. Repéré le 12 juillet 2013.

[26] Morency, P., Voyer, C. Beaulne, G., Goudreau, S. (2010). Chutes extérieures en milieu urbain : impact du climat hivernal et variations géographiques. Montréal : Direction de santé publique de Montréal.

[28] et [30] Bergeron, P. & Reyburn, S. (2010). L’impact de l’environnement bâti sur l’activité physique, l’alimentation et le poids. Québec : Institut national de santé publique du Québec. Direction du développement des individus et des communautés. Repéré le 12 juillet 2013.

[29] Paquin S. (2008). L’aménagement du milieu bâti et le mode de vie physiquement actif : notions de base et piste d’action, Communication présentée à l’École d’été de la Direction de la santé publique de Montréal : Montréal.

[31] Lapierre, L. (2009). Pour en finir avec l’obésité. Urbanité, 27-28.

[32] et [33] Barnett, T. (2009). Les enfants vivants à proximité d’espaces verts marchent davantage. Communiqué de l’Université de Montréal. Repéré le 12 juillet 2013.

[34] Larouche, R. & coll. (2012). Associations Between Active School Transport and Physical Activity, Body Composition and Cardiovascular Fitness: A Systematic Review of 68 Studies. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, Dec 17 [Epub ahead of print].