Tag Archives: biking

Bike Share (Finally) Coming to Vancouver

Vancouver is finally getting a bike share system. Fingers crossed, bikes should be on the ground and ready to roll mid-June.

It’s been a long road. The City of Vancouver first started exploring bike share systems in 2008, and signed an initial contract to deliver one in 2013 (but that fell through when BIXI went bankrupt).

The biggest hurdle has been our BC-wide, all-ages, mandatory helmet law (which I’ve written about before). There still doesn’t seem to be a good solution. When bike share was announced in 2013, the plan was to put yet-to-be-invented helmet vending machines at every station. 3 years later, that technology still doesn’t exist. Now the plan is to just leave helmets with the bikes and periodically clean them.

Ignoring the helmet problems, I think Vancouver’s done a great job choosing a bike share vendor and picking the initial service area. For bikes and stations, the provider will be Smoove. The main difference between Smoove and BIXI (which other Canadian cities have and most people are familiar with) is the Smoove bikes are smart and have minimal station requirements, while BIXI bikes are simple and the have the smarts. This means Smoove bikes have GPS tracking and can be locked anywhere (although there will still be dedicated stations), a system more like Car2Go.

Vancouver Bike Share Map
The initial service area will be east of Arbutus, north of 16th Ave, and west of Main street (including Stanley Park). There will be 1000 bikes and 100 stations at launch, expanding to 1500 bicycles at 150 stations by the end of 2016. If all goes well, the first expansion will move west to Macdonald (including Kitsilano) and east to Commercial Drive (the blue areas on the map above).

The initial area includes Vancouver’s densest neighbourhoods, the business district, 11 km of uninterrupted Seawall, the most popular tourist attractions in the city (Stanley Park, Granville Island, Vancouver Art Gallery, and Science World), plus separated bike lanes and bike routes with only modest hills. With 150 stations in the initial area, that would give Vancouver a station density close to New York. Imagine stations every 2 blocks in most areas (see this example by UBC’s Carter Xin for an idea of station location).

There is absolutely no reason bike share shouldn’t succeed in Vancouver, except for helmets. The most recent city that has tried to launch a bike share system with a mandatory helmet law, is Seattle (which also happens to have similar weather and topology). The results have been disappointing and many people blame the city’s helmet law. When Seattle launched their bike share system in 2014, they were planning on using the same helmet vending technology that Vancouver was considering. It wasn’t ready at launch so they decided to just leave bins of helmets at each station. 2 years alter, that temporary solution is still in place and Seattle’s Pronto system is paying $85,000 a year to maintain its helmets (in a system with only 1000 bikes), and the vending machine solution is still nowhere in sight.

All that to say, I’m looking forward to Vancouver’s bike share system. I happen to live and work in the initial area, and even though I own my own bike I plan on getting a membership and adding bike share to my transportation options. I just wish someone in provincial politics would have the courage to admit what research has been showing for some time – that our mandatory bike helmet law isn’t saving lives and is a hindrance to increased rates of cycling.



Data Nerd – Mapping Cycling Mode Share in Vancouver

It’s raining outside. Must be Bike to Work Week. Thousands of riders are commuting by bike this week and logging their trips online, but just how popular is cycling in Vancouver?

I’ve heard some people claim that only 1.7% of people in Vancouver bike, while criticizing the investments in new bike lanes the city has made. That’s bullshit.

The number comes from Statistics Canada, but is often misunderstood and misused. The 2011 long form census (now optional and called the National Household Survey) has the following question:
How did this person usually get to work? (Their emphasis, not mine)

  • Car, truck or van – as a driver
  • Car, truck or van – as a passenger
  • Public transit
  • Walked to work
  • Bicycle
  • Other method

Across all of Metro Vancouver (including the burbs), 1.7% usually commute by bike. In the City of Vancouver it’s 4.3%. The neighbourhoods around downtown have cycling mode shares of 15%, but in southeast Vancouver there are many areas where no one bikes, or so the stats seem to indicate (full searchable results). It’s important to consider what the statistics represent.

