Vancouver’s Separated Bike Lanes – More Popular Than Ever

Dunsmuir Bike Corral
NOTE: An updated version of this analysis can be found on Spacing Vancouver.

The past few days I’ve had a tough time finding a spot to park my bike at work. The large bike corral at Dunsmuir and Seymour has been jam packed every morning by 9 am. This anecdotal evidence makes me think cycling is on the rise downtown, but it’s nice to see some hard numbers.

Last February, the City of Vancouver published statistics showing the number of cycling trips taken on the new downtown separated bike lanes. I had fun analyzing it, but was limited by the amount of data – there was only 11 months of numbers to crunch. Since then the City has diligently updated and published the stats every month, and now there is finally enough data to see year-over-year changes (at least on Dunsmuir). The results are interesting and encouraging.

Even after a lousy summer, bike volumes on Dunsmuir have gone up dramatically. July 2011 saw 17% more cycling trips than July 2010. August saw an astounding 43% increase year-over-year! This is a strong indication that cycling is becoming more popular with Vancouverites and the separated lanes are attracting new riders. The Dunsmuir separated bike lane was installed in June 2010, so the infrastructure was the same both summers, and yet 2011 saw higher cycling volumes even with colder weather. One possible theory is that the Hornby separated bike lane (completed in December 2010) is creating a network effect that is making cycling downtown more appealing, and thereby encouraging more people to bike downtown via Dunmsuir.

The Burrard Bridge saw a year-over-year increases of 15% in June and 18% in August. July, which was cold and wet, saw a 5% drop year-over-year (even though it recorded the busiest day on record – more below). The other months were similar to the previous year, except February and March, which saw significant year-over-year drops because 2010 had abnormally high volumes during the Olympics.

Dunmsuir and Hornby both had their busiest days ever on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 (during the Celebration of Light when Spain put on their fireworks show over English Bay) with 3,009 bike trips on Dunsmuir and 2,243 on Hornby.

The Burrard Bridge also had high volumes on the fireworks days (6,566 on August 3), but its busiest day was July 9, 2011 (the Saturday of the Summer Live concert in Stanley Park) when a whopping 7,619 cycling trips were made across the bridge. To get an idea what 7,000 cyclists looks like (albeit with more lycra), check out the pictures from yesterday’s Gran Fondo bike ride from Vancouver to Whistler.

In the past year, the Burrard Bridge has seen over 1 million bike trips! A total of 1,020,216 bike trips were taken over the Burrard Bridge and 434,130 trips along the Dunsmuir separated bike lane between September 1, 2010 and August 31, 2011.

Hornby and Dunsmuir are clearly commuter routes (not surprising as they serve the downtown core). On weekends, bike volumes drop 40% – 50%. The Burrard Bridge, on the other hand, is both a commuter route and a recreational route (as it connects to the Seawall on both ends). Year round, the Burrard Bridge sees nearly as many weekend cyclists as weekday cyclists. In fact, July and August 2011 saw more cyclists using the bridge on weekends than weekdays, which I found quite surprising.

Source - City of Vancouver

Overall, the Burrard Bridge sees twice the volume of cyclists as Dunsmuir Viaduct, and the Hornby separated bike lane is seeing about 80% of the riders of the Dunsmuir Street lane. The Burrard Bridge is the only bike-friendly connection to downtown for everyone living west of Granville, so that explains why its volumes are so much higher than the Dunsmuir Viaduct. From the east, the Seawall, Expo Boulevard, Dunsmuir Viaduct, and Pender all provide bike lanes into the downtown peninsula.

*Note: The Hornby data is missing 12 days in the middle of July (including the Summer live weekend), which is why that month looks unusually low.

To put some of these numbers in perspective, whereas the Burrard Bridge averages 5,000 trips/day in the summer, the busiest bike bridge in Portland, the Hawthorne Bridge, sees around 7,000 trips (source – PDF), Montreal’s busiest separated cycle tracks see around 5,000 cyclists (source), and the “busiest bicycle street in the western world”, located in Copenhagen, is 5 meters wide and sees 38,000 bikes per day (source). So, we’re definitely on par with the top cycling cities in North America, but we have a long way to go before we challenge Copenhagen.

21 thoughts on “Vancouver’s Separated Bike Lanes – More Popular Than Ever”

  1. “The Burrard Bridge saw a year-over-year increases of 15% in June and 18% in August. July, which was cold and wet, saw a 5% drop year-over-year.”

    2010 had four fireworks nights in July. 2011 had only one.
    2010 had zero fireworks nights in August. 2011 had two.

