New research reinforces the importance of the built environment to cycling mode share

By Bill Holloway
A recently published study sheds new light on the importance of the built environment in influencing bicycle commuting and the resulting impacts on greenhouse gas emissions.
The researchers first gathered household travel survey data for the years 1998, 2003, and 2008 for residents of Montreal. They then generated neighborhood typologies, dividing the city of Montreal into a 500-meter grid and assigning each cell to one of five neighborhood typologies, ranging from downtown to outer suburb, based on population density, employment density, cycling network density, public transit accessibility, and land use mix.
The authors found that both the most and least densely developed areas were associated with less bicycling, while urban and urban-suburb neighborhoods had higher rates. Downtown neighborhoods had the lowest level of bicycle commuting of all areas studied, with residents 58 percent less likely to bike to work than those living in urban-suburb neighborhoods. However, the walking mode share in downtown neighborhoods was much greater than in other areas.
The researchers also estimated the effect of bicycle infrastructure accessibility on cycling mode share, comparing the 2008 mode shares on the Montreal bike network at the time (603 km) with the estimated mode shares on the city’s 2014 network (648 km). They estimated the effect of the new bicycle infrastructure as yielding a 1.7 percent reduction in transportation GHG emissions, roughly equivalent to the estimated effects of replacing the city’s buses with hybrid models and electrifying the city’s commuter trains, a much costlier strategy.
Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.