How many cyclists are there in Calgary?

How many cyclists are there in Calgary? The answer depends on what you mean by "cyclist".  Many people, even if they ride bicycles regularly, don't think of themselves as cyclists.  Here, however, that's what we'll mean by "cyclist": someone who rides their bicycle regularly.  It is difficult to estimate this number accurately, since the question isn't asked in population-level surveys such as the national or the civic census.

As part of the planning leading to the Comprehensive Cycling Strategy, the City of Calgary hired a private consulting firm to conduct a representative, random telephone survey of adult Calgarians about their cycling behavior and attitudes.  (Note that this was not a survey of cyclists only.) 67% of respondents said they own a bicycle.  57% of respondents said they ride at least once or twice every two to three months; 19% of respondents said that they ride daily or at least once a week; 6% said they ride it daily.  59% of respondents said they would like to ride more than they already do.  According to the 2006 census, just over 740,000 Calgarians were age 20 or over (the number is certainly higher now).  This means that according to the cyclist survey:

  • over 500,000 adult Calgarians own bicycles
  • over 400,000 adult Calgarians ride bicycles at least some of the time
  • over 400,000 adult Calgarians would like to ride their bicycle more often
  • over 140,000 adult Calgarians ride their bicycles at least once a week
  • over 44,000 adult Calgarians ride their bicycle daily

If you think these number seem high, you might think that all these Calgarians mainly ride their bicycles recreationally.  The survey also asked for what purpose Calgarians ride bicycles.  6% (or over 44,000 adult Calgarians) say they ride their bicycles to work or school daily or at least once a week, and 4-5% (or 30,000) for social purposes or for shopping or appointments. While 59% said they'd like to cycle more often, still 50% of respondents (representing over 370,000 adult Calgarians) said they'd like to cycle more often for transportation purposes, i.e., not just recreationally.

The federal and municipal government are especially interested in how many people cycle to work on a regular basis, i.e., how many commuter cyclists there are.  The percentage of commuter cyclists among all commuters is called the cycling mode share.  Different surveys give different results for this number.

  • According to the 2010 cyclist survey, 3% of responents (representing over 22,000 adult Calgarians) use their bicycle daily to get to work or school.
  • According to the 2006 federal census, of 498,030 Calgarians aged 15 or over with a usual place of work, 6,975 (1.4%) commuted by bicycle. This number has risen in the 2011 National Household Survey, which replaced the "long form" census, to 7,400. However, the question is now asked of 578,660 employed Calgarians whether or not they have a usual place of work. The NHS commute-to-work mode share is now 1.3%.
  • Commute to work mode share data from the NHS and municipal census is consistent with 2011 CARTAS (Calgary and Area Regional Transortation Survey) data, which gave a 2% bicycle mode share citywide for weekday home-to-work trips.
  • According to the 2010 "cordon counts", about 4,500 (or 1.9% of the total) bike trips into the central business district were made (sources: 2011 Comprehensive Cycling Strategy, p. 15-16; Mobility Monitor 34, Sept 2009). That number has risen to about 6,000 in 2012, a 30% increase.
  • The percentage of people entering the downtown core by bicycle during the morning peak hour is 2.5% according to the most recent (2013) cordon count.
  • Bicycles make up 3% of morning peak hour home-to-work trips with destinations in the Centre City, according to CARTAS. The overall percentage of people cycling to work in the Centre City according to CARTAS is 4%.
  • According to the 2011 civic census, of 337,127 respondents, 2,923 (0.89%) commuted to work by bicycle.

The discrepancies in these percentages is easily explained by two factors:

  1. The methodology and questions for collecting the data differs. The National Household Survey, which replaced the "long form" federal census, uses a representative sample of the population and asked how people usually get to work. The civic census uses a non-representative sample (one person per household) but the sample is very large as every household is asked. For transportation, the civic census asks how people got to work the last time they went to work, so it is collecting actual trip data at or near the day the census is completed (early/mid April). The civic census also includes people who work from home, while the federal census only includes people who actually commute to a place of work. (The mode share of 0.89% reported above already takes this into account.) If the mode share reported in the civic census is extrapolated to the population covered by the federal census, the number would rise from just under 3,000 commuter cyclists to over 4,400.  The cordon counts only survey people entering Calgary's downtown core.  CARTAS data is the most detailed: it used a representative sample of all Calgarians, and participants completed a trip diary for a 24-hour period, in which every trip was recorded.  Trip diaries were only recorded on weekdays, however, so home-to-work mode share data from CARTAS excludes people working on weekends.  CARTAS also reports mode splits for the Central Business District, but their definition is different from the cordon counts and coincides with what's often called the Centre City, i.e., downtown core plus Beltline. About 160,000 people work in the Centre City, or about 1/4 of all employed Calgarians)
  2. The data was collected in different years and at different times of the year, with widely varying weather conditions -- and weather obviously is a factor for when people choose to ride a bicycle to work.  The cyclist survey (reporting a 3% mode share for daily bicycle commuters to work or school) was done in September 2010 (toward the end of the cycling season), the cordon counts in early May every year, the 2006 federal census in mid-May 2006, the 2011 National Household Survey between May and August 2011, and the civic census in early April 2011 (at the very beginning of the cycling season). CARTAS surveys were collected between February and May 2011. In particular, the morning temperatures during the April 2011 civic census ranged between -10 and 0 C and included several days with significant snowfall.  So the 0.9% mode share reported in the civic census is best interpreted as an estimate of the winter cycling mode share.  By contrast, morning temperatures during the 2006 federal census ranged between 7 and 22 C.

It is worthwhile to stress again that the census data only counts employed Calgarians and their commuting mode to work. It does not count students commuting to school or university, and it does not count Calgarians using their bicyles regularly to go shopping or run errands, and it does not count occasional or seasonal bicycle commuters.

Please see the attached maps for an idea of where Calgary's commuter cyclists live.