Edmonton: Aim for a Cycling Minimum Grid

There has been talk recently from Edmonton’s city council to review its cycling strategy.  I agree with this.  The cycling infrastructure Edmonton so far has been implementing has fallen well short of effective.  Edmonton has focused its meager active transportation investments on installing painted lanes.  On-the-road painted cycling lanes next to high speed and high volume traffic will not encourage anyone to cycle, except for the strong and fearless.  Painted lines do little to prevent drivers from entering a person’s space, when most people cycle they want to ensure that they can do so safely with minimal interaction with a vehicle.  Painted lines also do not prevent people from parking cars in the bike lanes which can create an even more dangerous situation for people cycling.

Does this bike lane invite you?  Do you consider this safe? (Source: Flickr)

Does this bike lane invite you? Do you consider this safe? (Source: Flickr)

Painted lines do not prevent this (Source: Flickr)

Painted lines do not prevent this (Source: Flickr)

Two key studies show that a dedicated cycling lane with a physical barrier separating vehicular traffic is the best thing you can do for encouraging people to cycle, and reducing cycling injuries.

Bike Lane Separating Traffic in Vancouver (Image Source: Paul Krueger)

Bike Lane Separating Traffic in Vancouver (Image Source: Paul Krueger)

So now what?  Let’s learn from our mistakes and build a proper cycling network, one that will actually encourage people to cycle.  Edmonton with good intentions, previously tried an approach to stretch a small amount of funding.  The result was ineffective and unsafe cycling infrastructure; it did not create a safe experience that invited new people to cycle, and angered local residents that did not see the benefit of the infrastructure, because again it was built incorrectly.

What is the best approach for this?  Look for the desire lines…look for signs that indicate routes where people already cycle and enhance those with high quality infrastructure and traffic separation.  The map shows the most recent 2014 municipal census results.  While Edmonton’s city wide cycling rate is 0.7% (2013), the inner neighbourhoods show significantly higher cycling to work rates.  The highest cycling rates occur in the a few pockets north of the river andimmediately south of the river surrounding the University and the Whyte Ave. area.  The good news is that the city of Edmonton is already considering two cycling lanes  on 102 Ave and 83 Ave to run East-West through both of these areas.  The bad news is that city still seems to be treating this as an adhoc piece-meal approach.  To truly entice new people to cycle, the city should install a complete and connected grid of bike lanes.

Edmonton's Cycling Rate Based on the 2014 Municipal Census

Edmonton’s Cycling Rate Based on the 2014 Municipal Census

With Edmonton’s minimal annual construction and maintenance budget for cycling infrastructure, it is important to make sure that we maximize its return on investment.  There has been great discussion from the city of Edmonton regarding a frequent transit network.  People are finally starting to realize (I wrote a blog article about this here back in 2013) that we can squeeze ten times more out of transit system and maximize the return on investment if we treat it like a network rather than individual routes that go from door to door.  If you rearrange transit routes and treat them as part of a larger system so that they compliment rather than duplicate each other, you can get people where they want to go quicker, more often and more reliably.

An Edmonton Frequent Transit Network if 80% of funds are dedicated

You can and should also treat cycling infrastructure in the same way.  A cycling lane is only as good as its ability to connect to a larger network of cycling lanes that reliably provide a safe way to get around the city on a bicycle.  Once you have a complete network established where people are already cycling, the cycling numbers will only grow as people realize there is a safe and effective route to cycle.  In the future new cycling routes can be added incrementally, however you need to start with a bare bones but complete network.

Calgary Downtown Network of Separated Cycling Lanes

Edmonton should copy, adapt and improve Toronto or Calgary’s approach with the minimum grid.  Build a minimum grid of high quality, safe and direct separated cycling lanes that connect a high number of destinations in areas with a high number of existing cycling trips.

As I previously showed in this article, Edmonton has good bones for supporting high cycling numbers, it is flat and has an extensive grid structure.  Let’s overlay the street grid over the census data, this finds that the areas with a good street grid also have higher cycling rates.