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    1. Good point. There’s also Summer Live in 2011 that also caused abnormally high bike use.
      If you combine July and August together and split the data into “special days” and normal days you get:
      Burrard Bridge (avg normal day) 2010: 4763/day
      Burrard Bridge (avg normal day) 2011: 5005/day (+5%)
      Burrard Bridge (avg special day) 2010: 6257/day
      Burrard Bridge (avg special day) 2011: 6300/day (+<1%)
      Dunsmuir (avg normal day) 2010: 1512/day
      Dunsmuir (avg normal day) 2011: 2112/day (+40%)
      Dunsmuir (avg special day) 2010: 1772/day
      Dunsmuir (avg special day) 2011: 2199/day (+24%)

      So, when you take out the "special days", the Burrard Bridge had summer volumes 5% higher than 2010, and Dunsmuir still has a surprisingly high 40% increase.

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  2. I think that these numbers justify some improvements to the Burrard Bridge in the future. Maybe now some money can be allocated to make something permanent.
    What can be done with the bridge to make it better for all modes? Can we make it wider and still keep the heritage Art Deco look? Can it have pedestrian and or cycling walkways below the main deck? Can a separate pedestrian and cycling bridge be built over False Creek?
    What about access to it? How can they be made better?

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  3. Great article. Good analysis.

    In response to Clark’s question, the best solution for Burrard is to upgrade the northbound curb lane to cycling and give the sidewalk back to pedestrians.

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  4. Hi: Thanks for doing this analysis. It fascinates me, but I’m too lazy to do it myself.

    People always like to compare the peak ridership to the trough. as in “Ya but whaddabout the winter!”. It seems that winter ridership is roughly half of peak summer numbers — except that there is a 20-40% growth rate going on here (year-to-year).

    Do you have any ideas as to how the peak-to-trough comparison looks in a high growth situation?

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    1. In January, we’ll have an idea if winter usage year-over-year is keeping pace with the summertime increases we’re seeing. That should answer the question: Are the new riders only fair-weather riders or are some of them becoming year-round cyclists?

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      1. Hi C-Veg:

        The question is: how big is the wet-weather drop off? There is no doubt that ridership will drop off when it’s wet.

        But how much have we measured? If we compare January 2011 to August 2011, we see a certain difference between the two months. However, we know that overall ridership is increasing by substantial amounts. So a certain proportion of the difference between the two is due to simple overall growth over time — in other words, a second factor is in play, besides aversion to water, in accounting for August being bigger than January.

        I would guess that if we establish an overall growth rate somehow, then that amount should be projected over the time difference and subtracted from the total ridership difference to arrive at an estimate of the single remaining factor — weather-related dropoff.

        I do tend to burrow into these things — can’t help it, it’s the engineer in me.

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    1. I personally use the Burrard Bridge more on weekends, so I wasn’t surprised it had high numbers, but I was surprised it had surpassed weekday usage in the summer. I’m pretty sure car volumes are still higher during the week. And I’m not sure the media has ever focused on the Burrard Bridge as an extension of the Seawall for recreational cyclists – it’s still considered a commuter route.

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  5. Add my voice to the chorus of thanks for taking the time to pull this info together. The steady increase in cycling since I began bike commuting in the 90s is really something to see. I’m back to commuting out to Burnaby a few days a week after many years. The difference (increase) between then and now in terms of the number of cyclists commuting is a great thing to see.

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  6. Glad to see people using the bike lanes. It’s healthy.
    Can you expect to see continued growth of the lanes as the senior population numbers keep rising, and will reach about 25% of the population? Not too many seniors are able or willing to ride bikes

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    1. Interesting point. I don’t know much about age demographics and cyclists, but after some quick searching (for “cycling demographics age canada”) I found these two pdfs that suggest that the fastest growing age category for cyclists are the older ones. Here are two quotes from the reports:
      “Most of the growth in cycling has come from increased cycling among middle-aged and older adults. As shown in Figure 4, the percentage of Quebecois in the oldest age categories (55-66 and 65+) who cycle at least occasionally every year almost tripled between 1981 and 2000 (Velo Quebec 2001).”
      “Their average age is increasing: the number of cyclists has increased from 34% to 41% in the 55-64 age group, and from 12% to 21% among those aged 65 to 74.” [regarding cycling tourists in Alberta]

      There are definitely mobility challenges with some seniors that might make cycling difficult, but many also have challenges driving cars. Considering heart disease is a leading cause of death for seniors (source: Stats Can), the exercise benefits of cycling could be huge.

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  7. I’m really looking forward to Vancouver becoming more and more bike-friendly. I think we can learn a lot from other cities around the world where bike trips are a far higher percentage for day-to-day needs.

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