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Guest Post: Bicycles the Incredible Urban Leverage Engine

This is a Guest Post by Kent Lundberg. It originally appeared here and has been reproduced with Kent’s kind permission. Quality Guest Posts are always welcome.

One reason I go on about bikes here is that I see them being an incredible opportunity to leverage our existing urban form and provide one of the tools to deal with our current resource realities. I have written a few things about Auckland’s inherently interconnected streetcar suburbs (the City’s DNA), and the potential they embody. This potential is based on the fact that the streetcar suburbs were originally designed, at least in part, to incorporate walking. By first recognising this value and secondly to find ways to exploit it, we have incredible opportunities to provide gains in mobility, health, and quality of life.

One such way to leverage the physical form of the streetcar suburbs is the use of the bicycle. While the streetcar suburbs are now mostly well covered by bus service, the soon-to-be electrified fixed rail system would benefit from maximum ridership. With the advent of rail electrification and the possibility of the City Rail Link it’s not hard to imagine the rail system becoming a true city-wide metro service.

We have been working with the software Urban Network Analysis to analyse spatial integration throughout Auckland. Spatial integration basically describes the connectivity of places to other places via streets. One particularly relevant application of the software is to quickly analyse a particular place’s reach. Reach quantifies the number of places/people that can be reached given a certain distance query.

Typically this process would be conducted by hand or oversimplified with simple radius searches using GIS. But by using the Urban Network Analysis software we can quickly create legitimate distance searches based upon the existing street, trail, and path networks.

In order to test the software we have developed a sample scenario to test each Auckland’s suburban train station’s potential for increased ridership by attracting bicyclists. (Bicyclists could be encouraged through infrastructure such as long term parking, better on or off-street facilities or other incentive programs.)

The first test identified the number of households within 400m of the station, this is considered the pedestrian catchment. And if we consider a comfortable cycling range to be closer to 800m we can determine the additional extent for potential cyclists. Here is an example of the results of the Mt Albert train station.By simply considering cyclists as viable tranist users this train station can increase its ridership catchment by over 350%. Not coincidentally this is a good example of the area that is gained by doubling the radius of a circle. This reveals the consistency of the neighbourhood under study and demonstrates the network efficiency of traditional, walkable streetcar suburbs (and frankly makes me feel a little thick for employing high tech software to deduce something so plainly obvious).

But the results are different when testing another station. By comparison here are the results from the Sturges station. The numbers illustrate several important geometric principles related to urban form and connectivity. For one, regular, gridded streets provide efficient and resilient movement patterns that are more easily leveraged for transit and bike infrastructure. There are also several micro scale design considerations that are revealed that we will discuss in the next post. Ultimately however, this is leading me to believe that it’s not “all about the bike” but instead it’s much more “about the neighbourhood” and this in turn has important implications about future development opportunities and land use and transport decisions.

41 comments to Guest Post: Bicycles the Incredible Urban Leverage Engine

  • Mr Anderson

    I walk about a kilometre each day to my bus stop, so I’d say both the walking and cycling catchments are a vast under-estimate.

    Which is particularly interesting as the number of properties grows hugely as the catchment expands.

    • Lloyd

      Absolutely agree with this. In London it’s perfectly normal to walk 1-1.5km to a Tube or train station; you might catch a bus instead if it’s raining heavily, but I think that 400m is a gross underestimate, even for Auckland, surely. Though I probably wouldn’t want to walk much over 500m to a bus stop, to be fair.

  • Joseph

    Interesting but from memory I thought Sturges Rd station was geared somewhat towards density. It has townhouses and narrow streets but I guess has some larger sections. Also are you sure it’s not due to the expanses of Waitemata Rugby? I can see your point as Mt Albert is very walkable.

    • Kent Lundberg

      Joseph, after this exercise I came across the case study heralding the urban form of a new subdivision design in this area. I believe it was mentioned in the Urban Design Protocol material. The blocks are small, the lots are smaller and the development is higher density (good, good, and good). The small scale of the development however is only a fraction of the train station’s catchment, and perhaps more significantly, any development sitting inside of a conventional suburban pattern will provide only limited connectivity advantages.

  • The last one is very similar to a post I did almost a year ago although with less high tech software
    http://transportblog.co.nz/2011/08/27/our-street-network-working-against-us/

    I also looked at the density around the Sturges Rd station in this post
    http://transportblog.co.nz/2012/02/10/what-does-density-look-like/

  • Max

    Hi Kent

    As I already commented on your blog, Cycle Action did a simplified form of this – comparing 3km radii for cycling around train stations to a 800m walking radius. Despite it being, as you correctly point out, a simplified thing, it was a big hit at all our presentations, including to Council, as it so dramatically and easily shows the difference when plotted over an Auckland map.