Edmonton 2014 Municipal Census Cycling to Work Rates with Street Grid

Edmonton 2014 Municipal Census Cycling to Work Rates with Street Grid

The map below also shows that Edmonton is missing some real high quality cycling connections downtown and south of the river.  Therefore Edmonton should focus on filling in the gaps to provide a network of separated bike lanes that ensures people can cycle from the Strathcona neighbourhood, through downtown without ever having to interact with a vehicle.

The Missing Gaps

The Missing Gaps

The following map shows a potential concept for a minimum grid.  The grid would align the routes on low traffic volume streets to provide a pleasant cycling experience away from the speed, noise and pollution from vehicles.  As the cycling demand grows and vehicular traffic drops, routes can be added onto the main commercial streets, for now it is best to focus on the low hanging fruit and best bang for the buck.  This network will provide safe cycling access to:

  • 3 Universities/Colleges
  • hundreds Downtown Edmonton’s jobs, retail businesses and offices
  • hundreds of jobs and businesses on Whyte Ave
  • Bonnie Doon and Edmonton City Center Mall
  • 2 existing and 1 future LRT line, 8 existing LRT stations
  • 4 north-south inner suburb and suburban multi-use trails
An Edmonton Cycling Minimum Grid

An Edmonton Cycling Minimum Grid

This plan isn’t proposing a separated cycling lane on all of these roads. For the quieter residential streets with traffic volumes less than 2,000  passenger car units per day (PCU’s are a measure of both the size and volume of vehicles, more information can be found here), such as 117 St., 121 St., 108 St., 98 St., 83 Ave. significant traffic calming similar to that used on Vancouver’s neighbourhood cycling boulevards would be sufficient.  These boulevards use concrete barriers to prevent through traffic but still allow pedestrians and cycling to pass through.  This has two benefits: it preserves the integrity of local neighbourhoods by promoting only local traffic, and otherwise it slows down traffic and reduces the traffic volumes creating a safe cycling environment.  It is really the speed of the vehicles that matters for people’s perception of safety.  There are many tools at our disposal to calm traffic, including bulb-outs/curb extensions that pinch the roadway at intersections, chicanes, narrow lane widths, trees, and neighbourhood wide 30 km/hr speed limits, but the main thing is to design the street physically for the speed that you need and don’t rely on the soft suggestions as they don’t work (people will drive as fast as they feel they can).

Other streets with high volume traffic above 2,000 passenger car units per day should be separated from traffic, such as 105 Ave., 102 Ave., 99 Ave., 96 St., and the Mill Creek Ravine bridge.  Of course Edmonton is a winter city, so snow removal needs should be considered to minimize maintenance costs to keep the cycling routes clean and safe in the winter.  The city should not however rely on the excuse that the existing machinery is not adapted for the smaller size of separated cycling lanes.  We have to start making calls for the equipment to suit required outcomes for an interesting and inviting city, not the other way around.

Vancouver Barrier  at Ontario and 11th prevents vehicular through traffic while still maintaining the critical pedestrian and cycling connection

Vancouver Barrier at Ontario and 11th prevents vehicular through traffic while still maintaining the critical pedestrian and cycling connection

Vancouver Vehicular Barrier at Union St and Hawks Ave

Vancouver Vehicular Barrier at Union St and Hawks Ave

Building separated bike lanes does not have to be expensive, smart designs used in Vancouver on Union Street or in New York City demonstrate this.  A lane of parking is used to protect people cycling instead of the typical setup, where people cycling are used to protected the parked cars.  You simply have to ensure that the critical areas at interserctions and mid-block have physical barriers to provide protections and ensure drivers cannot travel through the parking lane.

Vancouver's new Union Street traffic separated bike lane creatively and inexpensively separated by a lane of parking (Source: Paul Krueger)

Vancouver’s new Union Street traffic separated bike lane creatively and inexpensively separated by a lane of parking (Source: Paul Krueger)

One of New York City's numerous separated bike lanes protected by parking lanes and strategic barriers

One of New York City’s numerous separated bike lanes protected by parking lanes and strategic barriers (Source: Flickr)

A city transportation system cannot consider modes in isolation.  Failing to provide safe and attractive alternatives to the automobile is destructive to the cities bottom line. To retain our youth and locally growth talent it needs to create a network of transportation modes that compliment each other.  The Strong Town group has put together a great and inexpensive resource on how cities are stuck supporting a Ponzi-scheme of approving endless suburban developments that will never recover the full value from property taxes to pay for itself (you can also find this information free on their website).

