Will statistics vindicate Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver’s bike-lane policies?

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      Holding a passionate opinion on bicycle lanes has just about become a requirement for anybody who purports to call themselves a true resident of Vancouver.

      Today, there’s a new piece of ammunition for those in the pro-bike camp.

      The graphic above appears to show that when it comes to cycling infrastructure, if you build it, they will come.

      In a 10-year period during which time New York City increased the number of designated bicycle lanes measured by miles from roughly 500 to 900, the number of community cyclists increased from about 5,000 to 19,000.

      The graph was posted on Twitter by Felix Salmon, a financial journalist with Reuters. He attributed the diagram to Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner for the New York City Department of Transportation.

      It leaves unanswered questions of cause and effect. What came first for New York, bicycle lanes, or a significant number of cycling enthusiasts who were waiting for bike lanes to be built? (It’s worth noting that opponents have criticized New York mayor Michael Bloomberg for implementing bike-friendly policies in a manner they argue lacks adequate public consultation, much the same way that Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver have taken flack for similar policies.)

      Regardless, the graphic makes clear that at least in the case of New York, once designated bike lanes were developed, people quickly started to use them. It also shows that as more bike lanes were built and more cyclists took to the streets to share space with cars, there was actually a decline in accidents involving bicycles.

      In an August 2013 feature titled "Reshaping New York," the New York Times detailed cycling infrastructure built up during the tenure of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
      New York Times

      Bloomberg began his push for bike lanes several years before Gregor and Vision took a majority of Vancouver city council seats in 2008. Not enough time has passed since then for there to exist the sort of data that could illustrate long-term trends for Vancouver like the graph above does for New York.

      A few years down the road, it will be interesting to see if Vancouver’s cycling advocates will have the same sort of statistics to hold up in the face of Vision’s detractors.

      Update: Kevin Quinlan, a spokesperson for the mayor's office, reached out and provided a link to a series of statistics related to transportation in Vancouver covering the years 2008 to 2011. It's stated there that during those years, "cycling was the fastest growing transportation mode with 40% growth in the number of trips, nearly 20,000 more trips citywide, increasing the cycling mode share from 2.9% to 3.8%." You can read more here.

      Maps of the City of Vancouver’s bicycle lanes and regional cycling infrastructure are available at TransLink’s website.




      Sep 20, 2013 at 3:22pm

      Hurrah (slightly reluctantly but still hurrah) for enlightened dictatorship. The popular will (e.g. car lovers who hate bike lanes) is sometimes dead wrong.

      Richard Campbell

      Sep 20, 2013 at 5:34pm

      The numbers from the 2011 census indicate that the bike lanes have been a success. Cycling to work in the areas of the city east of the Dunsmuir separated lanes is up 40% while driving is down 16%. This is a much bigger increase than in other parts of the city indicated that the bike lanes indeed had an impact.

      Mark Bowen

      Sep 20, 2013 at 6:12pm

      Good politicians do the right thing regardless of whether it is the most popular opinion at the time.

      This story has played out exactly the same way in other places in the world, Vancouver is just a little late to the game. At the end of the day, it makes for better, healthier, happier and more prosperous cities.

      I suspect that looking back in 10 years all this gnashing of teeth and media exacerbated outrage (GS mostly excepted!) is all going to look pretty damn silly.

      Catherine Myers

      Sep 20, 2013 at 6:46pm

      Data from the city site shows growth on bike lane usage downtown. Move to Burrard Bridge though and the data shows a mixed story. There were 108,000 trips across the bridge in May 2012. In May 2013, when the city were doing consultations on the Point Grey bike lane and touting Burrard Bridge bike lane a complete success, trips were down to 99,000. A fall-off of 9,000. A drop of 7,000 happens when you compare 165,000 journeys in August 2011 with the 158,000 made in August 2012.
      Look at the mid-week journeys for June average of Tues/Wed and Thursday across three years and again there is a down-ward trajectory. From a high of 4,300 in June 2011, to 3,900 in June 2012 to 3,600 in June 2013. July 2012 goes from a high of 5,700 to 5,400 in June 2013.

      Data source: The City of Vancouver's Engineering services at the following link.

      Mark Bowen

      Sep 20, 2013 at 9:30pm

      @Catherine: Although The Province was rabidly happy to make a story out of that one stat, it's not really meaningful for a few reasons.

      1) It's a single data point. Can't extrapolate a trend until there are several years. All data prior shows an increasing trend.

      2) Cycling in the city overall was still up. Significantly up. The vast majority of routes (if not -every- other measured route? Been awhile since I reviewed the data, not sure.) showed an increase in trips.

      If the total cycling modal share leveled off for several years despite improving infrastructure, then we could draw some conclusions. A single data point for a single bridge does now allow us to say anything really.

      There are also a lot of possible reasons to explain an ~8% drop on Burrard. Weather conditions during data collection, construction on the route, poor connections to the route, more attractive alternative routes becoming available, etc.

      Give it a few years, and let the data tell the tale.

      (As an aside, thanks for bringing a data driven point to the table! It seems most people are happy to mash the thumbs down button because "I HATE BIKES, BIKES BAD", but don't seem at all interested in talking about the actual data and studies behind the issues.)


      Sep 21, 2013 at 12:33am

      I cycle but don't like to see tax dollars wasted on bike lanes. Nothing makes my blood boil more than some idiot cyclist on Broadway without a helmet screwing up traffic.


      Sep 21, 2013 at 1:59am

      I don't have any problem with bike lanes... it's the cyclists that are the problem.

      Alan Layton

      Sep 21, 2013 at 10:35am

      Statistics are impressive, especially when the population that is being measured is quite small. I always hear about major increases in bicycle commuting but when you have relatively few subjects it doesn't take much to show a big increases. I wish that it would be put in to context with the number of cars and also the degree of congestion caused by the bike lanes. I regularly see a huge, long line up of cars on the Dunsmuir viaduct, that didn't exist before the bike lane. How much extra carbon is being spewed by the gridlock caused by the bike lanes? When you want to push your agenda you can make the numbers look phenomenal.

      Another aspect that I find disingenuous is the use of summer months for statistics, which will not only include seasonal bike commuters, but also the massive increase in casual riders and tourists. Let's see the numbers from November, December, January, February etc.


      Sep 21, 2013 at 1:05pm

      Time to start posting under a fake name.


      Sep 21, 2013 at 4:02pm

      A miniscule number of cyclists when multiplied fourfold is still not a viable alternative to the present street usage crowd

      10 years to increase ridership by 14,000