Wednesday 5 February 2014

The distance of your common trips does matter or you need good connections with public transport

Summary: Cycling advocates sometimes downplay the distance of people's urban trips or the dependence on connecting up with public transport in arguing that changes to cycling infrastructure, laws and culture can increase cycling rates. But distance and intermodality is critical, especially when starting out. This post provides some key threshold figures and pragmatic advice on how citizens can tackle the distance obstacle.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Diego Torres Silvestre
Related Posts:
Choose where to live with cycling and your commute in mind

1. Cycling advocates sometimes downplay trip distance (or connecting to public transport) as barriers to cycling for transport
- Advocates sometimes downplay trip distance as a barrier because there are potential solutions, particularly intermodal trips - riding to the train/tram/bus stop and then catching public transport. However, this means that public transport must be available, efficient, convenient, affordable and facilitate cycling intermodal usage in addition to the normal stand-alone, cycling challenges. See: > Busting Urban Sprawl Myths, > Average commute lengths in Toronto, Canada

2. Not all cycling trips are equal - distance and dependence on public transport matters
- The key fact that emerges from analysis of trip distance in cities/suburbs with high cycling rates is that the average cycling trip distance is quite low and falls off massively at longer distances. Almost no-one cycles more than 15km one way in their commute to work/study.

Copenhagen Bicycle Account 2010 (Cycling Embassy of Denmark)

- In the above table you can see that for commuting trips under 2km, 35,000 people in Copenhagen cycle and 30,000 walk. From a liveable cities or congestion perspective these cycling trips aren't that important. If those 35,000 walked instead (making the overall cycling rate considerably lower) that would be no worse a situation; so cycling rates for very short distances are not improvement indicators. However, if a cycling trip is substituting for car use or a spot on congested public transport in peak time then that is a more valuable contribution.

- At more than 10km, less than 20% cycle; at more than 15km, less than 1% cycle. So there is a big drop off as the distance increases beyond 10km. People who use their bikes in the outer suburbs are more likely to do so to get to public transport.

- The takeaway lesson for mainstream residents interested in the advantage of cycling in cities like Melbourne is that their ideal cycling distances for frequent* trips (like commuting) should be 6km or less. And their likely feasible limit, especially where time is important, should be less than 10km.
*Longer distances are certainly feasible but typically occur only for less frequent trips (e.g. recreation).

3. Trip distance does massively influence whether people will walk or cycle
- The fact that cycling trip distance is important and there are key thresholds shouldn't come as a surprise. Everyone walks and so we all know that we are happy to walk for short distances but most of us aren't beyond a certain limit (~2-4km). So we'll readily concur with statistics like the below:

Better Transportation Options=Healthier Lives (New Public Health)

- The same applies to cycling trip distances. As the distance gets longer, fewer people are prepared to cycle. The data from all cities is very consistent that most cycling trips are under 5km. Below are Toronto's figures:

Mapping cycling behaviour in Toronto (Toronto Cycling)

4. Start by focusing on your common trips that are less than 6km (2 to 6km)
- Instead of seeing cycling for transport as some major leap, start by identifying suitable trips of 2 to 6km that you might be able to cycle. For trips less than 2km walking is often a better and more flexible option. But 2 to 6km is the sweet spot for urban cycling - there is no significant time disadvantage, virtually everyone is fit enough to do it, any working bike can make the distance and you're likely to find it convenient and comfortable.

- This often won't include your entire commute to work. It may include trips to shops or local businesses, errands and social occasions/destinations. The important thing is to start with whatever trips are easiest. The main challenge is finding safe routes. See: > Characteristics of safe cycling routes

5. If your work/study commute is too far to ride, cycling to public transport may still offer big benefits
- Few urban cyclists commute more than 10km to work anywhere in the world. However, in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark many do cycle to public transport - particularly train stations. Intermodal trips are specifically catered for with safe cycling routes and ample, efficient bike parking at train stations. While countries like Australia have less facilities it is usually still feasible due to the very low current demand, so investigate it.

- If by cycling to public transport you are able to eliminate having to commute by car, the overall benefits will be significant. There may be no or little time and inconvenience penalty and the financial and health benefits are considerable. See: > The real costs of commuting by car are insanely high

- If you drive to public transport currently, cycling instead may ultimately eliminate the need for one car in your household. So there may still be significant financial and health benefits.

6. If the distance of your common trips (especially work/study) is prohibitive you should consider changing where you live or work/study
- Given the typical distance statistics for cycling trips, if cycling for transport has large potential benefits for you, you should consider making changes such that your cycling trip distances become feasible. See: > Choose where to live with cycling and your commute in mind

What does the census tell us about cycling to work? (Charting Transport)

- If your common trip distances will remain over 6km, these investigations and decisions should factor in public transport connections (e.g. safe, direct routes to train stations on lines that connect to your key destinations). Effective connections to public transport can solve the distance problem for many residents outside the inner-city.

7. Effective public transport access may differ greatly between and within cities but by cycling you can potentially get access without paying a walkability premium
- For those considering cycling for transport, if your work/study trips are going to be longer than 6km then research suburbs with effective public transport that you might cycle to. In Australia, the availability and quality of public transport can differ significantly. But remember that existing statistics reflect mostly access without bikes, so are skewed to high density areas where people can walk to public transport.

- By cycling to public transport options you can expand the potential, affordable areas to live that are well-suited to safe, local cycling and still have effective public transport access. However, as the graph below shows, your specific public transport option has to be effective - if there are time, convenience and reliability penalties, you won't want to use it.

Public transport in Australian cities (

- Also note that the ability to connect cycling with public transport (or your preferred type) naturally depends on the city and the area within that city you reside:

What does the census tell us about cycling to work? (Charting Transport)

Further Info:
16 Of The Best Transport Infographics On The Web

Better Transportation Options=Healthier Lives

State of Copenhagen Congestion - Part 4

Copenhagen Bicycle Account 2012 (Cycling Embassy of Denmark)

What does the census tell us about cycling to work?

A look at Melbourne CBD transport

Commuting in Australia (New Geography)

Melbourne: Updated frequent network map reveals grid gaps

Bike Portland: Five surprises in a comparison of Portland and Dutch travel choices