Therefore the first question that those that run our cities should ask themselves is if prioritizing auto-oriented investments will be able to recapture the public investment in infrastructure through property taxes. Even the most stringent of municipal fiscal hawks will agree the only way to ensure that our cities are financially viable, and that the infrastructure we build will see a return on its investment, is to start investing in our dense, walkable and human-scaled traditional inner neighbourhoods and create environments where there are true alternatives to the automobile and the majority of people choose to walk, cycle and take transit.  No amount of investment will convince people to stay next to high volumes of fast moving vehicles.  Continuing to create new suburbs and supporting the idea of moving cars quickly through our inner neighbourhoods diminishes our ability to maintain what we have while also simultaneously destroying our ability to recover the value out of our existing places (since they are places where people no longer want to stay).  To create an enticing environment for cycling in Edmonton it is necessary to create a connected minimum grid of high quality, safe and separated cycling infrastructure.

Edmonton’s Cycling Lane Network: A Review

Last weekend I visited my hometown in Edmonton.  Edmonton is often considered to outsiders and many of its residents a city that loves it cars (according to the 2011 Statistics Canada National Household Survey 77% of people commute to work in a vehicle).  It is easy to draw that conclusion if you live in the suburbs or if you only saw Edmonton from the Yellowhead Highway, the Anthony Henday or the inside of the West Edmonton Mall.

Over the last two years I had first hand experience using Vancouver’s terrific, safe and separated cycling network before and after it has rapidly expanded. I have also completed my Master of Urban Studies thesis exploring the requirements for safe and comfortable cycling design.  My transportation knowledge was further developed while employed at TransLink, a regional transportation body.  Drawing from these experiences I wanted to rate Edmonton’s cycling network in the larger scope of good cycling design.

First, Edmonton has good “bones” for cycling. Edmonton is relatively flat compared to Vancouver, for example.  The only real physical barrier for cycling in Edmonton is the River Valley, however the High Level Bridge provides a key at grade crossing from the north-side downtown to the southern Edmonton (home one of Edmonton’s University and Whyte Ave., one of Edmonton’s premier shopping and destination streets).

Edmonton is Flat Except for the River Valley

Edmonton is Flat Except for the River Valley

Vancouver is very hilly.

Vancouver is very hilly.

High Level Bridge

High Level Bridge

Edmonton also has great bones with its extensive grid street urban form.  Believe it or not Edmonton from 1908 to 1938 was originally developed along a streetcar network. When you look at a map of Edmonton you will find that the areas with a grid structure follow the streetcar lines.  A grid street network makes a streetcar system efficient, but it also makes for efficient cycling by maximizing options.


Edmonton Areas with grid street structure

Edmonton areas with grid street structure

Edmonton has the right “built form” ingredients to support big cycling numbers, it is both flat and has an extensive network of street grids.

Another important ingredient is a network of separated bike lanes. How does Edmonton fare on this aspect?

Edmonton Cycling Network

Edmonton Cycling Network: Red Lines Indicate a traffic separated Multi-Use Path

The network is fairly inconsistent and there are gaps, however there are a few high quality, core separated bike lanes.  The map below shows that Edmonton’s cycling network greatest strengths are with its several strong north-south protected bike lanes.

Edmonton's Core Cycling Facilities

Edmonton’s Core Cycling Facilities

Since Edmonton was historically a large rail hub, many of these bike lanes were built as “rail to trails” along old rail corridors.

NE Rail Trail

NE Rail Trail

NE Rail Trail

NE Rail Trail

West North-South Rail Trail

West North-South Rail Trail

Downtown Rail Trail

Downtown Rail Trail

Edmonton has also had the foresight to include pedestrian and cycling facilities with each new LRT project.  While these lanes are not perfect as they mix pedestrians and cycling which can lead to injuries, they are certainly a good start.

