Business people around the world have tended to oppose separate bike lanes. But here’s a turnaround from a Vancouver businessman that many readers will find very encouraging!
I have supported separate bike lanes for a long time. I have watched with amazement as businesses in Vancouver have fought tooth and nail against separate bike lanes in Vancouver. The reason for their opposition? They did not want to sacrifice a few parking spots! Yet, as I have shown, there is so much parking in Vancouver that it is almost embarrassing.
See No Shortage of Parking in Vancouver, so Why Are Businesses Complaining?
It seems the business owners wanted parking directly outside their front doors, as they feared their customers would not have the energy to walk a block or two.
Fortunately, Vision Vancouver pushed through, and the last few years have seen the implementation of many separate bike lanes in Vancouver. For example, the photo below shows Hornby Street in downtown Vancouver before and after separate bike lanes were installed. Which looks safer? Which one would you prefer to have your grandparents or your child cycling on?
I know there are some cyclists who prefer surfing the traffic, as on the left of the picture above. I do it myself sometimes, and it’s a perfectly reasonable way to cycle, providing you are confident, mature, and have very good cycling skills. However, there are many cyclists who are unable or unwilling to do this. Children, for a start – I cannot imagine many parents want their kids surfing traffic! And it’s not just kids – many adults are not comfortable cycling in traffic. They have a right to have cycling infrastructure that feels safe to them.
And as I wrote elsewhere in a post about the sometimes unexpected benefits of separate bike lanes, many people want their cycling experience to be fun, not terrifying. As a London cyclist said:
“Not dying is a low bar. Aim for HAPPY Cycling. There are plenty of things I can do and be pretty sure I won’t die as a result of. That generally isn’t a sufficiently good reason for me to go out of my way to do them; I want to actually ENJOY them. To encourage mass cycling, you need to provide an activity that is not only non-fatal, but actually pleasant. Playing musical chairs with smoke-belching rhinoceroses is not everyone’s idea of fun, fatal or otherwise.”
Well, cycling in downtown Vancouver is now non-fatal AND fun! With this kind of cycling infrastructure, Vancouver is on its way to the cycling ideal of AAA – making cycling possible, fun, and safe for All Ages and Abilities. Just a few days ago, I saw a family with small children cycling down Hornby Street, mid week. I could not even have IMAGINED this when cycling down Hornby required one to mix it up with cars and trucks.
This is how all streets should look – safe space for pedestrians, #cyclists and motorists in downtown #Vancouver! pic.twitter.com/SDr4CZY91L
— Average Joe Cyclist (@AvrgeJoeCyclist) June 19, 2016
Obviously, separate bike lanes are safer. I know there are people who argue that separate bike lanes send a message that bikes are inferior, or different, or don’t deserve to share the same road space – and therefore separate bike lanes are a BAD thing. I do not agree with that argument. It’s not like separating black kids and white kids in schools. There, you are separating beings who are exactly the same (they are all children). But bikes and cars/buses/trucks are NOT the same thing at all. Motorists can kill people on bikes, very easily.
Usually when motorists kill cyclists it is an accident, as in the many cyclists who have been crushed to death on London streets over the last few years.
But sometimes, motorists kill cyclists on purpose (i.e., they murder them). When I Googled “Motorist deliberately killed cyclist” I got 426,000 hits, including:
- Motorist who deliberately ran down and killed a young cyclist had a fair trial, judges rule
- Witnesses: Motorist intentionally hit bicyclist in Piedmont Heights, left scene
- Suspended sentence for motorist who used car “as a weapon” to knock cyclist off bike
- Road rage motorist “killed cyclist in revenge for clipping his wing mirror”
- Update: Motorist allegedly murders cyclist in Downtown L.A.
It makes for pretty depressing reading. Sadly, road rage has been with us since cars were first invented – it seems to have something to do with us losing our humanity once we are encased in steel. In a previous post I quoted Otto Bierbaum, who was shocked by the road rage he experienced during a road trip:
“Never in my life have I been cursed at so frequently as on my automobile trip in the year 1902 … not to mention all the wordless curses: shaking fists, stuck-out tongues, bared behinds and others besides.”
See Who Else is SICK of Road Rage? for more about this strange phenomenon of road rage that seems to be an inescapable part of driving.
So, road rage has been with us for as long as cars have existed, and it’s not going away any time soon. But if a road rage incident erupts, and one person is encased in a five-ton steel vehicle and the other is totally exposed on a 20-pound bike, the cyclist is very vulnerable. A clash between a motorist and a cyclist is like a clash between a Terminator and a toddler. The cyclist has no chance at all. The Terminator has an excuse – he’s a robot. But the motorist has no excuse for attacking someone with his car. Get out of your car and use your hands, sure. A pathetic loss of control, but at least it is a fair fight.
But attack someone with your car? Wow – that has got to be about as cowardly as it is possible to get.
