In a city where bicycle paths are separated from traffic, racks are accessible, cycling routes are connected, and the way from home to work is smooth and flat, more people may actually want to ride their bikes.
And if more people bike rather than drive, they will be much healthier, and the city much greener.
That is the argument that a team of University of British Columbia researchers are presenting with the Bikeability Index, an innovative mapping tool that scores Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods on how accommodating they are to cyclists. According to the study, the way communities are designed directly influences people's level of physical activity.
"If you make cycling and walking the easier choice, then people will be more likely to choose it because it's faster to get [somewhere]than sitting in traffic," said lead researcher Meghan Winters. "Then people will be less likely to choose their cars, they'll be more likely to engage in physical activity, and that will reduce congestion in the city."
The project, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, surveyed 2,100 people about factors that influence their cycling behaviour, Ms. Winters said. Most answered they are concerned about biking next to cars, biking up and down hills, the availability of racks to lock up their bikes, and the connectivity of bike-friendly streets.
Based on these factors, Ms. Winters and her team created online, colour-coded maps (green depicts bike-friendly areas and red shows where cycling conditions need to be improved) that compare the bike friendliness of Vancouver and surrounding municipalities, as well as the bike friendliness within each municipality. The maps show the availability of bike facilities, bike route density, topography and land use.
According to the Bikeability Index, Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster rank highest in bike friendliness because they have denser cycling infrastructure. The team plans to deliver the maps to Metro Vancouver urban planners.
"What we've done is highlight areas that are good for cycling, and areas where there are challenges," she said. "We hope this will demonstrate where gaps are happening and where improvements are needed, like maybe there needs to be more bike facilities there, or separated bike lanes for people who are less confident on their bikes."
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research has provided the team with additional funds so that they can make up bikeability indexes for Victoria, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Charlottetown, Moncton and St. John's by 2012.
The maps can be viewed at www.cher.ubc/ca/cyclingincities/tools.html. Cyclists can also search for routes based on preferred distances, air pollution levels and elevation gain. Future renderings will also allow users to click and zoom on the maps.