Does Building Bike Lanes Cause an Increase in Cycling?
Bike lanes create bicyclists. Great slide from Janette Sadik-Khan, and this predates Citibike! pic.twitter.com/5UiTc1jLYG
— felix salmon (@felixsalmon) September 20, 2013
Today’s column takes a look the “If you build it, they will come,” phenomenon popularized by the 1989 baseball drama Field of Dreams. An interesting graphic was circulating on Twitter last week showing the dramatic increase in cycling in New York City, and a simultaneous increase in bike lanes.
The implication in the subsequent discussion was that the increase in cycling was related to the increase in bike lanes. There have been similar discussions about increases in cycling in other cities, such as Seattle and London, and the increase in bike lanes in those cities.
Vancouver, of course, has been putting in separated bike lanes since 2009. Travis Lupick from the Georgia Straight picked up the tweet and wondered if Vancouver would have similar statistics. The mayor’s office responded, pointing out a city staff report that indicates a 40% increase in cycling between 2008 and 2011.
The City of Vancouver monitors the bike traffic on the separated lanes, and makes this data available on its website. I’ve taken that data for each of the separated routes and put in into charts, shown below.
Although the data is incomplete in the years when the counts started, and data has been published only up to July 2013, based on patterns from the other years estimates can be made. You can see the year-to-year trends for each of the separated lanes below.
So after crunching all this data, you can see that over the past few years at least, cycling traffic in the separated lanes has been… well, pretty flat. Note that the Burrard Bridge separated lane was completed in July 2009 and the Dunsmuir and Hornby lanes were completed at the end of 2010. The charts don’t show much, if any, data before the lanes went in. Additionally, not all bicycle traffic uses the separated lanes so the charts don’t tell the whole story for Vancouver. Furthermore, the important safety aspect of separated lanes isn’t addressed at all in the cyclist volume numbers: the number of bicycle injuries along each of the routes isn’t captured.
And yet, the charts don’t look anything like the chart from NYC. There’s no drastic uptick in bike lane use over the past few years, although it does seem like there has been an increase in the past month or two. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s just a result of the rain-free month of July that we had in 2013, or if it continues into the less-dry August and not-really-that-damp September.
The million-dollar question is, then: why are other cities seeing a huge increase in cycling, attributed to increases in bike lanes, when Vancouver isn’t? Is Vancouver moving too slowly in putting in bike lanes (it certainly is falling behind most other high-profile cities)? Have we yet to reach critical mass? Or is there some other reason?