Presentation at the 2008 Active Living Research Annual Conference
As an urban transportation option, cycling offers great health benefits over the car in terms of air pollution, fitness, obesity and associated chronic diseases. Yet cycling rates in Canadian cities are low compared to certain European cities (2% modal share, compared with 15-30%). While there is a growing body of evidence linking the built environment with walking and general physical activity, little research has focused specifically on cycling, which offers advantages over walking in terms of greater travel speed and longer trip distance. This gap in knowledge limits evidence-based policy making on approaches to designing communities that are supportive for cycling.
Our objective was to investigate which aspects of the built environment influence decisions to cycle, in order to guide urban planning policies to increase cycling modal share.
Over 2.1 million people live in the greater Vancouver region, an area with a climate conducive to cycling year-round and a wide variety of cycling infrastructure. We conducted a population-based survey of 2,149 adult residents using telephone and self-administered questionnaires. The survey elicited opinions on factors that might influence their cycling behavior including: route geographies; markings; surfaces; intersections; vehicle traffic; aesthetics; safety; weather; facilities; links with transit; legislation; and education. It also collected data on current use patterns and stated preferences for 16 different route types, using pictures to depict specific types of cycling infrastructure. Finally, it gathered trip mode and origins and destinations for over 4,000 trips (~ 2 per respondent) to look at the influence of objective measures of the built environment including topography, residential density, connectivity, land use, street types, and bicycle-specific facilities, to determine which features increase the likelihood that a trip is made by bicycle. The origin and destination data has been linked to spatial datasets obtained government and academic organizations using Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
Built environment factors were found to have a strong influence on cycling behavior. The five factors having greatest positive effect on cycling were routes away from traffic noise and pollution (with a score of 0.8 on a scale of +1 to -1, where +1 strongly encourages cycling, and -1 strongly discourages cycling), routes with bicycle paths separated from traffic for the entire distance (0.7), routes with beautiful scenery (0.7), routes where cycling to the destination takes less time than traveling by other modes (0.6) and routes with flat topography (0.6). The most discouraging factors were routes with ice or snow (-0.9), with a lot of car, bus and truck traffic (-0.8), with glass or debris (-0.8), with vehicles driving faster than 50 km/hr (-0.7) and risk from motorists who don’t know how to drive safely near bicycles (-0.7). These results were generally consistent across different demographic groups and between those who cycle more and less frequently.
In terms of types of cycling infrastructure types, paved off-street cycle paths are most favored (86% of respondents), followed by paved or unpaved multi-use paths (76% and 72%), and cycle lanes with a physical barrier from traffic (72%). However, these preferences are in stark contrast with current usage patterns; the most commonly used route types were residential streets (with and without bike route markings and traffic calming), and major streets with parked cars, without any cycling-specific infrastructure.
The built environment has a major influence on decisions to travel by bicycle. The types of cycling infrastructure that are currently in high use are widely divergent from respondents’ preferences, indicating a lack of availability of desirable route types. These results highlight specific types of infrastructure that encourage active living, and can guide future policies to improve public health through city design. In the next stage of work, these stated preferences will be compared with objective measures of the built environment that are found to correlate with a higher likelihood of making a trip by bicycle.
Moving on Sustainable Transportation (MOST) grant, Transport Canada, the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada & Canadian Institute for Health Research. Meghan Winters has support from Canadian Institutes for Health Research and Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.