Vancouver’s cycling infrastructure has been undergoing something of a revolution of late, under the inspired leadership of Mayor Gregor Robertson. Good ol’ Gregor and Vision Vancouver want to make Vancouver the greenest city ever – and if the strides they have been making with cycling infrastructure are anything to go by, we might just get there.
I’ve been a Gregor fan since he showed up for his first meeting as Mayor on a bike, back in November of 2008. My admiration has grown now that he’s put his money where his pedals are, and launched some impressive initiatives to improve the cycling infrastructure.
What has the Gregor Gang actually done? Well, for a start there’s the separated cycling lane they put on the Burrard Bridge in July, 2009. Here’s the south entrance to the bridge, from Burrard Street:
Not everyone wanted this bike lane, but despite the storm of protest from the usual critics, Gregor and his Gang fearlessly went ahead and did the right thing anyway. And guess what? The sky didn’t fall! Not only that, but the view from the Burrard Bridge has now become yet another reason to ride a bike:
At the north side exit from the bike lane, the road has been carefully marked to give cyclists the choice of turning left and continuing up Burrard Street, or going straight. Here’s an example of how to correctly turn left at this point:
On the other hand, here’s an example of the wrong way to turn left at this point:
Then there’s the separated biking lane introduced on Dunsmuir Street in downtown Vancouver in March 2010, which makes it possible for cyclists to safely cross the city from west to east, all the way from Hornby Street to the Georgia Viaduct (and back again). As the Viaduct also has a separated bike lane, it’s possible to get all the way to the Adanac Bike Route in East Vancouver without being in danger once! On Dunsmuir, the lane is separated by a concrete barrier, as well as flower boxes and bike racks.
On the Viaduct, there are great views and ample cycling space. A little slice of heaven for average people who don’t want to risk their lives when they ride a bike to downtown destinations.
Business fights back!
These initiatives have attracted kudos from those who care about the future of the planet, and from cyclists who would prefer to stay alive and un-maimed. They have also attracted outrage and criticism. Most of the criticism comes from local business owners who fear lost income due to decreased vehicle traffic and parking. While I sympathize with people being concerned about their income, I find it odd that these business owners are not aware that people who ride bikes also spend money.
Some businesses get it
Thankfully, not all business owners are so short-sighted. In Montreal, for example, businesses such as Deloitte are sponsoring Bixi (bike taxi) stations outside their offices for the convenience of their customers. And recent research indicates that bike lanes are likely to be good for business. On the other hand, I am not planning to spend any money at the businesses that begrudge the relatively minuscule amount of infrastructure now being allocated to people who cycle.
Opposition to safety for cyclists on Hornby
Even as I write, Vancouver businesses are furiously gearing up to pit the might of money against the safety and lives of people who want to ride bikes in Vancouver. Their latest mission is to prevent Gregor’s team from adding one (yes, just one) separated bike lane on the North-South axis across Vancouver. This would run along Hornby Street, from the Burrard Bridge to Coal Harbour. (All of the other routes across Vancouver would continue to be dominated by cars.) I have biked Hornby Street several times, using its current, unprotected bike lane, and I’m here to tell you it’s a pretty terrifying experience. The cyclist is in real and constant danger of injury and death.
The proposed, separated lane would protect cyclists from these dangers. But this has not stopped the Canadian Federation of Independent Business from being incensed at the very idea. It seems that business owners such as David Prior, the owner of Rumours Hair Design, want cyclists to continue being in danger, because they fear negative repercussions to their businesses. Prior’s argument is that he pays taxes, so the city should protect his business. Hey, I pay taxes too, so shouldn’t the city protect my life?
A lot of the criticism of Robertson has been vicious and personal, accusing him of being self-serving because he happens to ride a bike sometimes. I find it interesting that when politicians who drive cars vote for yet another bridge or road, that’s not self-serving. And when politicians who have health-care needs (a need which comes with being human) vote for more health care, that’s not self-serving either. But when politicians who ride bikes vote for some sorely-needed safe bike routes – now that’s self-serving!
Separated bike lanes are good for everyone
Bottom line – this is not just about a tiny minority of crazy people. This is about improving the environment and the economy for everyone. For example, cycling has such a positive effect on health that the Blue Cross Center for Prevention in Minneapolis invested in the city’s shared biking program as a health-improvement measure. Cycling improves health by providing exercise while not causing any pollution at all. So it’s not only cyclists who benefit – all city dwellers ultimately will benefit from reductions in pollution and noise as more people are empowered to get on bikes. And the healthier our population gets, the less will be the pressure on our health care system.
Average cyclists need the safety of separated bike lanes
But only safe, physically separated bike lanes will get most average people out on bikes. Since the separated bike lane was opened on Dunsmuir, usage has grown from 100 people on bikes per day to 2,000 – in just 5 months! If these initiatives continue, it will eventually be possible to get to most destinations on a bike safely – and I guarantee the number of people riding bikes will soar, especially given that in Vancouver the weather permits cycling almost all year round.
More power to Gregor and his Gang – may they go from strength to strength, and continue making Vancouver a better, greener, safer city for all!
“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi