Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for August 25th, 2008

2,865 bikes recovered from world’s most prolific cycle thief

with 9 comments

The Guardian

It is not often Canadian stories get noticed in the UK. But the Guardian has caught on to a story that has had the Toronto bike community talking for some time.

As with most theft, in order for there to be a market for stolen goods there needs to be a “fence” – and people who will buy things at prices well below their market value without asking questions about where they came from. In this case it sounds like there was a stake out. But I seem to recall that there has also been talk of using bait bikes in the same way that bait cars are used to catch car thieves.

The story also seems to lend credence to the idea that bike theft is organised and endemic. It is not just an opportunistic crime but a professional activity that needs to be taken seriously by law enforcement.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2008 at 10:20 pm

Small steps

leave a comment »

Vancouver Sun

Did you know that some Canadian banks will reduce your interest rate on a mortgage by as much as one per cent if you invest in certified Energy Star appliances, windows, or heating and cooling equipment in your house? That can add up to $2,000 in your pocket. Meanwhile, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation gives qualified homeowners a 10-per-cent green refund on mortgage loan insurance premiums if you buy or build an energy-efficient home, or make energy-saving renovations to existing homes. For more information:

Which, as far as it goes, is a good idea. But it des not go nearly far enough. Why not “location efficient mortages”? Transportation is a very large chunk of most household budgets. If someone can find a home close to work for at least one household member, than the savings of not owning a car are considerable, leaving the occupants more disposable income – just like the energy savings in an energy efficient mortgage. In fact I would hazard a guess that most families spend more on transportation than they do on electricity and heating fuel.

There is also a major social benefit too. It is more likely that people who live close to work will be healthier – if they walk or cycle to work. And they make less demand on the transportation system as well.

LEMs have been around for years in the US, and most lenders will notice if you have less outgoings such as no car payments. What is missing is the CMHC who control such things as mortage ratios (housing loan to income). Since they regulate the amount that people can spend on housing, but not on transport, current policies actually promote urban sprawl. And CMHC has been well aware of this for years. It is very much like the situation with ICBC and distance based insurance. Both very good ideas, both well suited to promote TDM and reduce GHG emissions, but in both cases an unresponsive bureaucracy blocks progress and gives very unsatisfactory explanations for their inaction.

And while we are on this tack, we hear a lot about LEED buildings but not nearly enough about LEED ND. It is fine to build energy efficient homes and offices, but if their location requires long commutes any benefit is very quickly eliminated.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2008 at 8:52 am

Bicycles on Transit – Contributor to New Mobility

with 6 comments

Jack Becker via the Trans-Action list

This week again provided the pleasure to listen to Gil Peñalosa. (  He is a dynamic speaker on walking and cycling for life providing good insights on the need to move to the new mobility.

During the evening lecture, Gil touched on the point of bicycles on public transit such as buses and rapid transit.  He argued that we should not be wasting our time advocating for taking our bikes on public transit.  He argued for bikes on both ends of transit trips, such as is so evident in Europe.  Whenever I go there, seeing the thousands of bicycles around transportation centres is such an inspiring sight.  It also reminds one of how far behind in sustainable cycling we are in North America, pathetically behind.

He argued that bicycle carrying capacity of buses and rapid transit systems, like SkyTrain here in Vancouver, will not do much to increase cycling mode share, an indicator of cycling traffic volumes.

His argument was focused on people travelling to their place of work using SkyTrain, in our metropolitan area.

So, all those people who want to take their bikes on Caltrain in the San Francisco area should be have two bikes and lockers at both end of their rapid transit trip instead of taking bicycles onboard.  Caltrans is having a demand on train for bikes, which exceeds capacity even with some of their trains accommodating 64 bikes.

As it happened during the week around his lecture, the local Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition was getting media attention, including newspaper, radio and TV, advocating for more bicycle space on SkyTrain and the Canada line, a new underground line being opened next year.  This is in addition to the VACC’s advocacy for secured bike storage spaces at SkyTrain and Canada Line stations.

Two Different Directions

Peñalosa’s lecture was an opportunity to reflect on two different strategies aimed at increasing the use of cycling for transportation in combination with transit.

Bicycles on transit vehicles should be looked at from the concept of the fit to new mobility and the needs of our cities for the next few decades.  Bicycles on transit vehicles should be viewed from the perspective of needs of people for alternate methods of travel to using a car, not just those who travel consistently to fixed place of work with rapid transit along the route.

The full needs of people were not addressed in his argument, just those who had a rapid transit system along their commuting route.  Rapid transit systems tend to be downtown-oriented, at least in Vancouver, while commuting to work and other travel patterns are moving away to more cross-metro trips.

His argument did not include the greater context of the fit of bikes on transit vehicles for people whose travel patterns to work changes regularly, whose travel pattern includes buses instead of rapid transit, who want exercise as part of going to work, of shopping, of commuting for other reasons, including meeting attendance, of local, regional, and extended touring, of recreational cycling, and of the effect of weather and of darkness and generally options to cycling both ways to their destinations.  The argument did not reflect on the enabling factors which a back-up transportation system provides to potential cyclists should a mechanical or personal body breakdown happen on route.

In Vancouver, cyclists are complaining that TransLink is not moving to three-bike racks for buses.  For some select bus routes such as the ones to the ferry docks, they are calling for much more capacity than that.  For a period when there was a ban on bikes being carried by the newly-arrived New Flyer buses after darkness fell due to the supplier not supplying buses which met the contract, cyclists’ complained as their commutes safety was compromised.  Lack of safe cycling facilities, bridges with inadequate cycling infrastructure, women cycling alone late at night from work were some of the complaints.  Headlights were improperly located on these buses and did not meet the provincial standard.  Darkness tends to set in Vancouver before homebound commutes during the winter months.