North LRT Macewan Station Bike Lane

North LRT MacEwan Station Bike Lane


North LRT Multi-use Trail

North LRT Multi-use Trail

North LRT Multi-use Trail

North LRT Multi-use Trail

Kingsway Station Multi-use Trail

Kingsway Station Multi-use Trail

South LRT Multi-Use Path

South LRT Multi-Use Path

South LRT Multi-Use Trail

South LRT Multi-Use Trail

Edmonton also has a number of neighbourhood on-street designated cycling corridors.  The traffic volume and speeds on these roads are low enough to exclude separation.  That being said, more traffic calming should be used similar to Vancouver’s neighbourhood cycling boulevards.

Coliseum Neighbourhood Designated Bike Route

Coliseum Neighbourhood Designated Bike Route

102 Ave Neighbourhood Designated Route

102 Ave Neighbourhood Designated Route

As you can see from the map above, Edmonton is missing north-south and east-west connections through the downtown that are direct, separated and safe.  Right now the city is consulting with the public on the best options for the 102 Ave east-west connection which will incidentally coincide with the new SELRT expansion.  This will be a critical link in the cycling network.  The image below shows that this road is wide and experiences heavy traffic, this bicycle corridor will not be effective unless the cycling facilities are separated from traffic.

102 Ave Downtown Edmonton

102 Ave Downtown Edmonton

Otherwise Edmonton has been piloting these on-street cycling corrals.  This one by Whyte Ave. was well used.  Bike corrals are great for clearing the clutter off the crowded and busy sidewalks.

Whyte Ave Bike Corral

Whyte Ave Bike Corral

Edmonton also has a 88 km River Valley dividing the city.  While these paths are intended almost purely for recreational use, they should be noted since the 88 km length will be connected end to end with multi-use paths with 16 bridge crossings for pedestrians and cycling.

Vision of the Edmonton River Valley Connected End to End

Vision of the Edmonton River Valley Connected End to End

The City of Edmonton is also planning on some new cycling improvements.  The 105 Ave Streetscape projects will be a big improvement for pedestrians.  While there is not high volumes of traffic on 105 Ave, a separated lane should still be sought, or at least traffic barriers similar to those used on neighbourhood cycling boulevards in Vancouver.

Existing 105 Ave

Existing 105 Ave

105 Ave Proposed Streetscape

105 Ave Proposed Streetscape

The city also has plans to revitalize the Quarters area, as part of that plan is the Armature which will introduce a woonerf style mixed bike, pedestrian and vehicle promenade.  I suspect the city will not properly design the woonerf, which is meant to be a road where pedestrians and people cycling are prioritized and vehicles are permitted at walking speed.

The Armature Under Construction

The Armature Under Construction

The Proposed Armature

To wrap this up, Edmonton does have some strong protected north-south separated cycling lanes, however Edmonton lacks a clear network of separated and safe cycling lanes.  Efforts should be focused on getting a minimum grid in place downtown.  Similar to Calgary and the efforts from 8-80, a minimum grid is the bare minimum connected grid network of protected bike lanes.  Money should be invested in upgrading 105 Ave and 102 Ave as East-West separated cycling lanes.  The Armature will add a high quality eastern downtown north-south connection.  Another north-south connection should be considered on 104 St or 103 St. The good news is that space is aplenty.  Inefficiencies in the road network can be removed from the wide right-of-ways and low traffic volumes to make room for on-road separated bike lanes with no loss in road capacity.

People Prefer Bikeshare Stations with Separated Cycling Lanes

My thesis completes a visualization and bivariate, multivariable statistical analysis of 1.5 million trips being made using Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare system.  These trips span from April 1 to September 30, 2013.  My thesis explores the relationship between bikeshare trips, separated cycling lanes and the Frequent Transit Network.  I have explored other aspects of my thesis findings such as the evidence of trip behaviors for road pricing here, the relationship between trips and transit here, the effects of bikeshare pricing structures here.

There is a wealth of research that shows separated cycling lanes are a critical ingredient for getting the 2/3 of the population that are “interested but concerned” in cycling.  According to a study by Kay Teschke, and Meghan Winters one of the main deterrents to getting more people to cycle is safety and the perception of safety.  Physically separating two-tonne vehicles from people on a 30-pound bike is one key aspect for creating a safe and comfortable riding area.

