Monday, November 29, 2010

Effective Design to Increase Cycling (ERL)

From the Environmental Research Web

As scientists modeling sustainable urban transport, we are confronted with a significant conundrum. On the one hand, non-motorized transport (NMT) comprises the most sustainable modes. Neither walking nor cycling emits GHG emissions, nor does it contribute to air pollution, nor does it produce noise externalities, nor does congestion result from NMT activities. Hence, we are of course interested in understanding what incentivizes NMT, and how the modal share of cyclists and pedestrians can be increased while satifying mobility demands.

On the other hand, however, the literature on incenvizing factors of NMT and crosselasticities between other modes and NMT is sparse. This is to some degree because investments and political attention go into motorized transport. NMT is mostly handled as a given that will find its place, and does not need further attention. Furthermore, monetary costs of motorized transport make motorized transport an accessible object for transport economists. The intrinsic non-monetary nature of NMT make incentives much harder measurable - a considerable knowledge gap results. As sustainable urban transport gains more attention, pedestrians and cyclists shift into the spotlight.

A recent study of Montreal cycling by Larsen and El-Geneidy helps to shed light on the relationship between bicycle lane availability and attractivity of use. These are some of the main conclusions:

  • Recreational cyclists are more likley to use bicycle facilities (e.g. bike lanes)
  • Frequent cyclists use lanes less and travel greater distances
  • Greater separation of bike lanes from vehicle traffic - e.g. by bicycle alleys - increases trip distance
  • Connectivity of the network matters: The longer bicycle lanes are, and the better they are connected with other bicycle lanes and facilities, the more attractive they become for users

The authors conclude by suggesting that physically separated bike lanes are best to encourage novice cyclists. The connectivity of a bicycle network may, however, be the most important design and investment criterion.

It would be very interesting seeing more studies on this topic. What is, for example, the cost-benefit relation of different kind of bicycle facilities (measured in $ infrastructure investment versus marginal increased bicycle use)? How does this cost benefit relation change as a function of bicycle network connectivity? Can these results be generalized to other cities?

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