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:
- 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.
- According to the 2010 "cordon counts", about 4,700 (or 1.9% of the total) people commuted to the central business district (sources: 2011 Comprehensive Cycling Strategy, p. 15-16; Mobility Monitor 34, Sept 2009). That number has risen to 6,000 in 2012, a 30% increase.
- 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:
- The methodology for collecting the data differs. The federal census uses a representative sample of the entire working population; the civic census uses a non-representative sample (one person per household); the cordon counts only survey people working in Calgary's downtown core (in 2006, there were about 140,000 people working in the central business district, or about 1/4 of all employed Calgarians). 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 data was collected in different years and at different times of the year, with widely varying weather conditions -- and weather obviously is a big 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 2010, the federal census in mid May 2006, and the civic census in early April 2011 (at the very beginning of the cycling season). 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 most accurately 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.