Urban Studies Thesis: Bicycle Sharing System – High Frequency Transit

Hello everyone, I think this will be my last thesis article until after the holiday break.  Last week I explained half of the reasoning for my thesis project centered around need for safe, separated cycling infrastructure.  This week I will go over the other half of my project, studying how high frequency transit affects the rate of cycling trips.  

Often transportation planners will talk about the “final mile” problem of public transportation services.  Public transportation services are often subject to extra financial scrutiny despite the massive economic, social and environmental benefits they bring to our cities.  As a result transit agencies are often required to operate with limited budgets and stretching this limited funding works best when you can capture the maximum patrons per service hour with the minimal amount of bus/train investments.  This typically results in higher quality main services that lead into and out of downtown or along main commercial streets and lower quality routes often in the suburban residential neighbourhoods that feed those latter routes.  In other cases, sometimes planners can design poor transit services.  The result is that some trips have undesirable conditions due to transit services that end far from origins or destinations requiring long walks, or services that are not reliable or frequent enough to warrant use from prospective patrons.  

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(Source: TCQSM Chapter 3, Appendix A, p. 3-93.  Discussion and version in US units is on p. 3-9.)

There is a maximum distance that people are willing to walk to get to the nearest transit services.  Surveys have been conducted to calculate the typical distance people are willing to walk to the nearest transit services, such as the Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual from the Transportation Research Board.  Jarrett Walker, author of the Human Transit blog explains that the rule of thumb for the maximum distance that prospective patrons are willing to walk for infrequent low quality services is around 400 meters.  People of course are willing to walk further for more reliable, faster and frequent services.  

Transit services that are more frequent mean that instead of a bus/train arriving every 10 minutes, it will arrive every 5 minutes.  Transit services with high frequency offer freedom, freedom from schedules.  Trains and buses come by so often that if users need to go somewhere they simply walk to the station or bus stop and they know that they will be on their way in no time.  This is critical for providing the spontaneous mobility that urban inhabitants need for living, working and playing as well as competing with the convenience of the automobile.  

Since bicycles can cover more ground quicker than walking (often driving too, over short distances) and bicycle share systems provide readily available bicycles for public use, it is often claimed that bicycle share systems solve this “final mile” problem.  It is being suggested that bicycle share systems can extend the reach of reliable transit services and attract those prospective transit users that are unwilling to rely on infrequent and unreliable feeder services.  It is very easy to see how potentially valuable bike share systems can be when they offer users schedule free mobility options that integrate and support high frequency transit services.

While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support these claims, I have been able to find very little empirical evidence for this phenomenon.  Bike share systems are a relatively new area of study, however some studies are verifying that there is a relationship between transit and bicycle share station trips.  My project will attempt to determine if there is a relationship between the availability of high frequency transit and the higher trip rates at Washington D.C. Capital Bikeshare’s stations.  Focusing on the high frequency services will allow me to put this “final mile” assumption to the test.

Well that is all for now, next time I will explain some of the history and features of a Bicycle Share system.  I hope you have a happy holidays!

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