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New cycling study classifies, rates Metro Vancouver’s bikeways

Metro Vancouver has more bikeways than ever before, with the length of those routes nearly tripling over the past decade, and a growing number of people are commuting by bike.

However, more than half of bike routes aren’t comfortable for most cyclists because of higher posted speeds, proximity to vehicles and high traffic volumes.

On Friday, HUB Cycling and TransLink released the first-ever report on the state of cycling in the region, which looked at cycle routes in 21 municipalities, one electoral area and one First Nation with the goal of developing a way of classifying bikeways by type and comfort level.

The report also measures progress toward regional goals of more and safer cycling, supports more effective and efficient print maps and online route-planning tools, guides municipal and regional planning to fill gaps in the cycling network and builds on research that examines health outcomes in Metro.

“We really believe this information can help improve the cycling network throughout the region,” said Timothy Welsh, director of programs for HUB Cycling.

There were 4,600 kilometres of bikeways in the region last year, up from 1,700 km a decade earlier. The report rates the routes from comfortable for most to comfortable for very few, with 46 per cent of routes in the region comfortable for most, 18 per cent comfortable for some, 27 per cent comfortable for few and nine per cent comfortable for very few.

The categories are based on how well the bikeways are protected, the speed limits on shared roads and traffic volumes.

Most residents (65 per cent) live within 400 metres of a route that is comfortable for most.

“This information will be very useful to the public, so that they’ll be able to identify those routes that are the most comfortable and that get them from their origin to their destination,” said lead project researcher Gavin Davidson.

Unsurprisingly, Vancouver has the best cycling network in the region, with 76 per cent of bike routes classified as comfortable for most cyclists and are well-connected and continuous, linking most neighbourhoods in the city. Plus, 90 per cent of residents live within 400 m of such a route.

Davidson said elsewhere in the region the routes that are comfortable for most tend to be more fragmented, which means it’s more difficult for people to make their entire trip on those bikeways.

Kay Teschke, a professor at the University of B.C.’s school of population and public health, said having the route information in one place and accessible to the public is a huge step forward for the region. Having that and other cycling data available will allow municipalities to see how they compare with others and hopefully spur action.

“Having that little bit of competition is a good thing,” Teschke said.

There are many ways that municipalities can improve their networks, including filling in gaps, calming traffic on routes, widening bike lanes and providing more protection between cyclists and vehicles.

Teschke said there is an appetite for more and better cycling infrastructure in the region because, simply, people like riding bikes.

“People love cycling. Almost everyone has ridden a bike and if you ask them why they bike, it’s not things like, ‘Oh, it makes me healthier, it’s for the environment.’ It’s fun and it makes people happy,” she said.

Teschke said people are often afraid to cycle because it doesn’t feel safe, so if bikeways are improved and expanded, people will ride more.

“I always think that building great bike facilities is one of the most amazing things that has two very different benefits. It makes people safer so it reduces injury risk, and because it makes people safer they feel like cycling, and cycling has so much great benefit on the chronic disease side,” she said.

Cycling rates have increased in the region, with the number of bicycle commuters growing 65 per cent between 2006 and 2016. In 2006, 1.7 per cent of people rode a bike to work, growing to 2.3 per cent a decade later.

The share of commute trips by bike went up in many communities, with seven of 23 local governments showing rates higher than two per cent in 2016, compared with three governments in 2006.

“As cycling becomes safer and more convenient, people will choose to cycle more,” TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said in a news release. “By expanding our bike parkade program and investing in cycle paths throughout the region, our system is one of the most cycle-friendly transit networks in Canada. We welcome and encourage the growing number of people who are choosing to use sustainable modes of transportation each day.”

Other key findings include that more women are cycling. Females made up 27 per cent of bicycle commuters in 1996, and in 2016 that number had jumped to 35 per cent.

“This suggests that the network is becoming attractive to a broader range of people in the region and that’s really wonderful to know,” said Davidson.

The bike collision rate has remained relatively stable, with 21 collisions involving cyclists per million bike trips in 2008, and 23 collisions per million trips in 2017. Collision rates vary across the region, with areas like Vancouver/UBC and Burnaby/New Westminster with rates that are lower than the regional rate.

jensaltman@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jensaltman

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