Vancouver, BC is located on the west coast of Canada, 120 miles (200 km) north of Seattle, and is a beautiful city with a mild climate well suited for cycling. It has undergone a truly remarkable evolution in sustainable transportation since the 1970s, and this post uses photos and videos to document key developments in this evolution.
It all started back in the 1960s and 1970s, when the people of Vancouver were smart enough to reject a plan to build a network of urban freeways through the city that would have devastated many historic neighborhoods and changed the face of the city forever – and not in a good way. Even so, until recently, it lacked sufficient user-friendly cycling infrastructure.
Nonetheless, Vancouver’s goal is to be entirely powered by clean energy by 2050 — not just in regards to electricity, but also for transportation and heating. Towards that end, Vancouver adopted the goal of 50% “sustainable mode share” by 2020 — that is, it aimed to ensure that by 2020, 50% of all trips would be taken by walking, biking, or transit. Amazingly, Vancouver achieved that target in 2015, five years early.
As part of this success story, Vancouver is undergoing an amazing evolution of cycling infrastructure. Credit must go to Mayor Robertson and Vision Vancouver, and to the thousands of dedicated cycling activists in Vancouver – notably HUB Cycling and Modacity. We start with a video showing some of the recent improvements. Be warned: this video might persuade you to take a cycling vacation in Vancouver!
After Vision Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson became mayor in 2008, the city started putting in physically separate bike lanes. Many predicted direly that Robertson would never see another term. But he got re-elected easily, and in just a few years, Vancouver has become one of the best cities for cycling in North America. And Robertson’s often strident critics have largely faded away. In fact, many business people have conceded that bike lanes are in fact good for business. Who knew! I remember one commentator on my blog predicting that Robertson would be thrown out at the end of his first term, and that his successor would “rip out” the bike lanes. Instead, Robertson was re-elected!
Vancouver is forging on, creating the type of separated bikeways that make ordinary people feel safe cycling. In fact, cycling in some parts of Vancouver is pretty well perfect – such as on the Hornby Street Separated Bike Lane, passing by the Vancouver Art Gallery.
We have not yet achieved a comprehensive cycling grid – hence HUB Cycling’s ongoing efforts to UnGap the Map.
However, there have been truly amazing improvements to cycling infrastructure in Vancouver. Sometimes it seems like everywhere I look, awesome separated bike lanes are springing up.
Improvements in Vancouver cycling infrastructure in the last decade include:
The separated bike lane on the Burrard Bridge in July, 2009
This lane faced strenuous opposition from motorists who objected to giving up any road space. However, it has transformed crossing this bridge from a nightmare to a pleasure for cyclists. And the view from the middle is magnificent.
The separated bike lane on Dunsmuir Street in March 2010
The Dunsmuir Street separated bike lane lane also faced major opposition. However, it is a major arterial route that used to be almost devoid of cyclists – I personally found it quite scary to bike on. Now, it has become common to see adults with babies and toddlers using it for daily transportation, or for tourism purposes.
In the tweet below is an aerial view of the Dunsmuir Street separated bike lane. Some people reacted to this tweet by saying that the street was unacceptable because it contained cars. I agree that it would be wonderful to have a car-free city. However, for now, in the real world, we do have cars. So the challenge is to find a way that all people can be safe and comfortable, regardless of whether they are walking, cycling, driving, or taking transit. Vancouver is well on its way to achieving this goal. Although it is not obvious from the photo, this block is also adjacent to bus and skytrain lines.
— Average Joe Cyclist (@AvrgeJoeCyclist) June 19, 2016
The separated bike lane on Hornby Street in December 2010
For me, it’s kind of a no-brainer that MOST average cyclists would prefer to bike in relative safety. And the proof is there for anyone who cares to walk or bike along Hornby Street – the physically separated bike lane is constantly busy, with an amazing diversity of people on bikes – and increasingly it is full of tourists, including many children and even babies. And seniors too. When one starts to see people of all ages out on bikes, it is a sure sign that the cycling infrastructure is moving in the right direction – towards becoming safe and accessible for All Ages and Abilities.
