Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Build it and they won't come



by Michael Platt

Build it and they won’t necessarily come.


Imagine if you will some of North America’s best cycling infrastructure, including separated lanes, plus a civic government determined to make your metropolis a haven for pedal-powered commutes no matter what the cost.

And finally imagine nearly perfect weather for cycling: not too hot, not too cold, and snow so rare a couple of inches worth is front page news.

You’d have to be crazy to drive a car to work in such ideal conditions---and yet in Portland, Ore., a city consistently ranked the most bicycle-friendly in North America, cycling is hitting a wall.

Technically, Portland reached that wall in 2008, when the number of commuters riding[bikes] downtown plateaued at just over 6%---but the city kept spending anyway.

Despite new and better cycle lanes, the number of work-day peddlers remained stagnant after ’08, even dipping slightly, while the number of cars stayed the same.

Stagnation in the face of a landmark 2010 decision to invest $613 million into bicycle commuting in hopes of increasing that ratio to 25% by 2030.

Six years later the number of cyclists remains the same, and Portland is finally saying enough.

According to bikeportland.org, cycling’s most admired city has finally hit the brakes on spending, having slashed the budget for neighbourhood greenway bike lanes, a priority of that 2010 cycle strategy.

After two decades of free-wheeling finances, it seems even Portland has realized there’s only so much spending you can do for a fixed minority of commuters---and with the Oregon city in the midst of a financial rough patch, infrastructure that benefits only 6% of citizens was first to go.

It’s a cautionary tale for Calgary, as city council here considers a network of segregated bicycle lanes for downtown Calgary---the theory being that hordes of Calgary commuters are itching to cycle once the lanes are built.

Portland is proving that theory is at least partially wrong.

“That point is very valid, because the same thing happened to Vancouver after they spent additional millions, and the increase in cyclists was minimal,” said [City]Councillor Ward Sutherland.

“My concern is the original research for the city core, it was based upon a specific demographic of hardcore cyclists, not the average person---and it’s like, if we make everything perfect for the hardcore cyclist, everyone else will want to ride, too.

“But I don’t think that’s the case. When it’s -5C and the weather’s bad, it doesn’t stop hardcore riders, but there are plenty of people it does.”

It’s true that Portland’s experience has been mirrored in Vancouver, another city with a climate well-suited to cycling and a budget to match.

The most recent Statistics Canada data shows that bike commuting in the Metro Vancouver region inched to 1.8% in 2011, from 1.7% in 2006, while in Vancouver proper bike commuting went from 2.9% in 2008 to 3.8% in 2011.

As well a study of separated Vancouver bike lanes published in kitsilano.ca last fall shows almost no increase in use since 2009 when they first opened.

What both cities found is that the initial investment in bike infrastructure does attract new riders, but the point of diminishing return is quickly reached---and according to an 2013 City of Calgary report, Calgary is already approaching 4.7%, as measured on a May weekday.

When vaunted Portland can only attract 6% of commuters to cycling after building the best bike network in North America, can Calgary really do better?...


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6 Comments:

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

Real case studies about the effect of pushing cycling to those who don't want it? It'll never get radio play.

 
At 6:20 PM, Anonymous sfthen said...

This is the same kind of streetsblog-style babble where they where they pretend to document that their myopic ideas counter all the nay-sayer NIMBYs and show how wonderful they are, e.g. this:
Times Square: Livable Streets Mecca, Retail Sensation.
"The city's premiere public space,... the center of the world" (streetsblog).

But here in the real world this same Times Square came in number three overall and number one in the USA in a listing of the World's Worst Tourist Traps.

If the streetsblog/ sfbc types had their way the whole city would be like Pier 39 with bike lanes.

 
At 9:35 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The bike fanatics are even ready to traverse the world after a nuclear war. From the bike guy at SF Weekly:

"What better way to ride into the nuclear winter after peak oil than on a human-powered bike? Think about it: A bike is the perfect end-of-the-world vehicle--they're self-propelled, they can traverse rough terrain, and they're relatively easy to repair."

 
At 9:41 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Real case studies about the effect of pushing cycling to those who don't want it? It'll never get radio play."

Yes, and the complete blackout in the local media---except here---on that UC study that shows exactly the effects of pushing bikes on the unwary: lots of injuries to people who, with the encouragement of City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition, are having a lot of cycling accidents that the city hasn't even been counting!

 
At 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What better way to ride into the nuclear winter after peak oil than on a human-powered bike? Think about it: A bike is the perfect end-of-the-world vehicle--they're self-propelled, they can traverse rough terrain, and they're relatively easy to repair."

Not really. Chains, tires, tubes, all these things wear out. Steel frames rust out eventually, carbon frames break. The perfect end-of-the-world vehicle is the horse.

This is the reason for the able bodied to be encouraged to ride bikes, walk, take transit now - if we get to the end-of-the-world we are in deep shit. Conserving our resources is important if you give a shit about today's children. Sadly it seems that most people don't care.

 
At 12:49 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, the end of the world will be "sad," but, on the other hand, we'll have bikes to ride through the rubble and motor vehicle traffic will be permanently "calmed."

 

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