A reasonable question often asked is whether there are benefits from cycling infrastructure to anyone other than those few currently riding bikes.
While there are a number of well-demonstrated benefits, let’s focus this on Laurier Blvd. Laurier is an “urban corridor” in transportation parlance, yet it didn’t start out that way. In the beginning it wasn’t connected to either California or Stewart – it was a family-friendly neighbourhood residential street. Today, it carries neighbourhood traffic, through traffic between Stewart and California and emergency response traffic from the firehall, and is described by some as a “NASCAR” track.
The Official Plan calls for Laurier to become a cycling spine route, because it has a paved width of four lanes, connects all the neighbourhoods north of the 401 to the Brock Trail, and traffic volumes only warrant the two travel lanes currently provided.
When the protected two-way bike lane is installed on either the north or south side,taking one lane’s width of road space, there will be three lane’s worth of pavement remaining – one for on-street parking and two for travel. The cross-section will be the same as the one shown here (one of the case studies in the first study linked below).
As well, a signalized pedestrian crossover (PXO) is planned for Laurier at Bridlewood, part of the Brock Trail network extension from Laurier to Centennial.
What does the evidence suggest as the most likely benefits? Drawing on recent studies such as the National Institute of Transportation and Communities study, this survey from Toronto, the featured study in the American Journal of Public Health, and a field guide from the National Association of Realtors (USA), we can project with reasonable confidence that:
- The first benefit to those who don’t currently choose to ride a bike is that many will! Studies tell us that a very small percentage people are “strong and fearless” riders (<1%) or “enthused and confident” riders (7%). They’re out there on Laurier already. They’re not the ones we’re doing it for. Neither are we doing it for the “no way no how” (33%) of people who aren’t likely to get on a bike again. Rather, a protected bike lane will create an invitation to the “interested but concerned” (60%) of people who would choose to ride if appropriate infrastructure were in place. And, their kids. And, their parents. As this segment ventures out on bikes again, the health and other benefits become realized.
- The next benefit is for those driving cars along Laurier. With a protected bike lane occupying one lane’s width of paved road, the road will still have two travel lanes, one in each direction, and a full lane’s width for parking along the other side. The carrying capacity of Laurier will be the same. Turning lanes are preserved at Stewart as well as Windsor. However, the visual narrowing of the roadway’s apparent width will slow and calm traffic. Additionally, the increase in visible numbers of people cycling will slow and calm traffic. Calmer (slower) traffic is shown to reduce incidence of collisions and injuries of all types.
- The PXO at Bridlewood will also calm traffic.
- Calmer (slower) traffic will make it easier for residents to get in and out of driveways, and easier for those entering Laurier from side streets. As well, there will be less risk for the current school crossings at Dana and Kensington.
- Calmer traffic means less air and noise pollution.
- For those choosing to drive, each person choosing to ride a bike is one less car in front of you, one less car contending for parking.
- As traffic calms and more people choose active mobility, Laurier becomes more attractive to families once again, and property values will slowly rebound. A decade of experience collected by the National Association of Realtors backs this. As property values rise, long-term owners looking to downsize will benefit, and the City will benefit over the longer term as property tax increases slowly phase in.
- With an off-road cycling route from neighbourhoods north of the 401 all the way to the waterfront, those choosing to ride bikes to a festival or event not only avoid parking hassles, they free up parking for out of town visitors, helping our tourism draw.
Of interest, the 2014 Share the Road survey of adult Ontarians, done by Stratcom, reveals that 66% of Ontarians agree that getting more people on bikes more often benefits everyone, not just cyclists.
These outcomes were also found in the National Institute of Transportation and Communities study. When residents living along corridors with protected bike lanes were surveyed,
- 83% agreed that “Facilities that encourage bicycling for transportation are a good way to improve public health”
- 75% said they, “would support building more protected bike lanes at other locations”
- 43% said that, “Because of the protected bike lanes, the desirability of living in my neighborhood has increased”