In any event, we cannot change the fact that there are people out there with two things: a car, and anger-management issues. Therefore, we need to keep bikes and cars as separate as possible. And that’s one of the reasons why I one hundred percent support separate bike lanes.
And that’s why I was so encouraged to learn about this businessman who changed his mind about opposing separate bike lanes.
In 2013, Vancouver proposed adding protected bike lanes to a single block of Union Street – a block that happens to be a crucial connection between two of the city’s most important bikeways. I have cycled that block for years, and it has always been horrible and dangerous, so I was delighted about the proposal.
But adding the separate bike lane required removing several dozen street parking spaces – as a result of which, many local business people were very unhappy. For example, restaurant owner Steve Da Cruz said: “To slash and burn like this is not going to work.”
In the end, there was a kind of compromise, but the block was made pleasant and safe for cyclists. It’s now one of my favorite blocks on my commute. Below is part of it. Notice the bikes on the right. They are standing outside Union Street Cycles, where you can get great, friendly affordable care for your bike, or buy a new one. It’s owned by a friendly guy named Bob. (And they are NOT paying me for this endorsement – they are just a great local bike shop, and I hope they live long and prosper.)
In the three months after this bike lane on Union Street was built, Da Cruz’s sales dropped 30 percent.
But then, just two months later … business rebounded! Thanks to the separate bike lane, more people were going past his storefront than ever. One year after it was built, Da Cruz told Business in Vancouver that his restaurant was doing better than ever. He said:
“We definitely have benefited from the increased usage of the bike lane.”
Da Cruz went on to talk about how many cyclists are patronizing his restaurant, and how tourists are using bikes to get to his restaurant. I admire Da Cruz for being brave enough to publicly change his mind and admit that something he once opposed has in fact worked out well. Hear more from Da Cruz in this video:
It is just wonderful to see things ending in a win-win situation. And I am not at all surprised. A report out of Victoria called Bikes Mean Business showed that cyclists and pedestrians actually DO SPEND MONEY, and therefore should be embraced by business. See News Flash: Cyclists and Gays are REGULAR PEOPLE (and spend money).
I am very happy when I see this kind of thing. Separate bike lanes have all kinds of unexpected benefits. But most importantly, they provide a safe way for cyclists to travel. And not just cyclists – I have been very happy to see disabled people using the separate bike lanes in downtown Vancouver to get around.
And let’s not forget about horses! I have seen horses taking advantage of the relative quiet and safety of bike lanes to get across Vancouver.
Separate bike lanes keep cyclists, disabled people, children – and horses – safe, and reduce the number of murderous road rage incidents. These are all wonderful things!
This kind of story is replaying all over the world. Yet astonishingly, many people cannot learn from the facts. Now there are plans afoot to install separate bike lanes on Commercial Drive, less than 10 km from the bike lanes that have been so good for business in downtown Vancouver. A jaw-dropping 84% of business people oppose them, for exactly the same reasons downtown business people previously opposed them. I find this staggering. Do people not read? Are we really this incapable of learning from history?
Commercial Drive business people have learned NOTHING from their counterparts downtown about the VALUE of… https://t.co/N25qjOkBdP
— Average Joe Cyclist (@AvrgeJoeCyclist) July 9, 2016
Well actually, we can and do learn from history. I see this in the worldwide grassroots global movement towards reclaiming the streets – taking them back from cars, and giving them back to people. Making public space safe for people of all ages and abilities to use their own power to move around. Just like in the good old days – a mere century ago, just before we surrendered our planet to cars.
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It warms my heart to see children riding bikes downtown. I haven’t seen this since I was a little girl in a small town on the prairies. I was one of those children. Now I’m a senior, and I would not have dreamt of cycling in downtown Vancouver ten years ago! But with all those lanes I am ready to try, if people in wheelchairs can do it I can do!
Average Joe Cyclist says
Nice to hear from you Jeannette. It warms my heart too. And I also remember being a child and cycling all over the place. I don’t know if it really was safe, or if I just felt safe because I was a child. I DO know that I tried to take my children cycling on the Adanac route about 10 years ago, and within 20 minutes one of them was almost run down by a young motorist who came roaring out of a side street, completely oblivious of the fact that he was speeding into a designated bike route. I realized that a sign that said “Share the Road” was not going to protect my children from drivers like that. So I stopped taking them for bike rides, because I just couldn’t take that risk. I hope to live to see a world where I can take my grandkids for bike rides without risking their lives.
Rita Evans says
I never foresaw the usage of bike lanes as transit corridors for disabled folks, but it makes perfect sense. Separate lanes are to protect vulnerable users from cars- whether said users are on a bike, wheelchair (or skateboard even). Horses are vulnerable too, so I am all for them as well. On a different note I saw a large pile of horse scat in the Hornby Bike route today – but I would say that is a small price indeed to pay for safe horses.