Friday 3 January 2014

Choose where to live with cycling and your commute in mind

Summary: The biggest factor in whether people ride bikes for getting around is the location of their home in relation to safe cycling routes and the places they visit most often. Choose an inner-city location close enough to the places you visit regularly and you'll find you gravitate toward cycling for its sheer convenience and advantages.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by John Talbot

1. Live closer to your main destinations or the inner city
- Typically, the further out a suburb is from the city centre the more car-centric the lifestyle is. Everything is more spread out, it's daunting to walk or ride and there are few, well-connected bicycle-friendly roads or paths available.

- How safe and convenient it is to cycle to your destinations from where you live is likely the greatest factor affecting whether you'll take advantage of the potential benefits of cycling. So while it may seem like changing where you live/study/work is difficult, it is the key to unlocking these benefits.

2. Those with the most to gain from cycling should move to a better location
- If you're a person who, in your current circumstances, stands to gain a lot out of cycling, you should seriously consider moving to a cycling-friendly location. The potential gains may be financial, an improved lifestyle, better health, saving time or greater enjoyment.

- At various times, circumstances will change that make it easier/harder to take advantage of cycling for transport. E.g. Starting/ending studying, having a child, changing jobs, needing more/less space, selling your car. Thus at the times it is easiest to take advantage of cycling it makes sense to move to a location where you can do so. E.g. In choosing where to study and where to live in relation to it, being able to cycle should be a key consideration.

- For young people (whose circumstances change often), having flexibility with respect to your key destinations (study, work, social) is critical. Therefore, it makes sense to rent and not buy a house that is likely to be further from the inner city and prevents you moving easily.

3. Commuting is the biggest reason to choose where you live and work carefully
- Cycling as your commute to work offers major potential benefits in enjoyment, health, wealth and convenience. You should carefully consider where to live based on your commute.
See: The real costs of commuting by car are insanely high

4. Use Google Maps to identify the most cycle friendly cities and parts of cities
- Both in deciding between cities and choosing where to live within them, using Google Maps cycling layer to show the extent of cycling-friendly routes is an extremely efficient and reliable way to aid your decisions.

- Here are the cycling-friendly routes in Perth's suburbs just north of the city centre:
Google Maps cycling layer for Perth's inner-north suburbs

- And here are the cycling-friendly routes in Melbourne's suburbs just north of the city centre. As you can see Melbourne's cycling routes are higher quality, denser and better connected:
Google Maps cycling layer for Melbourne's inner-north suburbs

- But Melbourne's suburbs immediately south/south-east of the city centre are much less cycling-friendly:
Google Maps cycling layer for Melbourne's inner-south and south-east suburbs

- Naturally, geography, property prices, demography, local government policies and current cycling rates all factor into this. Nevertheless, the Google Maps are pretty accurate indicators of cycling-friendly infrastructure/routes and actual popularity.

- E.g. If you had never been to Australia but were about to move here and had job opportunities in each major city (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide) and used Google Maps cycling layer as your only means of comparing locations you'd conclude the northern inner-city suburbs of Melbourne are currently the most cycling-friendly places to live and you'd be correct.

- However, often the difference within cities is greater than the difference between them.
E.g. If choosing based on cycling infrastructure and routes alone, then the inner south-west suburbs of Sydney are superior to the inner-south and south-east suburbs of Melbourne.
Google Maps cycling layer for Sydney's inner south-west suburbs

5. Use Google Maps to ensure proximity to critical cycling routes if outside the most dense areas
- Inner-city areas (<5km) are perfect for those who can afford to rent there. Melbourne's inner-north suburbs (e.g. Carlton North, Fitzroy North, Clifton Hill) are so dense and well-connected with bicycle-friendly routes you don't need to worry too much about precisely where is best connected.

- However, once outside the most dense, connected areas the existence of direct, safe, efficient cycling routes and your proximity to them makes a big difference to how likely you are to ride.

- E.g. In the suburbs further north (5-10km) of the Melbourne city centre there are far fewer direct, efficient, well-connected cycling routes. (The key ones needed being lengthy, North-South and East-West corridors). Below you can see how which part of the suburb to live in can make a big difference to how safely and quickly you can connect up with the green, efficient cycling corridors.
Google Maps cycling layer for Melbourne's mid-north (5-10km) suburbs

- Because the trip distances are likely to be longer the further you are from the inner city, it's even more vital that the key North-South and East-West cycling routes are fast and safe to get to from your home. Note: Winding routes along parks or rivers are lovely for recreation but not usually ideal for transport (though it's worth testing them out for time-saved vs safety/pleasure). However, for map-based evaluations, you should focus on the straight, direct routes for transport.

6. Choose a local area whose council is a leading investor in bicycle infrastructure
- In countries like Australia there is a considerable difference in the level of investment in bicycle infrastructure between local governments. High, sustained investment over several years is likely to make that area safer and more convenient to ride, including in ways that don't show up on Google Maps (e.g. bike parking, traffic calming, bike priority at intersections, etc).

- In Melbourne, the Bicycle Expenditure Index (BiXE) maintained by Bicycle Network is a good guide on the local areas with the highest, sustained bicycle investment. Unsurprisingly, Yarra (inner north east sector on Google Maps) has a 5 year average at the top while Stonnington (inner south-east sector on Google Maps) has a very low 5 year average.

- The Bicycle Network provides detailed progress on all Victorian local government areas. See the Metropolitan Councils page and compare the reports for Melbourne City Council and Yarra City Council with Maribyrnong City CouncilStonnington City Council and Moreland City Council. It is clear which areas are better for cyclists. If you live in an under-performing council and can't easily move you should contact your council to ask why the investment is so low.

BiXE 2012 report

Further Info & References:
1. More cyclists? That depends on where you live

2. Rideable - cycle visualisations
- Cycling data, infographics and visualisations for Sydney commuters.