Bike Lane Separating Traffic in Vancouver (Image Source: Paul Krueger)

Bike Lane Separating Traffic in Vancouver (Image Source: Paul Krueger)

While there is plenty of research showing this connection between separated cycling lanes and increased rates of general cycling, most of this research relies on surveys and does not track actual trips.  This is one of the benefits of bikeshare systems, due to modern technology the origin and destination of each trip can be tracked and quantified.  While there are still limitations with not knowing the exact paths taken between bikeshare stations, using bikeshare trip data of actual trips adds another piece of the puzzle and can compliment survey studies.

Trip Connections Between Stations

Trip Connections Between Stations

While there could be hundreds of variables influencing the rates of cycling, this study focuses on controlling for the strongest known variables influencing the rates of cycling based on a literature review.  This results in 14 of the known strongest socio-economic demographic and built environment variables affecting the rates of cycling.

thesis variables

When you take these variables into account along with the separated cycling infrastructure in a statistical multivariable linear regression models.  These models take into account the infrastructure, land use, and demographic context around each bikeshare station in order to determine if there is a statistical relationship with certain characteristics surrounding the stations.  This study also created these multivariable linear regression models based on different characteristics of the trips, such as the starting and ending time of the day, weekend vs weekday, the trip duration and the locations.

Separated Bike Lanes

The results from this study show a clear relationship between having a high volume of separated bike lanes within walking distance from bikeshare stations.  This results held true for all trips overall, but also trips that were longer than 10 minutes, and trips taken in the peak time.

The membership type did not make a difference, 24 hour, 3 day, monthly, and annual pass holders all had a positive statistically significant relationship with separated cycling lanes.  I mentioned this in an earlier post that the “casual members” (24 hour or 3 day passes) present the highest revenue generation potential under the Capital Bikeshare pricing structure.  Therefore by extending the potential for safe, separated cycling you can maximize revenues from tourists using the bikeshare system.

The results are pretty conclusive, people are using bikeshare stations that are in close proximity to separated cycling infrastructure.

The following tables below summarize my research statistical findings.  Green indicates a statistically significant relationship, red indicates a negative, while no color indicates no statistical relationship.

overall_linear results

casual linear regression

subscriber linear

Peak Multivariable

Peak Multivariable PM

10to30minutes linear

Commercial Drive: A Complete Street?

A Complete Street Commercial Dr.? (Image Credit: Streets for Everyone)

Wow, this is a great design for Commercial Dr. (these to scale renderings where created by Streets for Everyone, a team of dedicated volunteers).   The sidewalks are being widened and protected bikelanes are being added, but vehicular parking, and right of way for transit and vehicular movement is still being maintained.  This is a true win-win-win solution!

Parking, protected cycling lanes, pedestrians all in the same space! (Image Credit: Streets for Everyone)

This design maintains on-street parking for vehicular access and freight deliveries.  Deliveries are the lifeline for many of the restaurants, and retail businesses on such a mixed-use street.  You have to maintain access for the delivery trucks for the supplies and goods that these businesses need.  Another thing to point out is that Commercial Dr. also has side streets and rear alleys which will also help facilitate deliveries.  My only criticism for this plan would to be designate one on-street parking spot per block for loading and unloading along Commercial Drive.

While cars will have to share only one lane with bus traffic the additional capacity being added for more pedestrians and people cycling will far out weigh the capacity lost. You can move more people as pedestrians, on bikes and transit, in the same space than with cars.

Same number of people, but different space requirements. (Image Credit: www.cyclingpromotion.com.au)

Crowded and Narrow Commercial Dr. Sidewalks Source: https://flic.kr/p/6B1Mrv

Crowded and Narrow Commercial Dr. Sidewalks Source: https://flic.kr/p/6B1Mrv

If you have ever walked on Commercial Dr. recently, you may have noticed how crowded the sidewalks become with street lamps, restaurant patios, pedestrians, strollers and dogs all competing for space on the narrow sidewalks.  This can get in the way of peoples enjoyment of their time there.  This can also get in the way of peoples desire or ability to stay in the area on the streets which is vital for street life and commercial businesses. In high quality public spaces, people attract people and make the street attractive.

Which is more attractive this?

