Evaluating Bikeway Criticisms

Critics argue that Victoria’s bikeway program is inefficient and unfair. A new report, “Evaluating Bikeway Criticisms” examines these claims.

By Todd Litman

Summary of Findings

Victoria is building an All Ages and Abilities (AAA) bike network to help achieve various community benefits. Although most residents seem to support this plan there are vocal critics. Critics argue that bikeways are unnecessary, wasteful, and unfair. These claims are inaccurate or greatly exaggerated.

A significant and growing portion of Victoria residents bicycle. In 2017, 7% of total trips were by bike, with higher rates under congested conditions. Victoria has more adult bicycles than cars, more than a quarter of residents bicycle at least occasionally, and more would do so if riding conditions improved. Experience demonstrates that bikeways significantly increase bicycle travel, and their costs are usually repaid many times over through vehicle and infrastructure cost savings, health and equity gains, improved environmental quality, and economic benefits.

In 2017, 7% of total trips and 11% of peak-period trips in Victoria were by bicycle. These shares have probably increased since.

Critics ignore the high costs that vehicle traffic imposes on urban neighborhoods and the large benefits provided by shifts to active modes. Because of their large size, speed and risk, cars impose more than ten times the infrastructure, crash and environmental costs as bicyclists travelling to the same destinations. These impacts are particularly large in compact cities like Victoria.

Critics exaggerate the negative impacts of bikeways and ignore potential benefits. Bikeways may slow some car trips, although far less than critics claim, but by improving active travel conditions they increase walking and bicycling trips, and reduce traffic problems, benefiting everybody, including motorists. Extensive research indicates that residents in walkable and bikeable neighborhoods are safer, healthier and happier, and spend less on transportation. An honest appraisal considers all of these impacts.

Critics are wrong to claim that Victoria’s bikeway investments are excessive and unfair. Bikeways use about 3% of road space, compared with 35% devoted to vehicle parking and 38% devoted to arterial traffic lanes that serve higher-speed vehicle traffic and are unsuitable for most bicycling. Less than 7% of Victoria’s current roadway spending and less than 2% of total road and parking facility spending is devoted to bicycle facilities. This is far less than the portion of residents who currently bicycle or our mode share targets. In contrast, more than 90% of Victoria’s road space and transportation spending is devoted to facilities that primarily serve automobiles, although they have only 63% mode share. Overall, bicyclists subsidize motorists and Victoria residents subsidize out-of-town car trips. That is unfair.

To be efficient and equitable, transportation planning should favor affordable, healthy and resource-efficient modes, such as active and public transport, over expensive, dangerous and resource-intensive modes such as private automobile travel. Our current transport system fails to do this, which increases costs to users and communities. We can do better.

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