Guide to Best Practices

Predicting Potential Nonmotorized Travel

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Predicting Potential Nonmotorized Travel

A number of specific factors can affect demand for nonmotorized transport in a particular situation.13 These include:

  • Attractions. Certain activity centres tend to be major attractors for walking and cycling, including commercial districts, school-college-university campuses, employment centres, recreation centres and parks.

  • Trip distance. Most walking trips are less than 2 kilometres and most bicycling trips less than 5 kilometres in length, although recreational trips are often much longer.

  • Demographics. Young (10-20 years), elderly, and low-income people tend to rely more on walking for transport. Young and low-income people tend to rely on cycling for transport.

  • Land use patterns (density and mix). Walking and bicycling for transportation tend to increase with density (i.e., number of residents and businesses in a given area) because higher density makes these modes more efficient.

  • Travel conditions. Wide roads with heavy, high-speed vehicle traffic can form significant barriers to nonmotorized travel. Special facilities for nonmotorized travel (sidewalks, wide curb lanes, and paths) and their condition can have a significant impact on the amount of walking and bicycling that occurs.

  • Topography and climate. These factors can affect walking and bicycling, but not as much as might be expected. For example, the cities of Seattle, Portland and Missoula report significantly higher levels of cycle transportation than many “Sunbelt” cities that are flat and have mild climates.
  • Community attitudes. Local attitudes can have a major impact on the level of cycling in a community. For example, it may be unremarkable that cycling tends to be high among college students and staff, but many college towns find that cycling is also relatively common among people who have not formal affiliation with the college simply because it has become an acceptable form of transportation. This indicates that some people hesitate to cycle, but will if they perceive it to be more socially acceptable.

  • Time and geographic scope. It may take several years for a community to fully achieve its full nonmotorized travel potential. First year impacts are frequently modest, but tend to increase as individuals become more accustomed to nonmotorized travel and as additional support facilities (pedestrian and bicycle network, bicycle parking, etc.) develop.

Computer modeling improvements allow better prediction of how planning decisions are likely to affect nonmotorized travel.14 However, these are currently in the development stage and may not be cost effective for application in every community during the foreseeable future.

Table 2 Areas Likely to Benefit from Nonmotorized Facilities



Favorable Demographics

Large numbers of children and young adults.

A significant portion of residents who are non-drivers.

Interest in fitness.

Compatible Land Use

Medium to high population density

Mixed land uses.

Presence of cycling generators (e.g. university)

Reasonable Trip Distances and Times

Jobs/schools within 30 minutes by walking or cycling.

Shopping/services within 10-15 minutes by walking/cycling.

Most destinations within 10 km.

Supportive Social Environment

Perception of safety.

Presence of people activity.

Employer support/tolerance of cycle commuting.

Functional Infrastructure

Basic road system adequate for cycling.

No major barriers.

Reasonable topography.

Suitable Traffic Conditions

Speeds/volumes reasonable.

Lack of heavy commercial traffic.

Many communities have significant latent demand for nonmotorized travel. That is, people would walk and bicycle more frequently if they had suitable facilities and resources.15 A U.S. survey found that 17% of adults claim they would sometimes bicycle commute if secure storage and changing facilities were available, 18% would if employers offered financial incentives, and 20% would if they had safer cycling facilities.16 Table 3 summarizes a recent Canadian public survey indicating high levels of interest in cycling and walking.

Table 3 Active Transportation Survey Findings17



Currently use this mode for leisure and recreation.



Currently use this mode for transportation.



Would like to use this mode more frequently.



Would cycle to work if there “were a dedicated bike lane which would take me to my workplace in less than 30 minutes at a comfortable pace.”


Support for additional government spending on bicycling facilities.


Appropriate facilities and roadway improvements for walking and cycling (sidewalks, crosswalks, multi-use paths, bike lanes, traffic calming) can increase nonmotorized travel. One study found that each mile of bikeway per 100,000 residents increases bicycle commuting 0.075 percent, all else being equal.18

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