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Vancouver Cyclists vs. Vancouver Weather

December 14, 2011 | by  |  Lifestyle and Culture

Mashing up bike trip data from the City of Vancouver along with weather statistics from Environment Canada, The Dependent examines the fickle relationship between Vancouver cyclists and our West Coast climate.

Data is from the Burrard Street Bridge separated bike lane trial, and covers the period of January 1 2010 to June 30 2011.

The first, and most obvious, question:

What impact does precipitation have on the number of bicycle trips?

The results are somewhat surprising. Predictably, there’s a steep drop in bicycle traffic from dry days to wet – an immediate decline of around 30% from days with zero precipitation to those with even one millimetre. But beyond that, heavier rainfall appears to have little impact on cycling numbers, suggesting there is a core contingent of rain-or-shine riders in Vancouver.

With an average of 1,200 trips on days with five millimetres of rain or more, and assuming each cyclist completes a round-trip, it seems a reasonable estimate that there are about 600 people using the Burrard Street Bridge bike lane, rain or shine.

And now for the second, only slightly less obvious, question:

What about temperature?

Curiously, temperature appears to have a far more direct relationship with the number of cycling trips than rainfall; just look at that nice, smooth curve!

Please leave your irate bike lane-related analysis in the comments below.

Matt Chambers is the editor and publisher of The Dependent Magazine. He's in way over his head.

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11 Comments


  1. If it isn’t raining in the morning when I set out to work, then I hop on my bike. It can then pour for the rest of the day 55mm+ but I’ll still probably ride home in it and count as having ridden that day.

    Interesting graphs though. Thanks for publishing it.

  2. Does the city have the data for the adanac corridor as well?

  3. @Jordan – closest they get is the Dunsmuir viaduct…

    The full set of City bike data can be found here:

    http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/cycling/separated/dunsmuir_results.htm

  4. I have a theory about this: when I look up the weather online, it gives me the temperature and the chance of rain. However, it does not give the severity or amount of rainfall expected. So, I can make a well educated guess based on temperature, but my guess on rainfall is binary: will it rain or not?

    This explains why there is a difference between no rain and rain, and almost random data for all days it rains. I think the data would trend for the amount of rainfall if that information was provided to us.

  5. It’s much easier to just ride every day, weather be damned. For one thing, if I decide not to ride, then I have to leave half an hour earlier for Translink to get me to the job on time.

  6. I don’t think it’s surprising data. Even a small amount of rain gets you quite wet on a bike (or necessitates the right gear). Practically, riding for more than 5 minutes, there isn’t much difference between light rainfall and a downpour. So if you’re set up and willing to ride in the rain, you’ll ride in any rain; if you’re not you won’t ride in the rain at all.

    Temperature is different; everyone has their own tolerance.

  7. Interesting to see a slight rise in riders on days that are -4 but not surprising as the coldest days are typically the driest days.

    If you want to know what the intensity of rain could be look for the P.O.P. or probability of precipitation. It is listed on the Weather Office website or the Weather Network or other sites like Vancouver.Weatherpage.ca If the POP is 40%-60% likely only a few mm may fall but if it is 70% you might see 5-15mm if 90%-100% expect a lot of rain to fall likely over 15mm.

    Wet pavement riding ups the maintenance required for your bike. I wipe off my chain daily on wet days and then add lubricant to prevent rusting of the chain.

  8. Another secret to reading the weather forecasts is to understand the difference between “showers” and “rain”.

    “Rain” is widespread precipitation that falls over the whole region – if “rain” is in the forecast with a high percentage of probability you likely won’t be able to avoid it.

    “Showers”, on the other hand, refers localized rain that typically lasts 30-60 minutes. A forecast of “showers” with a high probability is something that you are more likely able to avoid by changing your time or route.

  9. We did a study using the full hourly data set and found that temperature better reflects seasonal variation in bicycle traffic whereas rain better reflects hour-to-hour day-to-day fluctuation. We also did a survey and found that about 58% of cyclists consider weather a factor when deciding to bike, 41% of which check the weather just before they leave. Our work is online in my portfolio at:
    http://chrisgallop.me/gallopforever.com/Examples_of_Work/Entries/2011/11/17_Planning_for_Expansion__Weather_%26_Cycling.html

  10. A factor that is important to some riders is whether they will be riding in darkness vs. daylight. Given that hours of daylight are likely correlated with temperature, this might be another element that contributes to the temperature relationship.

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