    Slightly more complex, the company I work for professionally (TDG) has also used isochrones (i.e. actually following the street network) to assess the walking and cycling reach around some proposed developments (in fact, we are working on several mutual projects with you guys at Isthmus right now).

    What kind of data source did your software use for the street network? Is there a way to modify it easily to represent extra links (link cross-connections through parks etc… that might not appear in the data source) or remove links that are unattractive for most walkers / cyclists?

    Cheers,

    Max

    • Kent Lundberg

      Hi Max, I used readily accessible street data to start with (from the City’s web map viewer). I manually added access-ways such rear alleys, walkways, etc. This can be a labor intensive so I imagine I didn’t model everything perfectly. So yes, it’s easy to modify, but time consuming.

      What I’m really interested in is taking the analysis to the next level and modelling crosswalks, vehicle speeds, and other factors that may be barriers to pedestrian and cycling.

      Kent

  • I really should find out who all you people are and meet you in the real world – my first paper built PT travel time isochrones in ArcMap 3: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/136588100240976 (apologies that it’s not free access – I can provide a PDF to anyone interested – go to my website for contact details). I’ve done other things meanwhile, but living in Auckland has me itching to work on network analysis problems of various kinds – although I’d stay away from ArcGIS if I could!

  • Two points:

    As Mr Anderson has mentioned, the catchments are vastly underestimated. Walking catchments are generally more like 2km, so cycling should be much greater.

    Secondly, you’re mapping out walking and cycling routes according to car routes. Walking and cycling routes are more extensive than that. You have missed several walkways on your Sturges area map, and so are showing some houses as being at least twice as far away from the station as they really are.

    • Max

      That was more or less what I was asking Kent regarding adding data, or removing links that are unsuitable for some users.

      I noticed that recently, Google Maps for example have been getting better with showing walk / cycleways, but are still missing many of them. Also, they seem to depend on users to correct such omissions, which is both good and bad (they seem pretty quick to add any suggestions, which is great – but how do they check whether my comment about a new cycleway – that doesn’t yet apear in any aerial – is correct? They surely don’t send over someone from California to check…)

    • Unfortunately Geoff the GIS data on transport networks only extends to the road network, there is nothing on walkways. They all have to be added manually. It’s a big problem with catchment calculations like this but the only way around that is to meticulously scan through aerial photography to try and pick them out, or to do site visits and walk around looking for them. Either way it’s very time consuming to do on a large scale.

      I would say a walk catchment of 2km is pretty damned generous, more like 1km in most cases… but certainly the old standards of a quarter mile are ridiculously short.

      • Kent Lundberg

        Geoff, the intention of the exercise was to compare urban form/neighbourhoods, not walking catchments. I used an established metric. It is likely the a bigger catchment comparison would yield the same results.

        Kent

        p.s. I did my best to capture the walkways and alleys not represented in the streets data.

  • Mike Wilkinson

    An interesting post from Kent. Regretfully, I don’t think biking will ever be able to fully support public transport while the Government keeps its miguided laws requiring cyclists to wear helmets while riding. Originally conceived of as a way to make cycling safer, I think there are good arguments that it makes the sport both less safe and less popular than it should be.

    As evidence of it being less popular, witness the failure of bike hire schemes in Australia: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-04-13/helmets-the-weak-link-in-bike-hire-chain/393486

    If our Government adopts a wiser approach to the regulation of cycling, perhaps public transport will benefit, as well as other useful things like human health and the quality of the environment. Let’s wait with hope.

    Cheers,
    Mike

    • Louis

      Sorry Mike but I’ve heard this before and I don’t really agree with it. I’m very supportive in growing cycling. But this is rubbish. The requirement to wear cycle helmets is there for a good reason and is designed to save lives. I have high doubts that people don’t cycle because of helmet laws. The requirement to have seat belts doesn’t stop people from driving, does it?

  • KLK

    I have to confess to being a person who loves the idea of cycle lanes, would use them on weekends, but never during the week….because of the helmet.

    I just can’t bring myself to arrive at the office with hat hair. A vain and silly reason to not be a commuter cyclist, but a compelling reason (at least for me) nonetheless.

  • KLK

    Haha. Yeah, I know. Totally unreasonable….but after seeing people in Amsterdam look really cool cycling in the suits, a helmet would just ruin the look.

    Maybe I need to rethink things….

