Metro Vancouver cyclists have a new tool to help them find the cleanest and easiest route through the city.
A website developed by UBC's Centre for Health & Environment Research in co-operation with TransLink uses Google maps to help riders find their way from place to place while avoiding air pollution, hills and traffic congestion.
"When people are thinking about cycling and aren't regular cyclists, they're often concerned about perhaps traffic, safety, are they going to be inhaling pollution, is there going to be a steep hill," developer Michael Brauer told CBC News.
Brauer and his team hope that the route planner will help address those concerns, and help increase cycling rates in the region, which currently hover around three percent. Many northern European cities boast cycling rates of 10 to 30 per cent.
Their research showed air pollution was actually the No. 1 concern for potential cyclists.
"I was really surprised, but in the survey that was the No. 1 sort of motivator for people who were thinking about cycling. They wanted routes or they wanted to be able to cycle in areas where there was low air pollution."
The cycling route planner also calculates the number of calories burned over the course of a given route. It also estimates the savings in greenhouse gas emissions (compared with the same trip taken in a private vehicle).
Longer, but greener
One sample route from downtown to UBC turned out to be a little longer than taking the main roads, but traveled through more green space and avoided 16 metres of elevation gain.
For regular cyclists already familiar with Vancouver's roads, the online planner might not show them much they didn't already know, but the intention was to encourage new cyclists by showing them the best route, according to Brauer.
Jack Becker, director of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, agreed it should help get more people on their bikes.
"I'm comfortable that it's going to provide an opportunity for people who hesitate to cycle for a trip and take a car or other means because they're unsure where to go," he said.
And that itself will make the air cleaner for everyone.