Which street makes you want to stay more, this? (Image Credit: https://flic.kr/p/94rHfN)

Or this?  (Image Credit: https://flic.kr/p/acLfYf)

Or this? (Image Credit: https://flic.kr/p/acLfYf)

Widening the sidewalks will give visitors and residents a little bit more breathing room, and add capacity for more people.  This may even allow for more patio room and potentially a low cost way to increase seating capacity and revenue generation for restaurants.  Other businesses may have more room to display their wares outside the store, inviting people to wander inside your business. Pedestrians can relax and slow down which can also help translate into more sales for the businesses, as they have more time to peruse the wares.

Another great feature of this design is the addition of the traffic separated and protected bike lane.  Cycling lanes are often relegated to the “off-broadway” quieter streets so that cities can minimize safety investments where people actually want to be, “on-broadway.”  This will add more “foot traffic” directly onto Commercial Dr. and visibility for businesses, which can result in more exposure and sales for businesses.  There are some studies that show that while pedestrians and people cycling spend less per visit, they also visit more often, ultimately spending more overall than people driving in some situations.

People walking, cycling and using transit may the same amount or more than people driving for some businesses. (Source: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2012/12/cyclists-and-pedestrians-can-end-spending-more-each-month-drivers/4066/)

Cycling Traffic Separated Intersection (Image Credit: Streets For Everyone)

These designs don’t mess around, it introduces complete cycling traffic separation.  The cycling lane is being protected by a physical concrete barrier and a lane of parking.  The most important safety feature (often neglected in North American cycling lane designs) occurs at the intersection which is the most dangerous location for pedestrians and people cycling in our road network. According to this study conducted by the City of Vancouver in 2012:

Approximately 75% of all pedestrian collisions were located at

The proposed concrete islands at the intersections will provide a safe waiting spot for people cycling and pedestrians.  It will also slow down drivers since the tighter turning radius requires drivers to navigate more carefully to make a turn. People cycling will be able to pull ahead at intersections behind the barrier to maintain visibility with drivers and gives them the lead in intersection light sequencing.  If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you watch this video and this video to get a sense of how this would work.  (**Please note that for this intesection to ensure safety it is necessary for the cycling stop line to be in front of drivers for maximum driver, cycling visibility.

These bike lanes also make things safer, and more enjoyable for pedestrians by further separating them from the traffic.  People will be able to carry out conversations.

Could this be Commercial Drive? (Image Credit: Bicycle Dutch)

Some of the other nice designs features I noticed:

  • The cycling lanes are raised at the intersections which will help the comfort and dignity of our most vulnerable; older adults and those with strollers, wheelchairs and disabilities.
  • Seating is being added at intersection “bulb outs” which allows people to sit back enjoy the exciting Commercial Drive activities. This will also give busy shoppers a chance to catch a break or for people to enjoy their gelato.
  • Waiting zones with shelters are added for people waiting for transit, removing them from blocking business store fronts and the flow of people.  These zones still maintain access for one of the busiest transit corridors in Vancouver (2nd best bus route in terms of the number of passengers per route per year, and 7th best in terms cost per boarded passenger according to TransLinks’ 2013 Bus Service Performance Review)

Bikeshares As Evidence for Pay as you Use Road Pricing

I have been writing a series of articles explaining my SFU Master of Urban Studies thesis results, which can be found hereherehere, and here.  This time I want to present evidence for pay as you use road pricing.

The gas tax does not provide enough revenue to cover the cost of building and maintaining roads, the shortfall usually comes from general tax revenues which everyone pays for. Regardless of how often some people use their cities’ roads, everyone pays similar rates of taxes for road construction and maintenance.  So for those that choose to not drive or simply can’t drive (children that can’t get licenses, elderly and the the disabled that cannot drive anymore, which can make up to a third of the population), they are actually paying a disproportionate share for a service they will never use.

A solution for this is for people to pay for what they use.  With transit you have to pay some sort of fare before you can use the transit services, so why shouldn’t access to roads be the same?  If you want to access the road network that supports driving you should have to pay for that access.  Not only that, but busier routes should have a higher cost because they are in more demand.  Simple demand and supply economics, let people decide how important each roadway connection really is.  This will mean that those that prioritize time over cost will opt to continue driving on that route, and others that don’t will find alternative routes or modes.  The most famous examples of this are downtown London’s congestion charges and Stockholm’s congestion charge (I highly recommend you watch this TED talk by Jonas Eliasson). No city to date has implemented a city wide road pricing scheme, however the Netherlands came close.