As for those who protested against this wonderful new bike lane – their arguments that the lane would destroy desperately needed parking were simply spurious, as I showed clearly in this post. In fact, there is so much parking in Vancouver that I see signs such as this one below, outside the Fairmont Hotel in central Vancouver.
The Adanac Bikeway Upgrade, 2013
Vancouver City Council removed what used to be back-breaking chaos on the part of the Adanac bikeway that connects East Vancouver with downtown Vancouver (on Union Street west of Gore Street). The pavement looked like it had been used as a testing site for landmines, and the road was wide but wild. About 4,000 cyclists per day had to dodge potholes and cars as they tried to get to and from work. All that is just a nightmarish memory now …
Although the upgrade was a compromise to mollify the usual opponents (business owners in the area), the improvements are still great. We have smooth pavement, and clearly marked, wide lanes. The traffic lights at Union and Main work well, giving cyclists traveling in both directions regular opportunities to cross. I feel much safer in this block now, and feel really comfortable using it, even with dozens of other cyclists.
In the video below a local businessman, Steve Da Cruz, owner of The Parker restaurant on Union Street, attests that his business actually increased after the bike lane was improved, causing him to realize that he had been wrong to oppose it. Turns out that people on bikes spend money – who knew! Da Cruz notes that his restaurant gets a lot of business from tourists, and that local hotels are starting to supply them with bikes so that they can experience touring Vancouver on a bike.
The Stanley Park Causeway – improvements completed February 2016
This long overdue improvement was finally completed in February 2016. Tragically, this was too late to save the 61-year old woman cyclist who was killed by a bus on May 25th, 2013. However, at least cyclists can now commute in a much safer way from North Vancouver to downtown Vancouver. This video shows the improvements.
Vancouver’s Bike Share Program
Vancouver now has a Bike Share program, for the convenience of locals and tourists! It’s called Mobi. Vision Vancouver first announced that it was considering a bike share program back in 2010. Back then it was widely hailed, with 80% of surveyed residents stating they would use it, and 70% claiming they would even use it in the winter. Tourists were even more enthusiastic. However, various factors stalled the implementation of a Vancouver Bike Share. But finally, in the summer of 2016, bike share arrived in Vancouver! Here’s a video that tells all about it:
Despite the mandatory helmet law, which often leads to the failure of bike share programs, Mobi seems to be doing well. Certainly I see a lot of people using them – although official numbers have not yet been published. Perhaps the apparent success of the Mobi system is due to the separated bike lanes? Also, I notice more and more people simply ignoring the helmet law – no doubt because Vancouver cyclists are feeling safer in the separated bike lanes. Finally, unlike Seattle’s Pronto bike share program (which sadly shut down on 31 March 2017), Vancouver freely supplies bike helmets with every bike.
Recently, the Mobi system was bolstered when Shaw Communications joined it as a partner. This is reflected in the rebranding on the bikes.
Vancouver Bike Routes are not perfect yet
Of course, it’s not perfect yet. For example, here’s a father I saw recently on the Lakeside Bike Route. The competition for space between bikes and cars got pretty scary in this situation, which I wrote about here.
Related content: 3 Reasons Why We Need Separated Bike Routes
And here’s a mom I saw on Adanac Bike Route. This woman and her toddler were not in danger. But anyone who has been at this intersection knows how cars, trucks, and bikes jostle for space. I would love to see this become a dedicated bike route, with cars excluded.
Yep, cycling in Vancouver is not perfect yet – but I am delighted at how much it has improved. I have been simply thrilled to watch the ongoing, amazing evolution of Vancouver cycling infrastructure. Thank you to all who work tirelessly towards the ultimate goal of making cycling infrastructure in Vancouver safe for All Ages and Abilities.
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