Magical moments in Vancouver cycling in 2010
2010 was a watershed year in Vancouver cycling history – thanks to a Mayor and City Council that actively promoted cycling, and to many cycling activists pursuing their shared dream of safe cycling for all. Mayor Gregor Robertson stood up for cyclists, and spearheaded essential improvements to cycling infrastructure that have made cycling in Vancouver safer and more accessible. October 5th was the day that Vancouver City Council voted unanimously for the contentious separated bike lane on Hornby Street.
(Photo by Average Joe Cyclist)
Workers were out the next morning, and the lane was completed at record speed, to open (unofficially) on 7th December. The entire Bike Lane can be seen on the video at the bottom of this post. (Video by Alexwarrior1.)
It’s a great bike lane, and a pleasure to ride. It does have its dangerous bits, such as the sections where motorists need to cross the lane to get into car parks. On my very first ride on the lane, I was rudely cut off by someone on an urgent mission to park his van. However, the Council has made great efforts to keep the lane safe – it even features Vancouver’s first bike traffic signals.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Krueger)
But it’s not just a bike lane. While it may be just one small step for bike infrastructure, it is also one giant leap for the development of Vancouver as a true 21st century city – one that focuses on finding sustainable alternatives to current systems that patently are failing.
We know that the number of people wanting to travel into Vancouver will just continue to grow – the city is expected to grow by another 23% by 2041. And we know the streets cannot get any bigger, even though most are already gridlocked half the time. And we also know that continuing to do the same thing even though it has patently failed, is the definition of stupidity. Hence the Vision Vancouver commitment to supporting transportation alternatives that have the potential to absorb the growing numbers – such as bicycles. Surveys show that 60% of residents would cycle downtown if it was safe.
So making cycling safer is arguably the single most important step towards solving Vancouver’s transportation problems and making the city sustainable.
Gordon Price said it best when he addressed the Council prior to the historic vote. Comparing the Hornby Bike Lane to the completion of the Stanley Park Seawall, he said that there are times in the building of the infrastructure of a city when “things just go click.” Approving the Hornby Bike Lane would be one of those:
“Click moments – magical moments. This is powerful stuff; it changes how people perceive space, how they move – and even the identity of the city.”
Vancouver’s identity may well be said to have evolved with the recent addition of several major improvements in cycling infrastructure:
- the fabulous Central Valley Greenway (June 2009, with the collaboration of the Cities of Burnaby and New Westminster);
- the Burrard Bridge Separated Bike Lane (July 2009);
- the Dunsmuir Street Separated Bike Lane (March 2010); and
- the Hornby Street Separated Bike Lane (December 2010).
And that's not even all. On Dunsmuir, green bike boxes have magically appeared. On the 10th Avenue bike route, the desperately needed traffic light for crossing Fraser finally sprang up. On Commercial Drive, a bike corral for parking appeared seemingly overnight. And so quite suddenly, most major trips around Vancouver can now be planned as bike trips – safely. At the beginning of last year, it took all my courage to cycle through the city of Vancouver; now, it’s almost like a ride in the park.
The new Dunsmuir Street Separated Bike Lane, complete with green boxes (Photo courtesy of Paul Krueger)
All of this is not only thanks to Mayor Robertson and Vision Vancouver – there is a small army of volunteers who have worked to make this happen, notably members of the VACC (Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition) and the BCCC (British Columbia Cycling Coalition). The VACC has pursued its mission to make cycling an integral part of the transportation culture by stanchly promoted cycling in rain and sun – such as by hosting Bike to Work Weeks in all conditions, including the downpours in November during the fall Bike to Work Week.
Monsoon-like rain did not stop a steady procession of cyclists from stopping at the VACC’s Bike to Work Week station at Gilmore, where volunteers huddled under tents that threatened to fly away at any second.
(Photo by Average Joe Cyclist)
As a direct result of infrastructure improvements and volunteer efforts, the increase in bike trips has already begun. For example, on 7th July 2010, the one millionth cyclist crossed the Burrard bridge bike lane – just shy of a year after it opened. Mayor Robertson commented:
“This is a remarkable achievement. Over one million riders in less than a year shows that when you build safe, protected bike lanes, people of all ages will come out and use them. The Burrard Bridge bike lanes have been a big success and helped make cycling and walking over the bridge safer for thousands of people every day. Before the bike lanes were in place, only the most dedicated cyclists used Burrard Bridge. Now it’s become a popular route for families, seniors, kids – it’s a safe and fun way to get into downtown or head towards Kits beach.”