  • But the statistics don’t support either the claim that helmets make cycling safer or the claim that people don’t cycle because of helmet laws. Rather, in every country that has passed a mandatory helmet law, the number of cyclists subsequently dropped sharply, at a higher rate than any drop in cycling related head injuries.

    • When helmet laws were introduced the number of cyclists had already begun to drop sharply, particularly among children. Rates of cycling among adults are actually as high as they’ve been in living memory. The main reason our cycle rates are so poor is we, as a society, have stopped letting our children ride bikes to school and around the neighbourhood. Children and teens used to ride phenomenal amounts, now their rates are the same as older adults.

      I find it interesting that helmets are the big boogey man that are destroying cycling, yet over in Melbourne which has mandatory helmets and very high compliance cycling rates continue to skyrocket year after year, largely in response to funding of cycle infrastructure and the introduction of cycle provision into intersection standards.

      Sorry, but if you think having to wear a helmet is the primary thing that stops the average Aucklander leaping on a bike to get around your just crazy.

      Oh and by the way, yes it is true that helmets don’t prevent head injuries, so we wouldn’t expect to see a reduction in the rate of head injuries with helmet wearing. I know some people find this hard to understand but the purpose of helmets isn’t to stop people hitting their head. What helmets do is *reduce the severity of injuries that do occur*. This is a critical point. What it means is that if you take a dive on a bike with a helmet on you’re probably still going to get an injury that needs treatment, but you’ve got a much better chance of coming away with a mild concussion that only needs a little observation, that coming away with a permanent debilitating brain trauma.

      It’s much the same with seatbelts. Seatbelts don’t prevent car crashes and wearing them doesn’t stop people getting hurt in car crashes. But they do drastically reduce the severity of injury experienced in most car crashes.

  • Mike Wilkinson

    Sorry, Louis. Only just saw your comment. Statistics are available that most definitely support the conclusion that our helmet laws have decreased the amount we cycle. For example, have a look at the graph on p. 7 of this PDF: http://www.transport.govt.nz/research/Documents/How%20New%20Zealanders%20travel%20web.pdf The amount we cycle decreased substantially following the introduction of mandatory helmet laws in 1994.

    Your comparison with seatbelts is a useful one: as comments from KLK below indicate, seatbelts are much more convenient for people to wear than bike helmets. Helmets aren’t a part of a bike. The statistics demonstrate, it creates an issue for many potential cyclists to require them to use one when riding.

    Cheers,
    Mike

    • Sorry, what exactly does the graph on page 7 show? All I can see is that it shows people don’t cycle much. Where is the bit where it proves that helmet laws caused that? Surely you aware that correlation is not the same as causality. How about this:
      “The amount we cycle decreased substantially following the introduction of copyright law reform in 1994. Yep, this data conclusively proves that making it illegal to dub songs onto a cassette tape has destroyed cycling rates in New Zealand. All we need to do now is issue free tapedecks and blank tapes to teenagers everywhere and cycling will magically skyrocket.

      I have some nice statistics that show a very strong correlation between mean global temperature and the ages of piracy. Of course that doesn’t mean that pirates cause global warming.

  • Mike Wilkinson

    Completely agree, David. I’ve linked to some statistics below for readers who are interested. (It’s unfortunate that Louis isn’t a reader I’d describe as being so.)

    Cheer,
    Mike

  • Mike Wilkinson

    Sorry, Nick. You’re simply ridiculous being ridiculous when you go on about copyright laws and cycling and global temparatures and piracy. I’ll do you a favour and ignore it this obvious display of insecurity about your argument.

    Statistics only ever show correlation, whether than correlation is consistent with causation will always be debated. In this case, Louis stated that he had “high doubts” that people don’t cycle because of helmet laws. I merely pointed to some data that showed a drop off in cycling at the time of the introduction of the helmet laws. I entirely expected debate about whether the helmet laws caused the observed drop-off. However, the point of my reference was to question whether it’s improper for Louis to have the “high doubts” he says he does.

    I would encourage you to come down off your high-horse and engage in sensible debate with me on this issue. As I said, you look a bit insecure all the way up there. We wouldn’t want you to fall off, now. ;-)

    Cheers,
    Mike

    • Yes, I was intentionally being ridiculous Mike, to point out how unbased and likewise ridiculous your supposed data are. Pointing out the fact that helmet laws were introduced after cycling started to decline isn’t really much evidence of anything.

      If I sound like I’m on a high horse it’s because I previously worked in population health and covered this very topic in great depth. While I’m a cyclist and cycling advocate myself I can’t really understand why cycle advocates want more of their kind to suffer debilitating injuries. After a major head trauma it’s hard enough to walk let alone cycle.

