Overcoming Barriers to Active Transportation With E-Bikes

Overcoming Barriers to Active Transportation With E-Bikes

A VIU student research project aims to help cities formulate cycling plans that include electric bicycles.

October 8, 2019 - 10:15am

A VIU student research project aims to help cities formulate cycling plans that include electric bicycles.


Vancouver Island University (VIU) Masters of Community Planning student Eleni Gibson used to enjoy cycling. That was when she lived in Victoria, but after moving to Nanaimo to pursue her post-secondary education, it became a grueling activity.

“I was trying to cycle but it's a 35-minute bike ride literally uphill both ways to get to my house,” says Gibson. “I’m young and healthy and I just gave up on cycling because it was too much work and inconvenient. If I represent the demographic who would most want to cycle and doesn’t, then who in Nanaimo will?”

Her lack of enthusiasm for cycling in Nanaimo sparked Gibson’s interest in electric bicycles as a way to overcome a lot of barriers to cycling.

Electric bikes are gaining in popularity around the world, but can the same be said for a sprawled urban city like Nanaimo?

That is what Gibson is trying to determine in her research project – if there is an appetite for this type of transportation here.  

According to Census Mapper, based on the 2016 Canadian Census, in a 25% sampling of the population surveyed in Nanaimo (60,375 people aged 15 and over), about 1.4%, or 855 people, use a bike as their main mode of transportation to work.

For her project, Gibson is assessing people’s attitudes to e-bikes and whether or not it makes sense for the city of Nanaimo to include this mode of transportation in its cycling plan.

An e-bike has a small electric motor that can make hills less of an obstacle, distances more manageable and heavy cargo a non-issue. A bonus is that they reduce one’s carbon footprint.

“I'm looking at it through the lens of both healthy communities and urban sustainability,” says Gibson. “I think there's a lot of potential for e-bikes to be considered a viable option. Most of the studies about e-bikes are from Europe, which already has a high percentage of bicycle ridership, but I could only find two studies specifically on e-bikes in Canada and they were both from Ontario. My research will fill a gap in Western Canada.”

In her preliminary research, Gibson asked people what was stopping them from buying an e-bike and found a variety of responses, including the high cost of the bikes, risk of theft, a need for separated cycling infrastructure and one of the common ones was having children and running errands.

“I think Nanaimo is kind of a good case study because it’s quite sprawled and hilly, but you could take what’s happening here and probably apply it to a lot of coastal BC communities,” added Gibson.

Gibson will present her findings to the City of Nanaimo and hopes it will encourage future community development and planning that would remove barriers to cycling, such as including secure bike-locking facilities, not just in housing developments but at retail outlets and office buildings, as well as charging stations and accessible change rooms or showers.

“But if people aren’t interested in e-bikes or don’t see them as a viable transportation option, maybe the city should focus their efforts on public transit instead, adds Gibson.

Gibson was awarded a $17,500 Canada Graduate Scholarship – Masters (CGS-M) award for her project.

Lindsay Chase, a VIU Master of Community Planning Instructor, says CGS-M funding supports the essential research that students are doing, and that it has not only local application but potentially provincial and national applications.

“One of the best things about the Master of Community Planning program is the focus on real-world problems that are happening today in the communities we’re from,” says Chase. “We can assume if Nanaimo is having this problem then other communities are too, and the research becomes highly applicable to multiple situations and is easily shareable. It’s a valuable experience for students and exciting for them then to see the impact their research can have.”



Annette Lucas, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

O: 250.741.2020 | C: 250.618.7296 | E: Communications@viu.ca

Tags: Community Planning | Research | Sustainability | Research

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