New study of separated bike lanes shows that if you build it, they will come

sherbourne bike lane
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter/ Sherbourne Street bike lane, Toronto

On Streetsblog, Angie Schmitt describes research by Raymond Ziemba at Toronto’s Ryerson University, studying the impact of installing a separated bike lane, in this case the Sherbourne Street bike lane in Toronto. (big PDF here on BlogTO) The results were impressive, with a 300% increase in cyclists on the street after the painted bike lanes were replaced with separated lanes. Other statistics shared with Herb on IBikeTO:

  • 38% current cyclists on Sherbourne did not cycle before 2012 for the same or similar trip.
  • Most (55%) new cyclists would use transit before, while fewer (24%) potentially switched from driving. Might be good in a downtown context where transit congestion is a big issue.
  • Most mentioned safety as the reason why they shifted.
  • Savings in travel time scored almost as high as improved safety as a reason for cycling. That is, under favourable conditions, cycling can actually save time for many.

That's really impressive, getting so many people out of cars and the overcrowded transit system, proving the point that we keep saying: if you build good safe infrastructure people will use it.

It is particularly impressive when you look at the history of this particular bike lane, and the events that preceded it (like the protest ride above). It was not put here because studies said it was a good place for it, or that it was needed; this is a political expediency, a sop to cyclists after former Mayor Rob Ford and henchman Denzil Minnan-Wong tore out brand new bike lanes on Jarvis Street, a 5 lane urban highway one block west, because it was slowing down drivers wanting to get home for dinner by oh, three minutes. So they spent half a million on putting Jarvis Street back to the way it was (with it's dangerous bi-directional center lane) and another $2.5 million on these bike lanes, which are not on a major artery where cyclists really wanted to be.

empty bike laneLloyd Alter/ such a busy street!/CC BY 2.0

Back in 2012 when the Sherbourne lanes were installed I wrote How Not To Design A Separated Bike Lane about how I thought this lane was a bad design in the wrong place. I am therefore surprised and thrilled to see how dramatically it has increased the number of cyclists, and in particular how many people switched modes.

Imagine how much bigger the numbers might have been if it had been built where the experts wanted it, on a street where cyclists needed it. Who knows, now that Rob Ford is a spent force and Denzil Minnan-Wong seems to have changed his stripes, perhaps we will get them back.

New study of separated bike lanes shows that if you build it, they will come
Installation of safe, separated bike infrastructure actually got people out of their cars.

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