What would increase bicycle commuting in Metro Vancouver?

Bike commuting has seen a huge increase in North America, but still only a small fraction of people cycle to work. Now that Bike to Work Week has wrapped up, we're asking: How do we get more commuters to get on their bikes in Metro Vancouver?

On the Coast takes a closer look at why North American bike commuting rates are still low

May's Bike to Work Week in Metro Vancouver may be over but, for some, a summer of bicycle commuting is about to begin.

Bike commuting has seen a huge increase in North America, but still only a small fraction of people cycle to work — about 1.8 per cent in the Vancouver metropolitan area, according to the 2011 National Household Survey.

Now that Bike to Work Week has wrapped up, On The Coast is wondering: How could Metro Vancouver get more commuters on their bikes?

Ralph Buehler, an associate professor of urban planning at Virginia Tech, has studied trends in cycling in North America and around the world. He says that despite big gains in the past two decades, the low-modal-share picture is similar in cities across North America.

In Portland, the proportion of commuters using bicycles went from about one to six per cent since the 1990s, during which time Seattle also saw a jump. Yet none of the West Coast adoption rates quite match up to the cycling numbers already seen in European cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, where approximately 40 per cent of people cycle to work.

So what does Metro Vancouver need to do if it wants to break away from the North American pack?

Buehler spoke with CBC's On the Coast about a few ways that have been shown to seriously boost the numbers of people using bicycles to get around. 

1) Train for cycling from an early age

In bike-friendly countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands, schools provide bicycle training to children from grades 2 to 4.

The kids learn about bicycling at an early age and actually practise in the schoolyard under supervision. After they've mastered the rules, they build confidence by going cycling in groups on real roads. 

2) Train cyclists and motorists to co-exist

In those northern European countries, motorists also receive education and training on how to behave with cyclists on the road.

This may help drivers become more aware of cyclists and avoid opening car doors on or cutting off people who are riding their bikes on the road. 

3) Build separate infrastructure for cyclists

Buehler says cities that have more separated bike lanes and networks for safe riding are likely to see greater cycling adoption rates.

The key is to put separated lanes along busy traffic arteries: He says this will help to address the fears of people who are more risk-averse, and who don't want to ride with fast-moving traffic.

Surveys have shown that many older people and women in particular don't cycle because they feel the traffic on the roads around them is too dangerous.

Buehler says creating designated bike pathways can address both the perceived and actual risks of cycling on the road. 

4) Hold educational events

Events such as Bike to Work Week and regular closures of roads to cyclists (such as the weekly Ciclova in Bogota, Colombia) can promote cycling and help people feel more comfortable on their bikes as they become more aware of bike routes and facilities available to cyclists.  

Buehler also says studies have shown that children who cycle to school seem to be more attentive in class. So not only does cycling help people stay physically healthy and fit, it may also be good for your brain!


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