Are bikes on transit the only direction to increase cycling mode share?  Of course not but it does provide a linearity with sporadic trip decision options to cycling not available when a person is tied to some form of bike parking arrangements at two transit stations with two bikes, from unsecure bike racks to bike lockers to bike stations.  Bike share does provide a similarity in trip linearity, providing a bicycle is available and in working order without a three or more block walk to the next bike share station.  Bike on transit is just another flexibility along with bike share and secure, guaranteed bike parking at transit stations.  Each providing its contribution in increasing cycling traffic and in growth of the cycling mode share statistic.  Each will appeal to different people and make a contribution in enticing some of those who were identified in the Cycling in Cities study to move from their cars to cycling combined with transit instead.

Will There Be Space on Board Transit For You?  Or Drive Instead – The Choice

So, when you are not sure that there will be a space for your bike on the bus, on SkyTrain, or at a bike racks at the stations, what are you going to do?  Driving instead seems to be a logical solution.  Data from “Cycling in Cities” study of 2005 and 2006 ( ) seems to indicate that there are about 400,000 people in Metro Vancouver who would consider cycling for transportation, if only the facilities were to their liking, which includes transit.  Now, would it not be nice to attract at least 100,000 of these to using their bicycles or cycling and transit.  To put this in perspective, according to Census Canada 2006, there are about 1 million people living in Metro Vancouver who work.  Enticing these 100,000 people to cycling and transit would increase the cycling mode share by 10%.  Not bad, considering that Metro Vancouver’s cycling mode share is currently at 1.7% and has not changed in ten years, except for that blip to 1.9% in 2001 during a four-month transit strike, an indicator of cycling elasticity curve if a transportation condition is changed.

The Capacity Argument

Gil Peñalosa argument was that there was not sufficient capacity for bicycles on buses and SkyTrain to really change the cycling mode share.  With bike capacity fully utilized for buses and SkyTrain and with the VACC proposal for bike cars implemented, Metro Vancouver’s cycling mode share for transportation to work could increase up from the 2006 level of 1.65% to 11%.  If three bike racks on buses were implemented, then this statistic could increase to 13%.  Now, how do you get to this level, have people feel that there would be capacity there for their bicycle, and understand trip alternatives should in the infrequent cases the capacity be used up?  Realistically, it would be a significant move forward to get 50% usage of the potential carrying capacity.

In Vancouver, there are about 1,300 buses operating on the average 11 hours per day in 2006 and increasing.  2008 will see another 90 units added.  The fleet is 100% bike rack equipped except for a few West Coast Express buses.  The bus fleet has capacity to carry about 50,000 bicycles per day.  TransLink does not keep statistics on actual bike rack on buses usage.  Although the racks are not fully utilized, cyclists do experience bus bypass with the racks being full, especially on some routes.  The racks are used under any weather condition and time of day or night, from sunshine, warm days to miserable rainy ones or days with ice on the road.  If the bike rack spaces were fully utilized on each bus for the 11 hour of average daily bus service hour, the cycling mode share for bus riders would be about 9%.

On a radio TV interview last week, Drew Snyder of TransLink, Metro Vancouver and region transit and transportation authority, stated that cyclists with bikes on SkyTrain represent 0.5% of the SkyTrain ridership.  He did not mention that the traffic volume of cyclists using the SkyTrain was being restricted by TransLink, not by the demand of cyclists for that service.  He failed to mention that bicycle parking at many SkyTrain stations can be as little as 4 to 8 bicycles to maybe 130 bike lockers and a couple of bike racks at King George station.  He failed to mention that SkyTrain stations had signs warning that bicycles locked to the fence and to railing would be removed.  So, where is a cyclist to place a bike when the racks are full?  No other option but to take it on the train.  Then the SkyTrain system is constrained to anywhere from four to eight bicycles per train depending on configuration and restricted hours.  Now, there is only one SkyTrain station left where bicycles cannot be taken on.

Any solution of bicycles on SkyTrain requires more cars as the system is under capacity at rush hours.  Then, there are 49 cars due within the next two years to address the current demand shortfall allowing for more people to convert to using SkyTrain.

Theoretically, the SkyTrain system has capacity for about 10,000 bicycles per day on board the trains based on the average operating hours of SkyTrain cars, two bikes per car, and a turnover of twice per hour.  If each car were fully utilized for each hour of operation, then the cycling mode share with bikes on board for SkyTrain ridership would be about 5%.  According to TransLink, the current bikes on board represent 0.5% of the SkyTrain ridership.  This statistic is sometimes reported as part of Station Access Mode Share.  There is certainly room for growth.  Rush hour constraints take out four hours of peak demand per day in the rush hour direction.  This represents a cycling mode share opportunity loss of 0.5%.

If the VACC proposal for adding a half car to each train were implemented, then the capacity for each train would increase by about 20 bicycles.  This would translate into an opportunity for cycling mode share growth of 9% as a percentage of ridership, a significant number.

Maybe the way to satisfy peoples’ needs for flexibility and choice in combining cycling and transit is to provide all three options – secure bike parking at stations, increased bicycle carrying capacity on transit vehicles, and bike share.

Hans-Jurgen (Jack) E.H. Becker

Director, the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition

3303-1033 Marinaside Cr.

Vancouver, B.C., V6Z 3A3


Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2008 at 7:43 am

Posted in bicycles, transit