Research Profile – Health Research in the Bike Lane
Dr. Lise Gauvin
Researchers in Montreal are studying the impact of a bike-sharing program on physical activity and safety.
Sometimes scientific experiments emerge naturally – you just have to be on the alert for the unexpected.
That's what happened for Dr. Lise Gauvin at the University of Montreal. She was working with a graduate student named Daniel Fuller, who had heard that a new bike-sharing program was being introduced in the city to reduce people's dependence on cars and promote health. He suggested that they take the opportunity to study the effects of bike share programs on active transportation.
"I asked Lise if she thought this was something we should study. Within two weeks we were applying for funding."
At a Glance
Who – Dr. Lise Gauvin, University of Montreal.
Issue – More and more major cities are trying to encourage active transportation through bike-sharing programs.
Approach – When Montreal introduced the BIXI bike-sharing program in 2009, Dr. Gauvin and her team used the opportunity to conduct in-depth surveys of the program's impact.
Impact – The study's findings will help policy-makers ensure that bike-sharing programs are implemented in a safe and effective way.
The City of Montreal implemented the BIXI bike-sharing program in 2009. People can rent bikes from docking stations located throughout the city.
Dr. Gauvin and her team set out to answer a number of questions about the program, including who was using the bikes, and how often. But there were challenges to studying this natural experiment.
"The intervention [the introduction of the bicycles] was outside of our control or our reach," says Dr. Gauvin. "We had to adapt what we were doing to any changes that were brought to the system."
The researchers used a combination of population surveys conducted by phone after the program launch, as well as onsite surveys of the people renting the bikes. One finding that surprised Dr. Gauvin's team was that a substantial portion of the BIXI users didn't live close to a bike station.
"This is kind of a good news story," says Dr. Gauvin. "It suggests that people will use a "cocktail" of transportation modes. So instead of taking their car, once they're in the city they might decide to use [the bikes]."
The Montreal Department of Public Health has been a valuable partner in conducting the research, and will help the research team share their findings with the appropriate community partners. Dr. Gauvin is also collaborating with colleagues at the Research Center of the Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CRCHUM) on the project.
According to Dr. Gauvin, getting the findings into the hands of the right partners is key to the program's success because the research evidence can support policy changes. As the research team works to analyze and publish their data, they are simultaneously reaching out to these partners.
"We are making an effort to ensure that people who are part of the city, who are part of community groups, or who are part of organizations promoting active transportation get the information once it is published in the scientific literature," says Dr. Gauvin.
Since the program was implemented in Montreal, BIXI bike stations have started popping up in other cities, including Toronto, Ottawa, Boston and Washington, DC. Dr. Gauvin emphasizes that as more municipalities adopt bike-sharing programs, the cities must ensure that they have the policies and infrastructure to safely accommodate motorists, cyclists and pedestrians on the road.
"We don't just want to promote active transportation; we want to promote active and safe transportation."
"Ultimately, we hope our results get people thinking about the place of bikes in our cities."
– Daniel Fuller, PhD Candidate, University of Montreal