London Ontario, like many North American cities is working quickly at upgrading and expanding their network of cycling paths. However the City have installed these facilities in a piecemeal fashion. Some newer sections of the Thames Valley Parkway, a network of paths of approximately 40 kilometres in length, are of a high standard. Yet some older sections contain serious safety problems. Similar problems exist on the City’s lengths of boulevard and on-road paths. Many of these paths are constructed for short distances then come to an abrupt end. Cyclists face the danger of being run over when seemingly helpful paths end and place cyclists close to high volumes of higher speed traffic not suitable for cyclists.
In some ways the notion of developing paths as quickly as possible makes some sense. Eventually all the discontinuous paths will be filled in. In the meantime many good quality facilities sit idle without much usage as they await some form of connection that will make them useful. The costly cycling path along Fanshawe Park Road in north-east London is an example of a project that was created but produced minimal usage by cyclists.
Even over three years after the Fanshawe Park Road cycling path was completed it still shows evidence of a bare minimum of usage by cyclists. It is not clear if the lack of usage is due to safety concerns because the path does not contain a physical barrier from motorized traffic. The posted maximum speed limit for Fanshawe park Road is 60 km/h but with a lack of enforcement the speed limit is generally exceeded. Also it could be due to a lack of connections with other paths. Or perhaps it is simply located in an illogical part of the City for cyclist use. And it could be a combination of all three, or other reasons. The reasons are simply unknown.
While the City of London continues to create cycling infrastructure there is no way for the average citizen to evaluate whether these costs are creating useful facilities. This is because there is minimal information regarding the usage or non-usage of City roads by cyclists. No help has been provided by the City to ensure that its citizens are informed by such data. This is in keeping with the City’s general behaviour of isolating itself from advice outside of its own Transportation and Planning Departments. Recent actions by City staff and its representatives threaten to dismantle many of the citizen advisory committees that provided some connection between the City and its citizens. These committees were not functioning efficiently partly because of interference by City staff and its refusal to allow the committees an independent voice at meetings.
In an attempt to improve on this lack of data, Gorski Consulting has reviewed its historical records of videotape taken along various roads in the City. Analysis was conducted of the video to extract the volumes of cyclists and pedestrians observed. This data has been tabulated in a spreadsheet which is shown below. The volumes are reported at a per hour basis.
The City map below shows where these videotaping sessions were located.
As can be seen in the above table, on average, there were 18 cyclists observed during the 12 videotaping sessions that were analyzed at six locations in the City. Higher cyclist volumes were observed along the Thames Valley Parkway such as the Pottersburg and Richmond sites (1,2,3 and 4). In contrast lower cyclist volumes were observed along the boulevard and on-road paths such as Wonderland (7) and Oxford (8,9). The Gainsborough site (5,6) also showed a lower level of usage but that path was very short and isolated from connections to other parts of the City’s path systems. Higher cyclist volumes were observed in old data obtained in 2007 at the Adelaide Street boulevard path (10,11,12).
One has to face the reality that an average of 18 cyclists per hour is not much when compared to the thousands of motorized vehicles that pass a similar location every hour. A reasonable approach is to ask why these volumes are so low and what can be done to improve cyclist volumes in the City. In many Cities cyclist traffic is far greater. The spending of infrastructure money on cycling paths that show minimal use without asking why this is happening is a wasteful endevour. At a time when climate change must be addressed and the health of the public could be greatly improved through cycling, more action must be taken to improve on cycling volumes in the City.
The above data has been obtained from observations during warm weather months. So cyclist volumes would be expected to be higher than during the cold winter months. But no information is available as to how much the cyclist volume falls during the winter season.
Physical infrastructure can be built but it requires maintenance to make cycling paths functional. Thus a concerted effort toward repairing path surfaces and clearing snow must be a top priority.
These are the kind of data that are needed for the public to obtain a better idea of the cycling volume within the City and whether the City’s money is being spent in the right direction. Much more data is needed and Gorski Consulting is endeavouring, when possible, to obtain and report it.