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Next-generation transportation: Making streets and roads ready

Peter Caulfield
Next-generation transportation: Making streets and roads ready

Ready or not, here comes shared micromobility (SM) – shared, publicly available, human- and electric-powered vehicles.

Think of bike share, electric bicycles and electric scooters.

SM is already popular.

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NATCO), between 2010 and 2022 there were 730 million trips made on shared bikes and e-scooters in the U.S. and Canada.

An analysis of some of the largest SM systems in the U.S. found that 34 per cent of riders used it to get to work, 39 per cent to run errands and 16 per cent to get to school. Fifty per cent used SM for other social or recreation trips.

Although SM use shows some broad trends, there is considerable variation between individual cities that is the result of local operating conditions and system details.

For example, most of the SM systems that have grown steadily have been municipally-owned or managed by long-term partnerships with private operators.

And NATCO says Canadian and U.S. studies show more people use SM vehicles when there are protected bike lanes available for them to ride on.

The association says Montreal is North America’s top biking city.

The 140-square-mile city has 560 miles of bikeways, approximately 80 per cent of which are available year-round, including winter.

Since the launch of Bixi – the name of the system – in 2009, the city has seen steady growth in the number of bike-share riders.

In 2022 Bixi reached almost nine million trips, an increase of over three million trips compared to 2021.

Many other Canadian jurisdictions have started four- and five-year pilot trials of SM vehicles as they prepare to develop policy.

The increasing popularity of bikes and scooters will require new and creative thinking on how to accommodate them on our streets and roads.

The Journal of Commerce recently spoke to several Canadian transportation experts and asked them what they think is coming down the pike. 

 “Shared micromobility is a new type of mobility for which our roads and streets weren’t designed,” says Ahmed Shalaby, professor of civil engineering at the University of Manitoba. “Many jurisdictions are playing catch-up with road design and construction to accommodate these new vehicles safely.”

Shalaby says that, at the least, wider bike lanes that accommodate people travelling at different speeds will need to be added.

“Policies and guidelines are a work-in-progress now,” he says. “Because streets and roads are built to last for a long time, we need to be sure they’re built right, so they can accommodate all kinds of vehicles.”

Alex Bigazzi, associate professor of civil engineering at the University of British Columbia and head of the Research on Active Transportation lab (REACT), says the way bicycles are accommodated now on streets and roads is suitable for most forms of micromobility.

“Most micromobility vehicles don’t go much faster than standard bicycles, although many people perceive them to be faster,” he says.

Bigazzi recommend fewer multi-use paths that both pedestrians and vehicles are expected to share in the future.

“There needs to be more separated paths, so that pedestrians and vehicles have their own lanes,” he says. “It’s much safer that way.”

Most people will not depend on SM all the time to get around, says Bigazzi.

“Shared mobility is part of a suite of options that enables us to be less dependent on cars,” he says. “Fortunately, unlike many parts of Europe, North American cycling facilities haven’t yet reached full capacity.”

Christopher Darwent, manager of transportation design in Vancouver’s engineering services department, says the city’s street network has been built out for some time.

“Vancouver hasn’t been adding any new roads recently,” Darwent says. “Instead, we’ve been retrofitting our existing stock, making it more friendly for micromobility and active transportation. Vancouver has 1,500 kilometres of streets and 300 kilometres of bike routes.”

In the future, says Darwent, it will be less expensive to make changes to the existing street and road infrastructure with traffic separators and diverters instead of redesigning the road network.

Tyler Thomson, a senior transportation planner with Bunt and Associates Engineering Ltd. in Vancouver, says SM is part of a practical and philosophical evolution in urban transportation.

“People are using shared micromobility devices in urban areas for different reasons,” says Thomson. “What they have in common is that they’re looking for a means of transportation that’s the most convenient and most efficient for them.”

Bunt and Associates senior transportation engineer Daniel Fung says there has been a paradigm shift in mentality and technology (the devices themselves).

“Road space needs to be redefined and reallocated so that everyone can be safely accommodated,” says Fung.

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