      The simple fact is there are many example of our peer cities where cycle usage is increasing with helmet laws, and many many cities without helmet laws where cycling is in terminal decline. The only thing that removing helmet laws in New Zealand would achieve is more crippled and dead cyclists.

      And don’t worry about be falling off, I’ll have my helmet on as usual ;)

  • Helmets are a pretty vexed issue. However, some interesting aspects to consider covered here:
    *Motorists give helmet-wearing cyclists less room
    *Cyclists wearing helmets take greater risks
    *The decrease in cycling caused by helmet wearing both makes motorists less aware of cyclists
    *At a population level, the aggregate health benefits of less exercise across the population caused by less cycling is worse than the health costs due to head injuries
    *At an individual level, you are still better off wearing a helmet if you are cycling
    Some of this is covered here (audio link)

    • James, there is absolutely no evidence that helmet wearing decreases cycling. You’ve made a huge assumption there. In fact I would suggest the opposite is true. The decline in cycling made motorists less aware of the few remaining cyclists, which makes helmet wearing all the more important.

      Likewise the idea that cyclists wearing helmets take more risks, and that motorists give them less room. They are very popular tuisms that are thrown around like gospel by people that don’t like helmets, but there isn’t actually any good evidence to support that case.

      • Nick, any time anyone uses “absolutely” in a sentence, it’s either hyperbole or ill informed. The data that suggests that helmet wearing is circumstantial and statistical, but nonetheless, relatively compelling. Of the points I made above, it is probably the one for which the evidence is weakest.
        If you re-read my post, you’ll see that I actually make this point “The decline in cycling made motorists less aware of the few remaining cyclists, which makes helmet wearing all the more important”, so on that we agree.

        “They are very popular truisms that are thrown around like gospel by people that don’t like helmets, but there isn’t actually any good evidence to support that case.”
        a) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457506001540
        b) I like helmets. I recommended above that people wear them. The first time I visited Europe and was offered a bicycle (without helmet) to ride, I was fucking petrified. I still visit countries where I have the use of a bicycle without a helmet, and it still scares me (recently Santa Monica, Lisbon, Dijon). I still wear a helmet whenever I can (and *always* in NZ).
        c) Wearing a helmet seems so “commonsense” to me that I still find it quite conflicting to present a moderate contra-opinion, but the evidence is strong enough to me that it seems rational to have a debate about this, because it is not as clear cut as I once believed.

  • Mike Wilkinson

    Haha, I appreciate the humour, Nick. In your latest comment, you do sound a lot happier to chat. That makes my comments about high-horses not the ones that would help our debate. Please consider them retracted.

    I know a bit about major head trauma in cycling accidents: I sustained a severe diffuse traumatic brain injury in a traffic accident caused when a van cut me off while out cycling one day in 2005. If you don’t believe me, have a look here: http://www.3news.co.nz/Ironman-in-training-aims-for-the-near-impossible/tabid/367/articleID/145205/Default.aspx

    My cycling accident means you might struggle to find someone more passionate about cycle safety than me. I most definitely believe that, in all probability, NZ’s cycle helmet laws contributed to, rather than reduced, the amount of harm I suffered in my accident. I most certainly would have had a helmet on, even without NZ’s helmet laws (I wore one prior to their introduction in ’94). If the laws hadn’t reduced the number of cyclists on our roads, I believe the driver of the van would have been more familiar with operating a vehicle around bikes and not made such a hash of predicting my speed and intentions.

    If your keen for sharing of views on cycle safety, I look forward to your thoughts.

    Cheers,
    Mike

    • Well here is the rub, your comment: “If the laws hadn’t reduced the number of cyclists on our roads”. You’re going into the argument with the pre-assumption that helmet laws are the reason we have less cyclists on our roads. Me, I haven’t found any robust research that indicates that is the case, so I’m far from willing to draw that conclusion. In fact most of the reliable research points the other way to no causal relationship.

      So let’s break out my position. Yes I believe we have low cycling numbers, and yes I believe that the very low number of cyclists on our roads has negative effects on general road users skills/ability to share the road with cyclists. So naturally I believe the building cycling numbers, growing a ‘share the road’ culture among road users of different types will improve cycling injury outcomes.

      However I don’t think that helmet laws are the cause, primary or otherwise, of our low cycling numbers. The best evidence against this is the fact that the decline in cycling started before helmet laws were introduced. I personally believe helmet laws are a reaction to increase in cyclist injury that came with increase motorized vehicle usage, which was covariant with the decline in cycling. People started driving more and cycling less, and more cars with less bikes make cycling more dangerous.

