The Cannon cycle track proves that with high-quality infrastructure design and routine maintenance, it is possible to dramatically increase the number of bicycle trips without any downside for other road users.
By Ryan McGreal
Published April 10, 2017
This article has been updated.
Overlooked in all the light rail transit (LRT) hoopla over the last couple of weeks, the April 3, 2017 Public Works Committee meeting received an update on the Cannon Street Cycle Track, and it's a good-news story. (It's item 5.3 in the agenda, but we can't link directly to it for the usual reason.)
Peak daily summer ridership on the cycle track has increased from 580 cyclists in 2016 to 700 cyclists in 2017, and peak daily winter ridership has increased from 75 cyclists a day in 2016 to 200 cyclists a day in 207.
This is based on a counter that was installed on Cannon west of Bay Street North on December 11, 2015 and west of Victoria Avenue North on January 19, 2016. The Bay Street counter recorded 52,231 trips for the year of 2016 and the Victoria counter recorded an impressive 158,170 trips.
One important note on these counts: based on an analysis of Hamilton Bike Share data for Cannon and York Streets that I conducted last August, most bike share trips that use Cannon are short and local. The average total trip distance was 2.92 km, with an average distance of 0.65 km along a segment of Cannon.
As a result of this observed cycling behaviour, the two counters the city uses actually miss most of the bike trips that use the cycle track, so the reported numbers significantly under-report total ridership.
Pehaps most impressive is the large year-over-year increase in peak winter cycling along the Cannon Cycle Track. Of course, some of this is due to the relatively mild winter we've just had, but last winter was also relatively mild - especially compared to the brutal previous winter.
Cyclists on Cannon Cycle Track in winter (RTH file photo)
Surely some of the credit for the sustained number of winter cyclists must go to the City's commitment to ensuring the Cannon Cycle Track is cleared of snow in a timely fashion.
Meanwhile, the staff report also reviews the cycle track's impact on driving. In a counterintuitive but common result, automobile traffic flow has actually improved with the introduction of the cycle track.
AM peak travel time along the corridor improved from 7.6 minutes before the cycle track was installed to 5.0 minutes after. PM peak travel time declined only very slightly from 6.4 minutes before the cycle track was installed to 6.6 minutes after.
Another interesting observation is that the peak automobile volumes declined in both AM and PM peak hours after the cycle track was installed. East of Bay Street, AM peak volume deceased from 1,576 vehicles/hour to 1,254, and PM peak volume decreased from 2,169 vehicles/hour to 1,720.
|AM Peak Travel Time (min)||7.6||5.0||-2.6|
|PM Peak Travel Time (min)||6.4||6.6||0.2|
|AM Peak Volume (veh/hr)||1,576||1,254||-322|
|PM Peak Volume (veh/hr)||2,169||1,720||-449|
It is interesting to note that total automobile traffic volumes have decreased since the cycle track was installed. There are a few possible interpretations:
The important thing to note is that vehicle traffic volumes are not rigid and fixed, as many people assume. They are fluid and respond dynamically to the environment via the law of induced demand.
At bottom, the law of induced demand is quite simple and obvious: when you make it safer, easier and more comfortable to do something, people do more of it.
It should come as no surprise that the absolute number of vehicle-bicycle collisions has gone up since the cycle track was installed, since the number of cyclists along each segment of Cannon increased from roughly zero to several hundred a day.
The number of vehicle-cyclist collisions on Cannon increased from an average of 6.2 per year in the five years before the cycle track was installed to 16 in the first year and 10 in the second year.
The reduction from year one to year two is likely due to a combination of factors. For one, during 2015 city staff implemented some improvements to the cycle track to add pavement markings through intersections. This increased the visibility of the cycle track at the main conflict points - where left-turning drivers have to cross the path of cyclists riding through the intersection.
Intersection pavement markings on Cannon Cycle Track at John (RTH file photo)
Another important factor is increased driver awareness of the cycle track and the presence of cyclists as people have gotten used to the new cycling facilities. An important aspect of this is the well-demonstrated safety in numbers effect: as the number of cyclists goes up, the risk of injury goes down.
Given the huge increase in the number of people riding bikes on Cannon, the risk of a vehicle-bike collision on Cannon has actually plummetted.
Meanwhile, the number of vehicle-pedestrian collisions has remained roughly the same, from an average of 4.6 per year in the five years before the cycle track was installed to 7 in the first year and 2 in the second year.
Similarly, the number of vehicle-vehicle collisions has also remained the same - from an average of 46.6 per year in the five years before the cycle track was installed to 44 in each of the first two years after.
|Prev 5 Yrs||Yr 1||Change||Yr 2||Change Yr 1||Change from Prev 5|
When the Cannon Cycle Track was presented to Council with a budget of $867,200, some Councillors objected to such a high cost for something that is to be used by cyclists.
The good news is that staff have been able to contain costs so effectively that the project is currently $343,100 under budget. To date, staff have spent only $524,100 on the cycle track. That's an impressive 39.6 percent savings below the budgeted cost.
The report explains that staff were able to realize these savings by reducing the cost of traffic modifications (pavement markings, signs and traffic signals), reducing the use of consultants for design work, and eliminating the contingency and administration costs.
Given the recent auditor's report on consultant cost overruns, this is very welcome news.
All in all, the Cannon cycle track has been a real success, proving all the naysayers and concern trolls wrong about its cost, usage, and impact on driving.
With high-quality infrastructure design and routine maintenance, it is possible to dramatically increase the number of bicycle trips without any downside for other road users - and at minimal cost.
This is true even in Hamilton, whose squelchers insist against all evidence that Hamilton is somehow so different from every other city on earth that universal principles of good urban design somehow won't work here.
Update: updated to add a section on the project cost coming in 39.6 percent under budget. Thanks to KevinLove for pointing this out in the comments.
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