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Build bikeways and they will come

Jul 11, 2017 |

Photo credit: waferboard/flickr This photo has been cropped.

Cycling is a fun and healthy way to get to work, combining exercise and the great outdoors with a necessary trip. So what should cities keep in mind when it comes to getting people on their bikes?

New research from Montreal and Vancouver, two of the most popular cities in Canada for cycling, found that neighbourhoods with biking infrastructure had higher numbers of people cycling to work, and that the type of infrastructure can make a big difference, particularly to women. School of population and public health professor Kay Teschke is the lead author of the study, published this month in the Journal of Transport and Land Use.

What can cities learn from your research about bike infrastructure?

Our study looked at how close people lived to four types of bikeways: cycle tracks (separated bike lanes), painted bike lanes, residential street bikeways, and off-street bike paths. We found that neighbourhoods within one kilometre of any of these bikeways had about four times more people cycling to work. This is good news for cities: if you build it, they will come.

In both cities, cycle tracks were associated with more bike commuting, likely because these separated bikeways provide a safe and comfortable way to get to work destinations. The two cities had different results for the other three bikeway types, and the pattern suggested that a network of bikeways is a critical component to increasing cycling to work.

How did women’s biking behaviour change if they lived closer to biking infrastructure?

Women make up half the population and made up half of all commuters in Montreal and Vancouver. But bikeways made a greater difference to whether women were willing to commute by bike. In some neighbourhoods, only a tenth of bike commuters were women, whereas in neighbourhoods close to bikeways that had more bike commuters overall, nearly half of these bike commuters were women. We know from previous research that women want to ride, but are more sensitive to route conditions and are less willing to ride where bikeways are not available. To give women an equal opportunity to bike to work, municipalities need to build a great quality cycling network.

What makes people decide to walk instead of bike to work?

Biking and walking to work are both great ways to enjoy being outside for part of the day and to fit activity into a busy schedule – put simply, they are fun and healthy. Biking is easier over distances that are a little longer – great for two to eight kilometre commutes. 

It is interesting to note that even though biking is faster and easier, more people walked to work than biked to work in both cities. Perhaps this might be a reason: there are sidewalks on most streets in Montreal and Vancouver, but most streets still do not have bike facilities. This also shows how important bikeway networks are for cities to welcome more people on bikes.

For more information about the study, click here.

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