Observation Data: Comparing Cycling in Vancouver to Cycling in Europe
A critical part of what we do at Slow Streets is collecting data on how people travel and how people use public space. This data serves to quantify successes (for example ridership growth in a newly minted bike lane) and helps identify opportunities for change (i.e., plenty of walkers can justify widening sidewalks). We subscribe to the old adage that ‘you measure what you care about’.
Since our inception in 2014 we have been collecting observation data on cycling and walking on retail streets in Vancouver. In the Spring of 2015, we extended our work to Europe where we collected observation data on retail streets in Berlin, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. The data has been compiled and we have created an infographic for comparative purposes.
Our observation data found that on average Europe has 37% more people cycling per hour than one of Vancouver’s busiest cycling routes, Union Street. When it comes to walking, Commercial Drive (the busiest walking street in Vancouver outside the Downtown peninsula) has on average 6% less people walking per hour than European streets. This comparison is quite noteworthy, considering Commercial Drive functions as a Stroad, where the street geometry overwhelmingly caters to people driving. It suggests there is latent demand for better sidewalk infrastructure and significant potential for increasing walking and cycling on Commercial Drive.
On the other hand, European streets are skinnier and more people friendly. Despite being narrower than Commercial Drive, they move more people walking and cycling. This people-friendly street design makes the street less noisey, creating a more comfortable place for people to linger and relax. Given that we observed retail streets, this can have a profound economic impact as the more time people spend on sidewalks the better it is for business.
Lastly, an important observation we found was that parking and cycling can coexist. On all European streets (except Copenhagen’s Norrebrogade) parking was retained. This still allows vehicle access and permits merchants to use the space as a loading zone. Things do not have to be so black and white – we can have our cake and eat it too. The important thing is to ensure that cycling lanes are physically removed from high volumes of fast moving vehicles to make cycling safe, comfortable and inviting.
As the world’s most renowned bike-friendly cities, it is certainly no surprise that Copenhagen and Amsterdam have higher rates of people cycling. Most surprisingly, Vancouver’s Union Street has higher rates of people cycling than Berlin’s Weserstraße. These observations demonstrate that we still have some work to do in encouraging both walking and cycling. While we have some ways to go we are slowly getting there – in fact this morning it was revealed that June 2015 recorded a record number of people cycling in Vancouver.
For the complete infographic, please follow the link below.