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Bicycling renaissance in North America – cycling trends and policies
Pucher et al recently examined cycling trends in North America,1,2 detailing cycling rates, funding and safety over the last two decades. The authors also explored bicycling trends, policies and safety in three large Canadian cities (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver) and six large cities in the USA (Portland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and New York). Understanding the elements of initiatives that led to the cities’ success in promoting cycling may provide valuable examples for other cities.
This 3-year research project presented national data obtained from Canadian and US national census, and from national transportation and travel surveys. Information related to specific cities was obtained from federal, state/provincial and local government statistics; cities’ official websites; and websites of research centers and national cycling organizations. Additional unpublished information and feedback was acquired by contacting individuals, city and transportation departments and organizations involved in cycling initiatives in each city.2The proportion of Canadian commuters who cycled to work increased between 1995 and 2006 (1.1% to 1.3%). An increase was also observed in the USA; however the overall rates remained lower than in Canada.
The proportion of people bicycling to work was generally higher in the western parts of both countries. Surprisingly, the rate of bicycling to work was the highest in Yukon (2.6%) and Northwest Territories (2.1%), which are some of the coldest places in Canada, suggesting that cycling can thrive even in communities with cold climates. Cycling to work and cycling overall were more common in urban than in rural communities. Yet, residents of rural areas more frequently cycled for recreational purpose. The study also showed an increasing trend in utilitarian cycling (e.g. for shopping and to work) over time; however, people primarily cycled for social and recreational trips.2Car ownership was associated with sharp decline in cycling rates, and this relationship appeared to be stronger in the last decade.
Individuals from all four income quartiles in the USA had similar cycling rates in 2001; however, in 2009 the bicycling rate was somewhat higher in the lowest income quartile. Additionally, low-income individuals mostly cycled to work and for other utilitarian purposes; whereas high income individuals cycled more for exercise and recreation.2Despite increasing cycling rates among Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans in the USA, relatively more bike trips were reported by non-Hispanic whites than others.2 From 2001 to 2009 the proportion of all bike trips made by women decreased from 33% to 24% in the USA. Comparing work-related trips, a greater percentage of Canadian women (29%) than American women commuted by bicycle (24%); while in 2010, 29% of daily bike commuters in Canada were women. Regarding age group, 40 to 64 olds accounted for most of the increase in cycling in the USA between 2001 and 2009.
Cycling safety has improved in both Canada and the USA. Similar declines in the rates of serious injuries were observed in both countries from 1998to 2008; however a sharp increase in 2008 was noted in the USA. Still, cyclist fatality rates were much lower in Canada and the decline in fatality rates was three times steeper in Canada than the USA, making cycling in Canada much safer.2Increased funding for programs and policies that promote cycling were contributing factors to increased cyclist safety in the USA. Indeed, the US federal government has taken a lead role in providing increased funding and programmatic support. From 1988 to 2006, the US yearly budget for walking and cycling increased from $5 million per year to almost $1 billion per year. In contrast, Canada does not have regular federal funding for cycling, and it relies on provincial and local funds.
Vancouver was the only city in this study with a helmet law for adults. The city also has extensive bike training programs, and the most extensive bike boulevard network in North America. Furthermore, Vancouver is noted for traffic calming (e.g. speed limit reduction), and intersection redesign to assist cyclists. Additionally, the city provides a cycling route planner that allows cyclists to choose their route based on distance, traffic density, fewest hills, vegetation, pollution levels and separation from motor vehicle traffic. Montreal has the largest bike sharing system (over 5,000 bicycles) in North America, which registered over 3 million rides in 2009. Moreover, the city has the largest North American network of cycle tracks and most extensive off-street path network compared to other cities in this study. Toronto is known for its post-and-ring racks and that number doubled from 2000 to 2010 (7,500 to 16,000 racks). What’s more,the existing parking for 180 bicycles next to its main railroad terminal is being further expanded. In addition, the Bicycle Ambassador Program in Toronto is a successful community outreach project that offers bicycling training programs.
Like most Canadian cities, these three cities offer CAN-BIKE training courses. Furthermore, all three case study cities have bylaws that require bike parking in residential and commercial buildings. Finally, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto encourage their citizens to cycle through initiatives such as Bike-to-Work and Bike-to School days. There are also successful initiatives to promote cycling in US cities, particularly in Portland. A bicycling renaissance has started in cities across North America; however there are still many opportunities for improvement.2What have we learned?
• Over time, bicycling levels have increased in both Canada and the USA.
• Safety for cyclists has also improved resulting in decline in serious injuries
and fatalities in both countries.
• Canadian commuters are more likely than the American commuters to
travel to work by bike. Moreover, commuting to work by bike is more
common in western parts of both countries.
• Most of the increase in cycling rates occurred in males ages 40 to 64,
while the overall cycling rates among women remained steady and those
for children sharply declined.
• Cycling rates in nine case study cities (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver,
Portland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and
New York) have increased more than the national cycling rates.
• Cities in this study have implemented a number of programs and
infrastructural improvements to encourage cycling and increase safety
(e.g. improved and expanded bike lanes and paths; parking, bike sharing,
bike-transit integration, traffic calming, training programs, and
• Increase in funding and implementation of cycling policies are important
for successful promotion of cycling.
Summary from the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute and ParticipACTION
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