Despite this the London and Stockholm examples show how charging a few dollars is enough to have dramatic shifts in travel behavior.   My research also shows this, the following table shows that 88.7% of all 1.5 million trips were 30 minutes or less.

trip duration stats

Why does it matter if trips were 30 minutes or less?  Based on the Capital Bikeshare pricing structure, after paying for access to the system, the first 30 minutes of every trip is free.  The table below shows that by going over 30 minutes is a small fee of $2.00.  This is a very small fee, but the impact is huge, only 11.3% of the trips studied were over 30 minutes.

Capital Bikeshare pricing

Urban Studies Thesis: Bike Sharing Systems Pt. 4 – How do Bikeshare Trips Connect to Transit?

This is the fourth installment of a series of posts describing my thesis for the SFU Master of Urban Studies program.  My first three thesis articles here and here examined some of the underlying reasons for my research and the results here.

Since it is well known that separated cycling lanes help support cycling growth among those 60% of the population that are “interested but concerned” in cycling more.  It is also well known that transit agency suffer from the weak link known as the “first and last mile.”  Essentially the requirement to walk far distances to get to transit from home is a significant impediment for increasing transit ridership.

This study takes actual Washington D.C. bikeshare trip data (1.5 Million of them to be exact, that were made between April 1, 2013 and September 31, 2013) and attempts to determine if there is a relationship between where people were making trips and the built environment, nearby separated cycling lanes and nearby high frequency transit services.  This installment will focus on the multimodal (cycling and transit) “first and last mile” aspect of bikeshare trips.

It is the hope that this research will provide empirically based evidence showing how people are using bikeshare systems and provide strong support for the investment of separated cycling infrastructure lanes and the resulting safe cycling environments.  Developing the understanding of how people are cycling within cities and the relationship with other modes, will also help guide policy, implementation and design decisions for these bikeshare systems.

Right from the beginning it was very apparent that the Capital Bikeshare system usage was heavily dominated by a subscriber commuting patterns (subscribers are users with annual or monthly subscriptions, casual users have 24-hour or 3 day passes).  Subscriber users also accounted for 75% of trips for the study.

peak graph

How do these trips related to the Frequent Transit Network (defined as the network of bus and rail based transit services operating at 15 minutes or better all day frequencies)?

finalaveragestart metro stations

The bikeshare system is well used within walking distance (400m) of the Frequent Transit Network.  Approximately 93% of all trips were made at bikeshare stations within walking distance from the Metrobus based Frequent Transit Network.  On the other hand approximately 50% of all trips were made within walking distance of the Metrorail based Frequent Transit Network.

Since it was hard to discern any visible pattern from the visualization for Metrobus based transit, the following section will focus on trips related to Metrorail stations.  The following table shows that during the peak time more trips are ending at Metrorail stations in the morning and starting from Metrorail stations in the evening.

peak metro percentages

Since the above table showed strong commuting patterns the following four maps visualize the average number of trips per days in operation per bike share station.  These maps also attempt to visualize the typical commuting pattern from 6am to 11am and 3pm to 9pm by filtering the stations (show in color) based on their walking distance to Metrorail stations.  These maps clearly show for the AM Peak a large portion of trips starting in the residential neighbourhoods surrounding the downtown and ending within walking distance of Metrorail stations.  The evening peak shows the reverse pattern.

finalaveragestart peak am metro

finalaverage end peak am metro

finalaveragestart peak pm metro

finalaverage end peak pm metro

What did the statistical analysis find?  Any rows that have been highlighted in green indicate a positive statistically significant relationship, while red shows a negative relationship.  No colour indicates no statistically significant relationship was found.  The results find that there was only a positive relationship between more bikeshare trips and only with Metrorail station frequent transit services during the peak times.

Metrobus based frequent transit services were found to have weak or negative relationships with more trips at bikeshare stations.  Why would this be?

Some answers may be revealed if we refer to a 2012 Capital Bikeshare Member Survey conducted on its subscriber members.  First it is important to note that I understand that my study and these surveys are measuring completely different things.  This survey measures members responses, where as my study measures bikeshare station trips relationships to the surrounding walkable area.  That being said there are some similarities between the results that can be compared.

