SFU study finds higher “Bike Score” in cities equals more cyclists on the road

March 16, 2016

By Allen Tung

Does simply having a bike-friendly city encourage cycling? Turns out, the answer is yes.

SFU health sciences professor Meghan Winters and a team of researchers studied 24 cities across Canada and the United States and found there was a link between the cities' “Bike Score” and the number of cycling journeys to work.

Bike Score, which Winters helped develop, measures whether a location is good for biking on a scale from 0–100 based on three environmental components: bike lanes, hills and destinations, and road connectivity.

The study, the first to apply Bike Score, found that in neighbourhoods and cities where there was a higher average Bike Score, more people cycled to work.

With every 10-unit increase in Bike Score there were, on average, 0.5 per cent more people cycling to work. This is a meaningful difference given the overall low prevalence of cycling in North American cities, which typically accounts for one to two 2 per cent of trips.

“Across all cities, including in Vancouver, we found there is higher cycling where there is more and higher quality cycling routes, fewer hills, and more destinations and amenities,” Winters says.

“Municipalities may not be able to change topography, but this work demonstrates cycling routes support more active travel. In particular, Bike Score may be useful as an indicator for city planners.”

In Vancouver, a city that has invested heavily into cycling infrastructure in the past decade, neighbourhoods with a 10-unit higher Bike Score had 0.8 per cent higher cycling mode share for work trips. 

Higher levels of active travel have been shown to be associated with lower traffic fatality risk, higher levels of physical activity, and lower rates of obesity and diabetes.

“More thoughtful urban design that encourages active transportation can create healthier communities,” says Winters. “This study confirms and quantifies what we’re seeing anecdotally in Vancouver and other cities regarding people’s cycling behaviour.”

Winters adds the City of Vancouver’s recent acquisition of the Arbutus Corridor lands from the Canadian Pacific Railway could improve Bike Score in parts of the city. 

The corridor, which the city has identified for a future greenway, travels through low-scoring neighbourhoods where there isn’t as much cycling infrastructure.

“Investments like the Arbutus greenway would change Bike Scores and this research brings evidence of a link between Bike Score and cycling rates."