If you build it, they will ride

McGill study shows large increase in cycling in areas where the city has invested in bike paths.  Read the article from the Gazette’s Michelle Lalonde, Dec 24, 2010.

Not even winter  weather can deter city cyclists. Montreal has a 35-kilometre network  of bicycle routes, called the reseau blanc, that is often cleared of  snow during the winter months.

Not even winter weather can deter city cyclists. Montreal has a 35-kilometre network of bicycle routes, called the reseau blanc, that is often cleared of snow during the winter months.

Photograph by: ALLEN MCINNIS, THE GAZETTE, The Gazette

MONTREAL – Bicycle use has increased by as much as 40 per cent since 2008 in areas of Montreal where the city has invested in bike paths or lanes, according to a new McGill University study.

The study, which is to be presented at a major transportation conference in Washington, D.C., next month, used automatic bicycle counters installed at five locations in the Plateau and downtown boroughs to tally passing bicycles between April 2008 and July 2010.

The main objective of the researchers, Luis Miranda-Moreno and Thomas Nosal of McGill’s Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, was to examine the impact of weather conditions on bicycle usage. But they also wanted to know whether cycling is on the rise in spots where the city has invested in cycling infrastructure.

The answer to both questions was a resounding “yes.” Not surprisingly, the study showed rain and very humid or cool weather caused dips in cycling levels. But the huge jump in cycling levels over only two seasons surprised the researchers.

“The increase has been enormous,” said Miranda-Moreno. “There are places where congestion (on the cycling routes) will soon be a problem.”

Ridership at the five locations went up by 20 to 27 per cent from 2008 to 2009, and by 35 to 40 per cent in 2010 compared with 2008, the authors found. The locations monitored were Brébeuf St. between Rachel St. and Marie-Anne St., Berri between de Maisonneuve Blvd. and Ontario St., de Maisonneuve Blvd. between Berri St. and St. Denis St., de Maisonneuve Blvd. between Peel St. and Stanley St., and St. Urbain St. between Mont Royal Ave. and Villeneuve St.

The data were collected using automatic bicycle counters installed and maintained by the City of Montreal. Two counting methods were used; one involving cables installed under the pavement that monitor changes in electrical currents, and another that uses pneumatic tubes to detect changes in pressure when bicycles pass over them. Both can differentiate between car and bicycle traffic.

During the evening rush-hour period, an average of 350 cyclists an hour (April to November) were passing the counting points.

“Montreal’s experience should serve (as an example) for other cities looking to upgrade their cycle facilities and non-motorized infrastructure,” the study concludes.

Darren Becker, a spokesperson for Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay, said “these kinds of statistics are music to this administration’s ears.”

“Since he took office in 2002, Mayor Tremblay has had a mission to make Montreal a world leader in bike use. … Residents said, ‘If they build it, we will come,’ so over the course of 2008 to 2010 when this study was being done, we invested $25 million and added 100 kilometres,” to Montreal’s network of painted lanes and physically-separated bike paths, he said.

The bike network is now at 535 kilometres, and the Tremblay administration aims to get the tally to 800 kilometres by the end of 2013, Becker said.

Becker notes the city has also added bike stands that provide space for 2,000 bikes, and now provides a “réseau blanc,” a smaller 35-kilometre network of bike routes that are often cleared of snow during winter months. (Boroughs have been directed to clear 35 kilometres of bike lanes and paths throughout the winter months, once streets and sidewalks are cleared.)

The Bixi bike sharing service has also contributed substantially to the increase in bicycle use in the central boroughs, the study’s authors suggested.

“This is great news in the sense that Bixi was set up by the city of Montreal because we want people to choose active and non-polluting forms of transportation,” said Bixi spokesperson Bérengère Thériault.

She noted that 3.3 million bike trips were taken on Bixi bikes in 2010 and a Bixi-commissioned survey showed that 23 per cent of those trips would otherwise have been by car, taxi or another motorized means of transport.

mlalonde@montrealgazette.com

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette


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