Five is the New Twenty – The Advantages of Quickly Completing Cycling Networks

Often a city or town will produce a fairly good cycling network plan. Due to financial considerations, the implementation plan will call for a route or two a year to be built. At that rate, it could take twenty to thirty to complete the network. The first bicycle path will open with a fair amount of fanfare with the mayor and other dignitaries cutting ribbons and perhaps even jumping on their bikes. Unfortunately, more often than not, even for high quality separated bicycle paths, the first route or two is not that well used and the good plans start to lose steam.

Some communities are taking a much bolder approach. They are planning and building whole networks of high-quality routes at once, essentially treating the network as one project. Instead of a twenty-year build out, they are completing their networks in three to five years.  The result is dramatic increases in the number of people cycling over a short period of time and the community experiences the benefits much sooner.

Better Bike Bang for the Bucks

By enabling more trips per route, complete networks help maximize the investment in cycling routes by increasing safety, decreasing GHG emissions, increasing physical activity and reducing congestion. As construction costs rise over time, the total cost of building a network rapidly is likely even less than building over several decades. This is basis for the BCCC’s recommendations to the Provincial Government in Realizing the Benefits of Accelerated Investment in Cycling.


Seville Cycling Network

Seville perfectly demonstrated the advantages of rapidly building cycling facilities. In four years, they invested $42 million to complete a network of 78 km separated bike lanes throughout the city. In addition, they also installed a 2,500 bicycle bike sharing system. As a result, bicycle mode share increased from 0.2% to 6.6% and cycling trips increased from 2,500 to 70,000 per day. Perhaps more importantly, it is now quite common to see children cycling in the city.

Sydney, Australia

The City of Sydney is investing $71 million over 4 years to build a 200km cycling network including 55km of separated cycleways. Currently one per cent of trips into the city are made on bicycle – the city aims to increase this number by 10 per cent by 2016.

Why Complete Networks Work

There are several reasons why complete networks can dramatically increase the number of people cycling.

1. More Destinations

One route serves few destinations and thus is useful only for a few trips. A complete networks enables people to safely and comfortable cycle from anywhere to anywhere.

Due to network effects, the number of trips per route increases significantly as the number of connected routes increases. This is illustrated in the following figures showing a very simple network where each of the squares represents a destination.

Figure B
Figure A

In Figure A, the one route allows each of the six locations to access each of the other five locations. Thus, the number of possible trips is 6 x 6 = 30. The number of trips per route is 30.

In Figure B the 12 routes allows each of the 36 locations to access each of the other 35 locations. Thus, the number of possible trips is 36 x 35 = 1260. The number of trips per route is 1260/12 = 105.

2. Shorter Trips

With a system with only a few spread out cycling routes, people will often have to go out of their way to get to the cycling routes increasing travel distances. A complete network minimizes travel distances and times decreasing the effort required and increasing the number of trips that are in reasonable cycling distance.

3. Less Time in Bad Weather

Shorter travel times also means less time exposed to the cold, wet, heat and snow making cycling more comfortable.

4. Safer

Shorter travel distances decrease the chances of being involved in collisions and allow cyclists to better avoid nasty intersections.

5. Less Effort

Shorter distances require less physical effort making cycling more accessible for more people for more trips. This is especially important to young and old cyclists. Even for people in great shape, reducing effort reduces sweat making cycling more attractive especially for work and business trips. Complete networks also make it easier to avoid hills.

6. No Maps Needed

Well, at least no maps to find the bicycle routes. Just like drivers, cyclists still may need maps or a GPS to find the best route to their destination.

7. Less Bicycle Congestion

Too many cyclists on a bike route maybe the furthest problem from people’s minds in communities just starting their cycling networks. However, cycling congestion both slows people down and creates potential safety problems. A dense, complete network, spread the bicycle traffic out over more routes allowing people to get to their destinations quicker.

On the Ground

The value of complete bicycle networks is demonstrated in Davis, California and Boulder, Colorado. With around 20% of trips by bicycle, these communities have the highest levels of bicycle usage in North America. This high level of cycling is facilitated by mature networks, which include bike lanes on almost all of their arterial roads and extensive off-road commuter bicycle paths.

Residents can simply get on their bicycles with confidence knowing there will always be a safe route to their destination.

N. Keates, Building a Better Bike Lane, Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2007, W1.

This entry was posted in Funding, News.

One Comment

  1. Posted November 25, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    amen to bike promotion in the cities…did you know that in the 1890's -1900 before Ford ruined the environment, there were 50 million bikes in North America? probably not that many…there were bike races, foot races, horse races cross country when horses were tough and fast