So what did this survey find?

“respondents reduced use of all other transportation modes; 50% drove a car less often, 60% use a taxi less often,61% ride Metrorail less often, 52% ride a bus less often, and 52% decreased their use of walking.”  

Basically 52% of all bikeshare members were using Metrobus services before they had a Capital Bikeshare membership.

To explain the negative relationships with Metrobus based frequent transit services you also have to take into account that Metrobus fares are not transferable to Metrorail service or vice versa.  Another key distinction is that Metrobus services do not have their own separated right of way and have to mix with traffic making them succeptible to traffic jams.  The Metrorail service meanwhile has high capacity, high frequency, wide stop spacing and its own dedicated right of way as it zips along under the downtown uninterrupted by traffic.  There is potential that the bikeshare system is competing with the Metrobus services to complete the “first and last mile” getting to and from Metrorail services.  When you look at someone that has to make a choice between the Metrobus, Metrorail, and Capital Bikeshare with different fare systems it is easy to see someone opting for the spontaneity and flexibility of the bikeshare and the reliability, speed and reach of the Metrorail service.

Potentially an integrated fare system that combines all modes under one pricing structure may be able to mitigate these issues.  Metrobus and Capital Bikeshare can compliment each other rather than compete for the same resources. Alternatively separating Metrobus services from traffic on key corridors may also help.

So what do these results mean for planning bikeshare systems and cycling infrastructure.  You can anticipate higher bikeshare trips at Metrorail format of transit with high capacity, high frequency, separation from automobile traffic and wider stop spacing services.  These results provide strong support for placing bikeshare stations as close as possible to Metrorail stations.  Since higher trip activity can be anticipated at Metrorail stations in the peak times, planning agencies can focus system rebalancing, marketing and incentive efforts here.

Additional capacity should be added at Metrorail stations by placing larger bikeshare stations there.  This will help mitigate having not enough bikes, or having too few places to return the bikes.

It was also found that there was a relationship with separated cycling lanes, therefore the network of separated cycling lanes should be extended to connect major employment and higher density residential destinations with the Metrorail stations.

Real time information on bikeshare station availability and connecting bus arrival times (such as TransitScreen) can be provided at Metrorail stations, key government offices and businesses.  This can empower prospective members with the information to make decisions of which mode will work best at any given time.

Finally incentives such as providing additional time for commutes that naturally redistribute the bikes, can be provided to encourage people to make trips and potentially save bikeshare operating costs.

Peak Multivariable

Peak Multivariable PM

Car(e) Free

Vancouver Gas Prices - July 1st

My wife and I have been car free now for five years. One of the great things about being car free is I never have to worry about the price of gas. Using a combination of my own steam either on foot or bike I have spontaneous access to close destinations and the entire downtown including all of the necessary banking, shopping, services, groceries, liquor stores and restaurants.

Occasionally for farther away destinations, days with poor weather or the need for speed I will use transit.  Even then I know exactly how much my commute will cost, I know that going from my home to downtown will cost me no more than $2.75.

A few key things have allowed transit to support my mobility freedom, the first is my smart phone and Google Maps, which eliminates the previously tedious task of figuring out which bus will get me from point A to B and when. Frequency (or the number of times a bus for a route will stop at a particular bus stop) is also necessary as it provides me the opportunity to use transit free spontaneously, free from a schedule. Social media such as twitter has also really opened up avenues to instantly communicate with TransLink about issues or seek clarifications.

Finally with real time bus location information via the TransLink Next Bus app provides me with peace of mind that my bus is on its way.  If in the rare case that it isn’t then I am empowered with reliable information to seek alternatives.

pedestrian travel map

You can never really be sure what you will run up against while driving, there may new construction, a concert or something else that snarls up traffic for blocks.  On the other hand I have never seen a walking or cycling jam, have you?  Ditching the car has given me freedom, it has given me peace of mind.  I am no longer anxiously shackled to the volatile day to day price of a litre of regular gasoline, or the hair-pulling and mind numbing pain sitting in traffic looking at the rear lights of cars.

Of course what helps ensure that this is all possible is a very efficient and world class transit network, in addition to a network of traffic separated cycling lanes through out Vancouver.