Making cycling safe for all is a giant leap towards integrating cycling into the mainstream transportation culture, and thereby helping to create sustainable cities. Our city seems to have passed an important milestone in the process of growing into a mature, forward-thinking city – a city in which we the residents can hope to see our city go from strength to strength in the 21st century.
Proponents of cycling have stood their ground against the small but very vocal minority of business people who apparently would prefer to see cyclists exposed to danger, rather than give up a paltry 158 parking spots close to their businesses. The hysterical resistance to the Hornby Bike Lane was truly extraordinary, and was spearheaded by Laura Jones of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. One of her most brilliant suggestions was to paint the existing (and very dangerous) Hornby Bike Lane green, to make it safer for cyclists. Now tell me, if the embattled lane this guy was cycling on was painted green, how on earth would that have made him safer?
Brave cyclist on the previously unprotected Hornby bike lane contends with fast-moving cars invading from every side. (Photo by Average Joe Cyclist)
Mainstream media unsurprisingly gave a lot more air time to big business than to cyclists. Laura Jones’s outraged face became familiar to all Global viewers (and not all of us were happy about that). And CTV interviewed Charles Gauthier of the Downtown Business Improvement Association, who complained about lost parking spaces. While conceding that there would be alternative parking, he lamented that shoppers might be deterred by having to walk a little further. (As we all know, the normal experience in downtown Vancouver is to drive straight into a parking right outside the business of your choice)
As a matter of fact, cyclists do spend money. These bikes are parked while their owners refresh themselves at a restaurant in False Creek.
(Photo by Average Joe Cyclist)
Hopefully, at some point business owners will begin to realize that potential customers can arrive by other means than cars, and that cyclists do actually shop. Boy, do we shop. Anyone who would pay a couple of hundred dollars for a 3 oz cycling jersey is no stranger to shopping. In fact, once alternative transport makes city access more comfortable and convenient, business might even improve. The VACC is tackling business resistance head-on, with its Business for Bikes initiatives, managed by Erin O’Melinn, which aims to create a robust group of businesses that openly support cycling.
But it’s not even just about moving towards a sustainable future for Vancouver. It’s also about another vital aim: making sure that ordinary people cycling in Vancouver will be safer. Without this, we cannot expect the majority of people to embrace cycling as a viable means of transportation for themselves and their families.
In a previous post in the Vancouver Observer, SFU Assistant Professor Janet Moore put it eloquently. Expressing her fears as she cycled across town, and her hope that the planned Hornby Bike Lane would go ahead, she wrote:
“I’m a mom on a bike just trying to get to work. ... This is not about bike lanes. It is about the future of Vancouver for my kids. ... Imagine a future where everyone felt safe getting around in our city.”
Janet nailed it: it’s about safety, first and foremost. It’s about moms and dads and kids and seniors being able to get from A to B, on a bike, without getting killed. And once they can do that, then we will have an important foundation for creating a sustainable city as we ride boldly into the future. As Mayor Robertson put it:
“Hornby Street’s open. … I’m not worried about the popularity piece of it. This is really important infrastructure for downtown Vancouver. We build streets, we build sidewalks. Building good bike lanes is important for our future.”
And it’s not just our mayor who gets this. Residents of Vancouver have shown their support. In September, the Mustel Group survey found that most Vancouverites supported the Hornby Bike Lane, and 45% planned to use it. By November 2010, Mayor Robertson’s approval ratings had soared to 43%. That’s astonishingly high for a Canadian politician (because don’t we just love to hate them?). The VACC reflected the general sentiment when it held a celebratory ride on December 14th (in typical Vancouver winter weather – pouring rain) to celebrate the opening of the Hornby Bike Lane.
To me, this public support – despite a minority of detractors – sends the encouraging message that most Vancouverites support creating a safer, more sustainable city. Even if it does mean that we’ll have to somehow survive with 158 fewer car parking spots.