November 14, 2014

The Effect of Bicycle Facilities on the Decision to Commute by Bicycle, Congestion and Air Quality: New Evidence from Albuquerque, New Mexico

Time

1:40 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Location

1605 Tilia, Room 1103, West Village

Speaker(s)

Gregory Rowangould, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, University of New Mexico

Abstract

Bicycle facilities are built for different reasons. A common reason is to mitigate vehicle congestion, reduce vehicle emissions and promote physical activity by increasing the share of trips made by bicycle. While there has been a large amount of behavioral and observational research on cyclist’s route and facility preferences as well as the traveling public’s mode choice decisions there is surprisingly little evidence on the effectiveness of existing bicycle facilities at increasing the share of cycling relative to vehicle use.

The first part of this seminar discusses the results from our recent study which asked cyclists who currently use bicycle facilities, in this case grade separated multi-use paths (bike paths) and bicycle lanes in Albuquerque, New Mexico, what they would do if those facilities did not exist. We find that 70 to 75 percent would continue to bike if the facilities had not been provided and the rest would travel by alternative means, mainly by driving a car. While many cyclists would continue to travel by bike regardless of the presence of bike facilities, they clearly prefer them and the facilities have led to an increase in bicycle mode share. Factors associated with choosing to use bicycle facilities and continuing to ride in their absence will also be discussed.

The second part of this seminar discusses preliminary results from our current research that make use of our survey results, a recent regional household travel survey, and the metropolitan planning organization’s regional travel demand model to estimate the change in congestion and air pollution attributable to the provision of bicycle paths in Albuquerque. Our initial results find that had Albuquerque’s bicycle paths not been built that air pollution emissions during the morning peak hour would increase by about 0.7 to 1.2 percent, traffic congestion by 1.3 percent, and vehicle travel by 0.4 percent. These are not huge numbers but the monetized benefits add up to $3.8 million in avioded costs per year for the Albuquerque metropolitan area. We also find that the change in air pollution and congestion are disproportionately large compared to the change in vehicle trips. This indicates that bicycle trips using Albuquerque’s bicycle paths are substituting for relatively long distance vehicle trips or trips on very congested corridors. These preliminary results demonstrate that bicycle paths may be an effective method to reduce congestion and improve air quality and the insight that can be gained through a robust and theoretically consistent modeling approach using a simple cyclists intercept survey and a region’s travel demand model.

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Rowangould is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of New Mexico. He earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a M.S. in Resource Economics and Policy from the University of Maine and a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Davis. Dr. Rowangould has over 10 years of transportation policy, planning, and modeling research experience. He is focused on developing a more sustainable transportation system by improving the models and analytical techniques used to make critical transportation planning and policy decisions, and by developing a better understanding of how transportation system users respond to changes in infrastructure and land use. Dr. Rowangould teaches courses in economics, transportation planning, and travel demand modeling at UNM.

Prior to joining UNM in the fall of 2012 Dr. Rowangould was a Science Fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Santa Monica, California. While at NRDC he conducted research on population exposure to mobile source emissions, urban freight movement, the design of air quality monitoring networks, and the emission of air pollutants from locomotives. In addition to his research role at NRDC, he helped low income and minority groups develop more sustainable transportation and land-use plans for their communities. He also supported NRDC’s advocacy and legal staff by reviewing the modeling and analytical methods used to support multi-billion dollar transportation projects and compliance with California’s landmark transportation and land-use law (SB375) which requires reducing per capita greenhouse gas emissions though integrated land-use and transportation planning.