Special Report: Cycling

Cycling Infrastructure One of the Smartest Investments a City Can Make

Our decision-makers need to value cycling infrastructure for what it is: an incredibly cost-effective way of moving lots of people.

By Matt Pinder
Published December 23, 2015

Cycling infrastructure projects always seem to struggle to secure funding, while road capital projects costing in the millions slip through with minimal resistance. Recent trends have shown major interest in "big ticket" transit projects, with tens of billions of dollars committed to expanding transit in the GHTA.

While these are absolutely essential to our region and a major step forward, funding for active transportation projects seems to have taken the back burner. We've come to a point where a new $50 million GO station is seen as a godsend for a community, but a $1 million cycling project faces severe resistance.

The reality is that cycling infrastructure is one of the smartest investments a city can make. Higher rates of cycling improve public health, reduce harmful emissions of air pollution and greenhouse gases, and increase road throughput.

A Dutch study in 2012 found that for every additional kilometre travelled by bicycle, there is a net social gain of $0.25, whereas for every additional kilometre driven, there is a net social loss of $0.23.

Not only does more cycling bring a net benefit to society, cycling infrastructure is very cheap to build. In fact, cycling infrastructure moves more people for less money than highway and transit projects.

To illustrate this, I selected a handful of major projects undertaken or planned in the City of Hamilton and researched their capital costs and expected or current ridership. From this, I simply divided capital cost by daily trips to get Capital Expense per Daily Trip - essentially a crude way of assessing a project's value for money.

Comparison of capital expense per daily trip across major Hamilton projects (see below for assumptions and sources)
Project Capital Cost Daily Trips CapEx per Daily Trip
Cycling Master Plan $51.5 million 21,793 $2,363
Hamilton Bike Share $1.6 million 600 $2,667
Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) $245 million 80,000 $3,063
Cannon Street Cycle Track $867,000 250 $3,468
Hamilton LRT $1 billion 62,400 $16,026
West Harbour GO Station $50 million 450 $111,111

This analysis demonstrates many things. First of all, a full build-out of Hamilton's cycling master plan provides the best value for money of all the investments shown. On a per-user basis, the Cycling Master Plan is 30 percent cheaper than the Red Hill Valley Parkway, over 6 times cheaper than the Hamilton LRT, and nearly 50 times cheaper than the West Harbour GO Station!

Second, it demonstrates that cycling projects like Hamilton Bike Share and Cannon Street Cycle track show a competitive value for money, even though their ridership is lower than, say, a highway project. This is because the cost of cycling infrastructure is relatively quite low.

Third, the simplicity of this analysis begs a much deeper one. New transit projects may perform poorly under this analysis, but they also deliver value in other ways, like land value uplift, lower operating costs, and savings from automobile users who switch to transit.

On the other hand, a new highway may seem to be good value for money, but remember from above that encouraging more driving actually results in a net loss to society. For the Red Hill Valley Parkway alone, this could be $20 million per year (assuming an average trip length of 3km on the RHVP). An annual loss like that quickly cuts into the value of the project.

My message here is simple: our decision-makers need to value cycling infrastructure for what it is: an incredibly cheap way of moving many people. Cycling infrastructure is cheaper than highways and transit projects, and can be done on much shorter timelines.

The most valuable transportation investment we can make as a city is an accelerated build-out of the Cycling Master Plan.



Matt Pinder is a cyclist, driver, transit user, and proud graduate from McMaster University. Currently working as a transportation researcher, he is passionate about the future of mobility.


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By JasonL (registered) | Posted December 23, 2015 at 09:57:31

love this piece. The numbers aren't an exact science I know. Would have been interesting perhaps to see 'opening day' numbers for all projects.

Interesting however to consider that the Cannon Cycle track can see it's usage skyrocket many times over without costing the city any more money. The cost per user would drop dramatically as ridership grows.

RHVP and Linc however, with the current ridership are seeing some councillors want to spend $100 million or more to add a lane.
In other words, as usage grows, the price is driven way up and the cycle is endless.

We want our road capacity to remain as stable as possible while growing cycling, walking and transit usage as much as possible for the best financial outcome.

Of course, in reality here in the Hammer, city hall makes all modes virtually unusable and unsafe except for driving and perpetuates our financial straits with their poor planning.

Instead of spending the most on the modes that will cost the least in the decades to come, we spend the most on the mode that will need the most $ in the future.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted December 24, 2015 at 09:50:58 in reply to Comment 115817

Agree. One trip up to the Ancaster Meadows or the power centre off Mud Street/RHVP and you can see the problem with the car-centric mobility paradigm. The problem is the built form is now in place and it works against every other mode of mobility.

Fortunately, in the lower city much of the built form is pre-automotive and has been mangled to adapt to the needs of mass automobility. It can be scaled back, but it's like weaning an addict off drugs ... the Cannon Cycle track and SoBi are proof-of-concept projects.

The real challenge is figuring out how best to extend a system of cycle-tracks so a wider range of origins and destinations are connected in a way that current "marginal" riders feel is safe enough and convenient enough to make the modal shift (an old-hat argument on RTH, I know) ... the interim step is not necessarily getting "marginal" users to go car free, but substitute more KMs driven to cycling (or transit-riding or walking). Do that and the real cost of driving and its related infrastructure becomes apparent.

In fact, the puzzle is why councillors from the mountain, Stoney Creek, and Ancaster don't see already that the congestion in their areas is incredible compared to the lower city ... why? not because we lack density or potential demand for road space, but because we have a somewhat more favourable modal split ...

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By RobF (registered) | Posted December 24, 2015 at 10:20:38 in reply to Comment 115828

... that, and tens of thousands of manufacturing and steel jobs off Burlington Street have disappeared.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 23, 2015 at 14:57:41

Those figures for Cannon Street are more than a year out of date. Much higher numbers were given by Daryl Bender at a recent meeting of the Hamilton Cycling Committee. I'll see if I still have my notes from that meeting... no promises!

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By Matt Pinder (anonymous) | Posted December 23, 2015 at 17:14:05 in reply to Comment 115818

Please let me know if you find updated numbers! The article I found quoted a range of 250-400 bikes per day so I went for the low-end conservative estimate.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted December 25, 2015 at 15:09:41 in reply to Comment 115821

In one of the better summertime bike surveys, I saw what looked like 250 bikes per hour (counted 60+ bikes per minute during a 10 minute streetside traffic survey). Certainly an outlier, but there are days that go far beyond these estimates.

Let's hope that becomes more the norm.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-12-25 15:12:37

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By jorvay (registered) | Posted December 23, 2015 at 15:46:13 in reply to Comment 115818

I thought the same thing. I'm pretty sure the numbers were somewhere around the 400 mark.

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By stone (registered) | Posted December 24, 2015 at 01:39:21

Hamilton needs some cycling education to go along with any infrastructure, every single day I see adults riding on the sidewalk.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted December 25, 2015 at 15:03:47

Hello, I'm all for more bike infrastructure. Heck, even a car-free King Street with LRT, cycle track, and wider sidewalks.

But I need to point out that West Harbour GO capex ratio is grossly exaggerated simply because they rushed to open it a few years early for PanAm Games. The real use of West Harbour doesn't even begin yet.

With all-day GO service coming, as well as becoming an upcoming stop on an expanding Niagara route, the capex will likely fall to under $10,000 per daily trip in about ten years, if this routes receives the all-day GO service, especially after the A-Line LRT is built and Hamilton GO bus service is reduced (as the buses wear out, or reallocated to increase bus service on other routes).

Further reading:

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-12-25 15:14:00

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