Does Riding a Bus Encourage People to Bike?

Imagine for a moment that you drive a car for many of your trips, you live in Berkeley, and you are given a free 6-month pass to ride AC Transit buses. If we told you that, of the 651 Berkeley residents presented with this option over the last two years, 90% started riding the bus more, you probably wouldn’t be surprised. But if we told you that 19% of the same 651 residents also started bicycling more, you might wonder why? How does a free bus pass encourage people to bicycle more?

It is sometimes called a “knock-on” effect— increased transit use causes improved knowledge of travel alternatives, and increased consciousness about trip planning and mode choice. As a result, a former driver, now bus rider, who previously owned a bike, starts bicycling more and walking more. This behavior is one of the most important characteristics of travel behavior change–once people have knowledge, skills and incentives to make educated travel choices, the trinity of active modes all start to benefit, that is walking, transit and bicycling increase.

Berkeley has released a Draft report on its pilot goBerkeley project to better manage parking and encourage employees and residents in the downtown area to switch from driving. For encouraging mode shift, the report shows that Berkeley employees and residents are receptive to changing their travel habits and trying new ways to get around. As employees walk, bike and take the bus more for non-work trips, continued promotion, education and incentives via goBerkeley may begin to impact work-related trips more significantly.

For parking management, the report shows that when Berkeley better manages parking it frees up parking spaces in the center of downtown, which in turn has the benefit of encouraging visitors to Downtown more often. Berkeley experienced a 30% increase in parking transactions over the last 2 years of its goBerkeley pilot, which presumably means more retail activity. Additional surveying is being done of downtown businesses to learn more about their experience during the pilot.

While more car trips is not a goal of Bike East Bay, there is a potential benefit here. For business districts interested in redesigning streets by converting parking lanes to bikeways or other more appropriate space for walking, bicycling, transit, ADA access, loading zones, etc, these business districts can maintain a sufficient supply of parking by better managing existing parking spaces. For example, Berkeley raised parking rates in high priority zones, where convenient parking is in high demand, and lowered rates and extended hours in value zones further away from the downtown core. These value zones include parking garages and surface lots a few blocks away from the center of Downtown. The result: Berkeley saw a 12% improvement in parking availability in the high priority zones and a 38% increase in parking in the value zones, which previously were quite empty. Berkeley’s two downtown parking garages are now comfortably full.

With Berkeley’s experiment, the supply of parking remained stable over the two-year pilot. But what if Berkeley had, for example, removed parking on Milvia St or Bancroft Way in order to stripe bike lanes at the same time as the pilot? As it turns out, the goBerkeley system would have been able to manage the decreased supply of parking (probably less than 1% decrease) and maintain sufficient parking availability in the high demand areas. This is exactly the type of tool we need to work with cities to redesign their streets and their commercial corridors as more attractive places for walking, bicycling and taking transit.

Businesses in Downtown Berkeley report liking the results too, as do visitors. 78% of visitors said it was relatively easy to find a parking space, which was a major increase in customer satisfaction from prior to the pilot, and John Caner of the Downtown Berkeley Associsation reports that his businesses like the project. More analysis and survey is being done and you can participate by taking this public survey about the project.

Berkeleyside article about goBerkeley results.