      I don’t think that removing helmet laws will build cycle numbers appreciably, because generally speaking helmets aren’t a major reason why the population doesn’t cycle.

  • harminder

    I wonder if the weather affect the number of walkers/cyclists and bus/train users? Is there a seasonal pattern?

  • Mike Wilkinson

    Nick, you refer very vaguely to the “fact most of the reliable research points the other way to no causal relationship.” I showed you my research, if you reckon yours is up to measure, it’s time for you to stump up with it. Furthermore, you haven’t explained the failure of bike hire schemes in Australia, which some commentators blame on Australia’s cycle laws: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-04-13/helmets-the-weak-link-in-bike-hire-chain/393486

    While there may (or may not) have been a trend showing reducing numbers of cyclists (you’d do well to bring some data on this issue, too) before the helmet laws, that in no way rebuts thinking that helmet laws make cycle safety worse. Time to sharpen up your arguing, here.

    Finally, I do not expect removing helmet laws would make any sudden change to safety on our roads. This would only occur as drivers became more used to driving around cyclists. There will likely be some lag to any effect, even if we expect it to be positive.

    Cheers,
    Mike

    • Mike, while I think there is some possibility that helmets may have decreased cycle rates, I’m not sure that making helmets voluntary will lead to an increase in cycling. I think that this trend is likely to be uni-directional. It is similar to where if increasing petrol prices lead someone to change their mode of transport, a good proportion of people will like their new travel mode, find it easier than they expected and/or have sold their second car, so that if the petrol price goes back down, not everyone will revert to their old driving habits. Thus, I think cycling needs to be encouraged in other ways, and once we have a much greater number of people cycling, considering helmet exemptions for people using bike-share schemes, or for adults on certain routes might make sense. I note that in my European helmet-less cycling, the whole mode of cycling is different. The bikes are crappier, the pace is more genteel, there are a lot of bikes and a lot of bike lanes; whereas when I bike to work here, I’m frequently doing 50km/h and would never do it without a helmet.

  • Mike Wilkinson

    Hi James,

    Interesting comment. As I said in latest comment to Nick R, I do not expect cycle safety to improve quickly if our helmet laws were dropped: there would be some sort of lag involved as people’s habits on modes of transport do not change quickly. In relation to possible initiatives that encourage cycling, I think that removing helmet laws would work in tandem with, not as a substitute for, other approaches: whatever else we did, it wouldn’t be as effective unless we ended our helmet laws, too.

    I think that because I believe a big part of why European bikes may often be crappier is that it’s so much easier to go cycling: there’s higher demand, which means crappier bikes get used, there’s more cycle lanes, etc. There’s a feedback loop here one part of which involves stupid laws on helmets. Whatever else we do, that feedback will work more effectively, if we drop the helmet laws. Am I explaining myself well enough?

    Cheers,
    Mike

    • I think there may be other forces at play as well. Because helmets have been compulsory, this may have generated a perception that cycling without a helmet is unsafe (certainly I have this), which would mean that even if the helmet laws were dropped, people might now consider that cycling without a helmet is dangerous (in a way that they did not before it was compulsory) and still won’t cycle. The only two places where helmet laws have been relaxed have not been properly studied.

      European bikes are crappier because they get stolen more often and they are very much a getting from A to B utility (largely in flat cities; you’ll almost never see derailleur gears or a mountain bike).

  • KLK

    My comment re helmets putting me of cycling 9at least to work) was personal- I don’t think it contributes to taking cyclists off the road.

    If you want to get more cyclists, I would have thought the answer is simple – bike lanes, ideally with some physical separation from the cars. I know the leisure/competitive cylists don’t like them, but I’m not sure thats the market we are after; the average joe commuting from A to B every day.

  • Peter H

    I do wear a Helmet and I have got used to wearing a hi vis vest which makes me feel safer.
    But helmet safety benefits are more about perception and the facts are confused with politics,
    Real safety for cyclist comes from the removal of on street car parking which reduces crash rate by up to 75%, A flush medium can reduce cycle crash rates by 37% to 50%,Traffic calming reduces cyclist crashes by 38% and total crashes by 40%, Advanced limit lines for cyclist at intersections will lead to a 27% reduction in cyclist crashes and a 40% reduction in all crashes (these are from NZTA research report 389).
    But the most proven safety benefit comes from doubling the number of cyclist, which makes cycling a third safer.

  • I don’t drive so I quite often use a bike to get around. Hamilton is pretty good for biking.

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