Pedals and PRIME: Planning bike share networks through spatial analysis

When Bike Share Toronto wanted to expand its network, they looked to WSP for help. Learn how WSP was a key resource in delivering this critical program.

To better optimize its existing station network and assist with expansion planning, Bike Share Toronto (BST) hired WSP to develop an analysis framework. The framework was based on indicators like population density, economic generators, cycling conditions, points of interest, transportation mode choice and availability of cycling infrastructure. The project team leveraged GIS, interactive mapping and consultation tools, as well as geo-statistical methods on 36 spatial datasets to determine areas of high potential for Bike Share station locations.

The platform for this project was PRIME for Cities: WSP’s proprietary geo-spatial database of development, infrastructure and policy information. Through PRIME for Cities, we monitor all significant development activity in most of Southern Ontario, as well as infrastructure and policy activity affecting the most active Southern Ontario municipalities, including Federal and Provincial initiatives.

Network expansion from 80 stations
465 Stations 465 Stations
Number of datasets used
36 36

In 2016, WSP developed an analysis framework for Bike Share Toronto (BST). This work was triggered by BST’s $6 million program, at the time, to expand its network from 80 stations to 200. BST provides an active transportation option that complements Toronto’s broader multimodal transportation system. WSP has provided Bike Share feasibility and optimization services to various partnerships between the City of Toronto, Metroplex and Toronto Parking Authority (TPA), the operators of Bike Share Toronto, stretching as far back as 2010.

In 2017, Bike Share Toronto and Metrolinx partnered with WSP in a larger scale study which applied the Bike Share optimization framework developed by WSP to the entire Greater Toronto and Hamilton area (GTHA). A key challenge was the need to secure comprehensive datasets for the entire study area. WSP was able to do this and effectively increased the number of indicators used, such as population density and street connectivity, from 22 to 36.

In 2018, WSP was approached by York Region to complete a more localized Bike Share feasibility study, based on the outcomes of the 2017 GTHA study. Through this project, the 36 indicators were applied and further refined, making the framework more transferable to specific geographies.

img-Toronto Bike Share dock


Feasibility framework

The Bike Share Optimization and Expansion Feasibility Framework was derived from examining best practices in land use, transportation planning, urban design, sustainability and geospatial analysis, and integrating these concepts into our optimization methodology. Our analysis investigates 36 indicators relating to: population and employment densities; attractions and points of interest; bikeability (i.e. topography, street connectivity, proximity to cycling infrastructure); and transportation mode choice (i.e. modal shares and proximity to significant walking, cycling and transit routes).

To determine suitable areas or “hot spots” for bike share station locations, the 36 indicators need to be compared and analyzed on a common scale. The project team uses a variety of geo-spatial tools to normalize and combine the data for each of the 36 indicators. The result is a map surface which contains a bike share suitability score ranging from 0-100, where 100 is the highest score possible — denoting, in relative terms, the best potential location for a future bike share station within the study area.


Heatmap depicting areas of high potential for bike share docking stations


Creating a model for estimated potential bike share ridership within the project study areas make this work ground-breaking. The application of GIS, interactive mapping, as well as geo-statistical methods on 36 spatial datasets was an innovative and more localized approach which led to two Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) awards: The Excellence in Planning Research / New Direction and the Heart and Stroke Healthy Communities Awards. The project received these awards to recognize research innovation in the planning field and excellence in creating healthy communities.


PRIME for Cities: Big data, bigger insights.

In the Bike Share studies, PRIME for Cities was used as a platform that allowed for the latest data on existing and proposed residential and non-residential development to be superimposed with numerous other geo-spatial data sets within the study area.

Integrating current and proposed development information in the optimization methodology allowed the team to not only determine existing areas of high Bike Share potential, but also identify areas that could become suitable in the future. With reliable and up-to-date development data often being difficult to acquire, these insights would not have been possible without the use of PRIME for Cities.

WSP leverages PRIME for Cities for many of our clients in southern Ontario, including the Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto Parking Authority, Metrolinx, York Region Transit and Bell Canada. Since we already know where new communities and infrastructure are being planned, proposed and built, we can provide timely, accurate, and relevant intelligence to clients to assist with making well-informed planning and real-estate decisions.

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