Canada's First Bikeability Index scores Greater Vancouver neighbourhoods on bike-friendliness

New tool will help urban planners and municipalities identify the most effective ways to improve conditions for cycling - and help home buyers choose healthier neighbourhoods

VANCOUVER, June 27, 2011 /CNW/ - Bike lovers in Vancouver might just be picking their next home based on how bikeable the neighbourhood is, thanks to a new tool which scores neighbourhoods based on bike-friendliness.

A team of University of British Columbia researchers, funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, have created Canada's first Bikeability Index, a unique tool which scores neighbourhoods on how bike friendly they are.

The Index scores neighbourhoods in five areas: bicycle facility availability; bicycle facility quality; street connectivity; topography; and land use. Researchers layered the results to create maps using geospatial technology, to identify areas with good cycling conditions and areas that need improvement. The Index is based on a public opinion survey, travel behaviour studies, and focus groups looking at key factors that influence cycling habits.

"Having healthy citizens starts with building great cities. Cycling is a healthy, active, environmentally friendly way to travel," says lead researcher Meghan Winters. "The overall Bikeability score can guide local action to improve cycling environments and stimulate changes in cycling rates through the design of healthier communities."

The Bikeability scores can inform local planning to improve cycling and encourage active lifestyles. City planners can use the Index to identify and prioritize locations for new infrastructure for cycling and engage the public in planning processes for the promotion of cycling.

Bikeability Index finds marked differences in bike-friendliness across Greater Vancouver

The City of Vancouver is currently developing bike pathways which are separated from traffic, with the goal of making cycling easier and safer. According to the City of Vancouver, cycling is the fastest growing choice of transportation. Approximately 60,000 bike trips are made on a bike every day, and over 3,500 cyclists commute to work downtown every day. How neighbourhoods are designed can have an impact on just who will be rolling into work on two wheels.

"We used to say we are what you eat but we are increasingly becoming aware that this old adage is only part of the equation," says Manuel Arango, director of health policy, Heart and Stroke Foundation. "The way communities are designed have a tremendous influence on people's levels of physical activity - to the extent that we can now say, 'You are where you live.'"

The Bikeability maps comparing Greater Vancouver neighbourhoods can be seen at this link: http://www.cher.ubc.ca/cyclingincities/tools.html.

The Bikeability Index finds that the cities of Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster have denser bicycle infrastructure, which can increase connectivity, compared to other municipalities. Rural areas such as Delta also have good topography but low scores for destination density, reflecting land use practices that do not encourage trips by bicycle.

There is not just between-city variability, but also within-city variability. While Vancouver scores well for bikeability in comparison with other municipalities, there is variability between neighbourhoods within the city. Downtown scores well for separated bicycle facilities, and Downtown and the surrounding neighbourhoods also score well for bicycle route density.  However, areas to the southeast (Kensington-Cedar Cottage, Renfrew-Collingwood) have good connectivity and destination density, but lower scores for bicycle facilities.

"This illustrates that there is room to improve cycling conditions within Vancouver, and these maps suggest area-specific strategies to consider," says Dr. Winters.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research are extending funding so that by 2012 residents in cities across Canada will be able to click and zoom on their local maps, and see whether their neighbourhood or the location of their prospective new home supports cycling. If Canadian municipalities are interested in potential partnerships, they are encouraged to contact the research team at the University of British Columbia.

"Mapping bikeability provides a powerful visual aid to identify zones that need improvement to support healthy travel choices," says Dr. Nancy Edwards, Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Population and Public Health. "Cycling is an active and sustainable transportation option with great health benefits, including reductions in air pollution, obesity and chronic diseases, and increased fitness."

June is Bike Month.

Canadian Institutes of Health Research
For the past 10 years, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has supported better health and health care for Canadians. As the Government of Canada's health research investment agency, CIHR enables the creation of evidence-based knowledge and its transformation into improved treatments, prevention and diagnoses, new products and services, and a stronger, patient-oriented health-care system. Composed of 13 internationally recognized Institutes, CIHR supports more than 13,600 health researchers and trainees across Canada.

Heart and Stroke Foundation
The Heart and Stroke Foundation, a volunteer-based health charity, leads in eliminating heart disease and stroke and reducing their impact through the advancement of research and its application, the promotion of healthy living and advocacy. (heartandstroke.ca)

SOURCE HEART AND STROKE FOUNDATION OF CANADA

For further information:

Media inquiries:
Kathryn MacLeod
Heart and Stroke Foundation
604.737.3402
KMacLeod@hsf.bc.ca

David Coulombe                  
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
613-941-4563               
mediarelations@cihr-irsc.gc.ca


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