The question asks what the usual means of commuting is. Think of all the recreational riders, weekend warriors, and fair-weather cyclists (cycling volumes often double in the summer vs the winter). It’s unlikely casual cyclists would identify the bicycle as their usual means of commuting to work. Unfortunately, the NHS doesn’t ask people what means of transportation they sometimes use, and there aren’t any other comprehensive data sets available. The NHS survey results might under-represent cycling but it does indicate a minimum level that cycling has reached (it’s safe to say at least 4.3% of Vancouverites commute by bike) and it offers a good opportunity to create maps and see trends over time.

Here’s are the Vancouver maps of commuting patterns in 2011 for cycling, walking, and public transit. The Vancouver Sun created similar maps a few years ago with 2006 census data. In 2006, the highest mode share for cycling was 12% in South Cambie. In 2011, Grandview-Woodland had 15% bike commuters, Strathcona had 14%, Mount Pleasant had 13%, and Kitsilano, South Cambie, and Riley Park had 12%. For the walking and public transit, the darkest areas represent mode shares of close to 50% (for walking in the West End and transit in Marpole and Renfrew-Collingwood).
VancouverCyclingLevels VancouverWalkingevels VancouverTransitLevels

If you want to play with interactive maps, you can open these files in Google Earth:
I generated these maps using KML files from techearth.net as a base. I would be easy to generate heat maps for all of Metro Vancouver, but I couldn’t find a kml file with census tract boundaries for more than the Vancouver proper.

Helmets are the Kryptonite of Bike Share

Bixi Chic
Helmets are the kryptonite of bike share systems. Nothing puts a damper on the fun, spontaneous travel that bike share facilitates like a foam lid designed to prevent brain damage in the most severe accidents. Shared helmets are gross and carting your own helmet is not convenient. It’s no surprise then that bike share users are less likely to wear helmets then cyclists who ride their own bike.

So what happens when you flood city streets with casual cyclists (many of them tourists) who have no desire to wear helmets? Many pundits predict carnage but time has proven them wrong. Bike share systems around the world have outstanding safety records. Even in busy New York City, where Citi Bikes are being used for bar hopping, it’s a safe way to travel.

Emergency room and city officials say they have not seen a notable spike in bike-related accidents since the 6,000 Citi Bikes were unleashed on the city streets in May. “There’s no obvious sign that there have been more bike injuries,” said Dr. Marc Stoller, the associate chairman of the emergency department at Beth Israel Medical Center, which serves much of Lower Manhattan.

Meanwhile, personal injury lawyers are on standby. Daniel Flanzig, a lawyer who focuses on New York-area bike accidents, said last month that he was “absolutely amazed” that he had not had a single case involving the bike-share program. “My phone rings three or four times a week with a private bike crash, but nothing involving Citi Bike,” he said.

Bike helmet vending machine for Melbourne bike share.Riding a bike share bike without a helmet is statistically safe, but in some cities it’s strictly illegal. So how do you introduce bike sharing in cities with helmet laws? Melbourne offers taxpayer subsidized bike helmets at vending machines and convenience stores, but uptake has been slow. Now they’re leaving free helmets on the handlebars of the bikes, but it isn’t working. Riders continue to shun the system and the Mayor of London openly mocked the helmet law when he visited Melbourne last week. Mexico City and Israel took alternative approaches when they opened their bike share systems. They simply scrapped the helmet laws and watched their bike share systems thrive.

Unfortunately, after years of delay and study, Vancouver has chosen to follow Melbourne’s flailing lead. Hamstrung by a provincial helmet law, Vancouver is getting a bike share system with an integrated helmet share system. I think it’s a bad idea for a number of reasons.
1) It’s expensive. The City won’t reveal exactly how much is being spent on helmet vending machines, but think millions of dollars. That’s money that could have been spent on buying more bikes and extending the area bike share covers (initially limited to the central core).
2) Requiring a helmet will deter ridership. There’s a significant portion of the population who won’t ride a bike with a helmet. Some may still rent a bike and risk the fine, but many will just skip the experience all together.
helmethub-beta3) It’s a logistical nightmare waiting to happen. Balancing a bike share system is complicated enough without helmets. You need to ensure that every station has bikes available and empty spots returns. If you have a good mix of users taking a variety of trips, this will happen naturally. When it doesn’t, you need to pay people to shuffle bikes around.

