Gregor Robertson and the Fight for Safe Cycling Routes in Vancouver

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 separate bike lane they put on the Burrard Bridge in July, 2009. Here’s the south entrance to the bridge, from Burrard Street:

South entrance to the Burrard Bridge separated bike lane

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:

The stunning view of False Creek from the new, separated Burrard Bridge Bike Lane

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:

Exiting the Burrard Bridge bike lane on the north side. Note the cyclist carefully checking for speeding cars coming off the bridge

On the other hand, here’s an example of the wrong way to turn left at this point:

This cyclist forgot to stop and check for traffic coming off the north side of Burrard Bride. Only the lightning-fast reflexes of both the motorist and the cyclist prevented a nasty collision

Then there’s the separate bike 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.

The separated bike lane on Hornby Street, Vancouver, BC. 2010.

Three cyclists and a skateboarder (the guy in green) travel in the Dunsmuir separated bike lane, absolutely safe from all the cars. Thanks Gregor!

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.

If a lane is full of cars, is it still a BIKE lane? Cyclists on Hornby bike right next to cars. At rush hour this becomes dangerous, especially approaching Georgia, where cars cut across the cycling lane to turn right.

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!

Mayor Gregor Robertson, before he got on his bike to lead the official opening of the Dunsmuir separated bike lane. March 10, 2010. Photo by J. Chong

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi

m4s0n501

9 thoughts on “Gregor Robertson and the Fight for Safe Cycling Routes in Vancouver

  1. It’s great when you can have a mayor who actually commutes by bike. Unlike mayors who never get on a bike or simply ride for leisure, a mayor who actually commutes on a bike understands the certain dangers that commuter cyclists face.

    I’m so sick and tired of businesses complaining. In cities such as Vancouver, Montréal, Toronto and Ottawa most of the customers for these businesses are locals who walk, cycle or take transit.
    If a loss of parking is going to put a business under, then they really never had a good business in the first place.

    We faced this issue in St. Catharines a little while ago. Canadian Tire made a stink because a bike lane was installed. People said congestion was worse. Anytime I was there the road was quiet. A taxi driver I knew said the reason for any congestion was do to all the construction two blocks away, not the bike lane. Oh, the bike lane was removed and sharrows were added instead.

    A month or two ago another business complained about a future bike lane. City backed down and opted for the “sharrow treatment” instead.

    Of course it’s not limited to businesses only. A (yes “A”) resident complained about losing on-street parking in front of her house. Sharrows will be put in rather then a bike lane. Oh and every house along this street has a driveway.

    1. Mayor Robertson has faced unending opposition from business owners. As far as I’m concerned, some of them would rather endanger cyclists than give up a few parking spots! However, Robertson has had the courage to stand up to them. This is unusual in our consumer society. As you say, maybe it’s because he is himself a cyclist. Disappointing to hear of those concessions made in St. Catharines. :(

      1. I love the attitude of Montréal’s mayor when a business owner complained about the boulevard de maisonneuve bike lane. I can’t remember exactly what he said but it was something along the lines of “suck it up”.

        Speaking of our consumer “driven” society, this is another thing we can learn from Europe. Most Europeans do not buy unnecessarily like we do here, yet in most cases they have more disposable income.
        Good reason why so many Canadians are head over heals in debt.

        1. I’d love to know what Montréal’s mayor actually said – just tried to google it, but could not find it. Let me know if you ever find it … My wife and I went to Montreal a little while ago, and we LOVED the bike lanes – I wrote all about it here: http://averagejoecyclist.com/?p=458

      2. As moneitned, going for a entry level bike with a Sora or Tiagra groupo is good for recreational riders that really don’t plan on heavy training or becoming more involved in the sport. The problem I see here is that you are 15; meaning you are still growing and will probably have a growth spurt. This lends itself to the problem of frame sizing (depending on how tall you are now).My suggestion for bikes:For more serious biking Trek2.1 or 2.3 (cost from 1,400$ 1,700$ Canadian) but comes with a 105/tiagra andfull 105 groupo, respectively, with carbon fiber fork and seat stays.- Giant TCR Alliance A1 (cost 1,600$ CND) with mixed composite aluminum/carbon composite frame/fork and 105 groupo.-Cannondale CAAD9 R5 (1,600$ CND), mixed 105/ultegra groupo, carbon fork and top notch aluminum frame.For more recreational riding: trek 1.0 or 1.2 (1000$), sora/tiagra mix, carbon fork, aluminum frame.- Giant TCR (1200-1300$ CND) full tiagra groupo.- Giant OCR series (800 1300) ranges from sora to 105 groupo, but with more upright seating position and compact frame.Just have a drop by your local bike shop, and they can fit you with something reasonable. But, in my opinion, the new 105 10 speed is probably one of the best groupos for that price range and will last you a long time. Some of my fellow club members even race with 105 and do fine. Join your local bike club and participate in events. Don’t buy a bike thinking you will upgrade it’s components, it will cost your a lot more in the end.Regards,A.

  2. Separated bike lanes are more dangerous – City of Copenhagen reports that, Helsinki outright discourages installing separated bike lanes in an “urban street network”. Locally ICBC reports more accidents and more injuries at the north end of the Burrard Bridge after bike lanes were installed.

    Local politicians ignore traffic laws when they cycle, Mayor Robertson is reported to have run a red light and Councillor Meggs ignored a red light causing an accident. No wonder that with those examples half of the cyclists in Vancouver ignore traffic laws as reported by the Transportation Research Board.

    Bike lanes hurt local business and already drove at least one of Vancouver’s “institutions” – Kettle of Fish Restaurant, out of business after more than 30 years in operation. Location – Hornby Street.

    Despite all the efforts to talk-up cycling in Vancouver there are fewer cyclists in Vancouver. City’s own data shows a 15% decline in cycling on its very popular Ontario Cycling Route.

    Remove separated bike lanes as they hurt all commuters. Establish more “bike routes” through residential streets in the City to promote 8-to-80 cycling and stop wasting tax dollars on separated bike lanes to restore funding to Emergency Services, libraries and parks.

    Safe commuting,
    604commuter.ca

    PS – and look at the topographic map of Vancouver to appreciate that to get to the City Hall from Granville Island is equivalent to scaling a 20-storey building and to Dunbar you will need to scale a 30-storey skyscraper (Copenhagen is flat).

  3. as a ex bike messenger i have rode alot and still ride alot i find on the dunsmuir seperated bike lane downtown can actually make turnin on to howe street and others more dangerous and also time consuming if you are not prepared and in the correct car or bicycycle lane prior to needing to turn you either havw to stop at how wait and cross on the green right or exit the bike lane at granville so you will be in correct lane for a safe left hand turn with the dividers or planters in the way you cant do this if you wait past granville street perhaps the correct cycling iniative would be to remove these barriers leaving painted lanes still in place and educating all cyclist at a young age on the rules of the road then if a person is found to have to many fines for not knowing or abiding by the law there bike should be taken away until they can pass a written test like a vancouver bike messenger has to do education is the key to safety not barriers

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