Urban Studies Thesis: Bicycle Share Systems

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Paris Velib Bikeshare Program

The last year has been exciting with the intensive and eye-opening Simon Fraser University Masters of Urban Studies Program.  I have submitted my prospectus with great help from my other M.URB colleagues, visiting jury members and alumni, and professors, and I am ready to move onto my thesis.  I figured since I am embarking on this wonderful thesis journey I would share my process and research with the world wide internet (that’s you!).  Over the next few months about once a week I will do up a small write up on my thesis work (I will try my best to keep it interesting!).

My thesis focuses on the Washington D.C. Capital Bikeshare system.  I chose to study cycling, because of a few main reasons:

1.  It is a great mobility option that is highly flexible, adaptable and inexpensive (Cars can cost up to $14,000 a year to own and operate)

2. Cycling is very democratic and equalizing, both rich and poor are given more equal opportunities for mobility and therefore life advancement

3. Cycling lanes can move more people per hour than a single car lane can with cars, with less costs to install and maintain which means less tax dollars from you and me

4. Cycling can provide people with the minimum 30 minutes of exercise which is the bare minimum required to fight obesity (Obesity is a growing problem that can cost $Billions for cities, and countries)

5. Despite these benefits, cycling is often disregarded as a viable mobility option and faces inequality from city officials from the public, public officials and staff

This is just a sampling of the benefits and reasoning for my research with bicycling, however the last point is very important.  Over the last 30 plus years many cities around the world have been accommodating cycling by treating them like automobiles, applying the same rules meant for a 2000 lb automobile to a 200 lb and vulnerable person cycling, forcing them to mix with fast moving automobiles.  One mistake and you could be under someones wheel.  It’s no wonder there have been low cycling rates historically in places like the USA or Canada. When faced with the possibility of riding in traffic most people would choose not to.  

Fortunately city administrations have had a recent awakening to the benefits of cycling, strengthened with new allies such as the Health Care industry in the battle against epic proportions of obesity imposing large burdens on our economic vitality and tax base.  Research and market surveys are increasingly showing that one crucial element for encouraging people to cycle is the introduction of separated cycling infrastructure.  Places like Copenhagen, Groningen, Amsterdam have known and developed networks of separated bicycle lanes for years and reaped the benefits.

This brings me to half of my thesis project where I will be exploring the actual usage data available from Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare.   I will be using data on actual trips made to determine how separated cycling lanes affect the number of trips at surrounding bike share stations.  The other half of my thesis will focus similarly on how high quality transit affects the number of trips.  I will elaborate more on all of this with future thesis blog entries.

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