With the helmet system being proposed for Vancouver, you can’t rely on even trip patterns to balance the system. Each helmet vending machine only holds 36 helmets and each helmet will only be used once before it’s cleaned and inspected. In a successful bike share system, each bike is used 5-10 times per day. There just isn’t enough capacity to store that many helmets. So a lot of time and money will be spent shuffling new helmets stations and picking up the used ones, assuming people use them at all.

I really want Vancouver’s bike share system to succeed, and the helmet law needs to be scrapped before that can happen.

Backpacking Vietnam – Nha Trang

Nha Trang Beach Feet
After almost two weeks of backpacking through Northern Vietnam, the multiple pairs of shorts I had packed had barely left by bag. That all changed when we arrived in Nha Trang, Vietnam’s premiere beach town. It was “cold” by local standards, but still hot enough to lay on the beach, sip fresh coconut juice, and get a nasty sunburn (at least in Emily’s case).
Nha Trang Beach
Our two days in Nha Trang were dedicated to rest and relaxation. We rented bikes and checked out the Cham Ruins of Po Nagar and the large market. Biking in Nha Trang was easy. Most of the streets had light traffic and the cars and motorbikes are good at giving cyclists a wide berth.
Biking Nha Trang Biking Around Cycling in Nha Trang
Beach Biking One-Legged Crossing Electric Bike Pull
The Cham ruins were an interesting diversion. Compared to some of the other ruins in Vietnam, they’re in remarkably good shape and easy to get to.
At the Cham Ruins Po Nagar Cham Tower
Remains of the Champa Empire Goddess Uma Old Uma North Tower Statue
We spent most of our second day at the Thap Ba Hot Spring Mudbaths. It was fun splashing the mud on ourselves, but it was surprisingly cold. The rest of the pools were hot, which was enjoyable in December but I can’t imagine they’d be that popular in July. I guess the cold mud would be more popular then.
Monkey Mud Bath Mudbath Muddy Woman
Hot Springs Maid of the Mist Lovely Lounging Lady
Pool Shady Loungers Hot Springs Pool Waterfall
Continue reading Backpacking Vietnam – Nha Trang

Backpacking Vietnam – Hoi An

Japanese Bridge
Hoi An is a tourist paradise – a compact city centre with well-preserved historic buildings, great restaurants, twisting alleys, and no cars (a blissful change from Vietnam’s other cities). The only downside is its overrun with tourists. The lack of cars and abundance of tourists made it often feel like you were in a sterilized version of the real Vietnam, but I still loved it.
Primitive Vehicles Only
We only spent two days in the city, and I wish we would have spent a few more. We saw most of the sights in the city, took a vegetarian cooking class, road bikes through the countryside, but we never got to the nearby ruins of Mỹ Sơn or took advantage of the hundreds of tailors in the city.
Hoi An Temple Rooftop Statues Fetsive Dog
Deep Fried Banana Fritters Tree Hugger Bananas Texting Monk
Hoi An has a great market and lots of yummy street food. We found an amazing vegetarian restaurant, hidden in a tiny alleyway, that served plates of amazing food for $1. It was so good we back for a second meal. We couldn’t believe how tasty and cheap it was.
Little Alleyway Vegetarian Vietnamese Buffet Quan Chay Co Dam
We splurged in Hoi An and stayed at a resort along the river, it was our Christmas present to ourselves, even if it didn’t feel like Christmas. It was too cold to take advantage of the pool, but the breakfast buffet was impressive.
Merry Christmas from Vietnam Vinh Hung Riverside Resort Emily Chillaxing
Continue reading Backpacking Vietnam – Hoi An

Surprise Birthday Weekend to Harrison Hot Springs

Harrison Hot Springs - Adult Pool
Emily likes organizing surprise weekends. Last year for my birthday, we took our bikes on the train to Portland. This year I didn’t know where we were going except I needed a bathing suit and my bike.

On Saturday morning, we packed, jumped on our bicycles, and headed down to Cambie and 10th where there was a Modo co-op car with a bike rack. It took us a few minutes to figure out the bike rack – Emily was searching the car for a manual, I was looking for a video online, but once we took a closer look at the rack we realized it was surprisingly intuitive – and then we were on the road heading east.

It wasn’t until Surrey that I realized we were probably headed towards Harrison Hot Springs, but first we had to stop in at our favourite restaurant outside of Vancouver – Limbert Mountain Farm. Nothing says “local” like eating on a farm, and the food at Limbert is the freshest, tastiest food around.

At Harrison, we spent lots of time relaxing in the thermal pools and exploring the area by bike. Our friend Leanne gave us a copy of Easy Cycling Around Vancouver – 40 short tours for all ages. Cycling is a great way to explore an area – the pace is slower, you’re more likely to stop, and you see more then just the side of the highway. We followed two of the routes listed in the book: Harrison-Agassiz and Seabird Island. Both were flat routes, with little traffic, on nicely paved roads through scenic farmland (including most of the stops on the Circle Farm Tour). The only downsides were the pervasive smell of manure and some brief stretches on the highway shoulder.

On the way home, we stopped in at our favourite road stop tourist trap, Castle Fun Park, and played a round of mini golf and a few games of air hockey.

What a perfect weekend.

Modo Car with a Bike Rack  Fresh Baked Yum  Green Soup  Salad and a Wrap  Biking on Seabird Island  High Voltage Lines  Blue Cow Bike Horn  Tullip Fields  Scenic Cycling  Smooth Riding  Agassiz Cycling  Lunch with a View  Goats  Goat Kiss  Milking Machines  Air Hockey

Dunsmuir Bike Lane – By The Numbers

A few days ago the City of Vancouver posted the daily statistics for the Dunsmuir and Hornby separated bike lanes (available here). I am the self-appointed data nerd at work, and thought it would be fun to apply some of the same techniques we use to analyze building energy to bike trips.

The first thing I did was go through the data to see if I could determine the driving factors of bike lane usage. The data file contains data from several sensors (located up and down Hornby and Dunsmuir) but I focused on the Dunsmuir viaduct because it had the most data (11 months worth). With only 11 months of data, you can’t do any year-over-year comparisons, but you can start to notice trends.

The first obvious pattern is there is a clear difference between weekday and weekend usage, with volumes nearly doubling Monday-Friday. This makes sense, since the bike lanes provide access to the downtown.

There is also a noticeable seasonal difference in the data, with summer traffic (peaking at 2099 trips per day) doubling the December high of 1025. The driver of this is, as you might guess, weather related. Once I added in weather data from Environment Canada, you can see a strong correlation between average temperature and bike trips.

The next biggest driver of bike trips is the addition of the separated bike lane on Dunsmuir. On March 3 a bike lane was added to the Dunsmuir Viaduct. On June 15, the separated bike lane extending from the viaduct to Hornby was completed, replacing a painted bike lane. It really shifted up usage of the Dunsmuir Viaduct, adding about 500 extra trips per day in the 2nd half of June.

You can build a pretty good linear model that would predict bike lane usage based on the day of the week and the temperature. The outliers you’ll notice are holidays (which have very low usage), fireworks (which were the highest used days) and days with > 3 mm of rain (marked with R) or snow (marked with S). I was surprised that holiday volumes are lower then weekend volumes. Rain and snow are obvious deterrents to cycling, but extreme cold apparently isn’t. On days where the temperature dropped below freezing, but were dry, cycling volumes were on par with days averaging +5 C.

The last question to ask is “is bike usage increasing”? There was a definite jump after the Dunsmuir separated lane bike lane was completed on June 15. Looking at data since then, you need to isolate out weather to make a fair comparison. If you look at months with similar average temperatures (July/August and December/January) there is small, but noticeable growth in cycling volumes. However, it is tough to say if it is a trend or not. Another year of data would really help. After July 2011, we’ll be able to compare the data to July 2010 and do a year-over-year comparison where the infrastructure isn’t changing. That is when we’ll be able to spot growth.

Thanks to the City of Vancouver for providing this data and the separated bike lanes. It is really interesting to see the growth of commuter cyclists in Vancouver.

Update: Hirtopolis addresses the issue of data fudging and anomalous readings in the city’s data.