Let's guarantee safe transportation for all
From the City's viewpoint, we need to grow the economy, but with no extra space to build roads, we must increase human movement in other ways than single occupancy vehicles. Then there are those who disagree with giving safe adequate facilities to cyclists and other wheeled users, the justification being, "there are not enough people cycling," "people don't cycle in the winter," or "my business will surely suffer," etc.
Although there may be a certain amount of negative impacts to installing active transport infrastructure, we must weigh any potential negatives against the positive benefits. Active transport such as cycling and walking bring clean air, reduced congestion, reduced health care costs, and community building, as well as well-documented economic benefits. People who arrive by transit, foot, and bicycle shop more often and spend more money than those who drive, pedestrians feel more comfortable on sidewalks that have bike lanes, generating more walk by traffic, and parking space for bikes results in more profit than the equal space devoted to cars.
One could argue it is not the addition of safe facilities that is the source of conflict, but the lack of safe facilities, because the conflict would likely not be happening if the safe facilities were already in place and people were used to them, as in Europe. For years, cyclists and motorists in our region have been forced to coexist, with few safe facilities such as separated lanes to attract more than the "brave and daring."
While some may see adding bike lanes and safe facilities to encourage active transportation among a wide array of users as "creating conflict" with motor vehicles, I would argue that not creating the facilities is the true source of conflict. Potential for conflict, harm and annoyance is ensured when vulnerable users are forced to share the road with much larger, heavier and faster vehicles. A pledge will do little for a cyclist cut off dangerously by a large vehicle on a busy road, whereas a separated lane can significantly reduce danger and conflict.
I ask the naysayers: should not all active transport users have safe facilities to travel about on? Why would we ensure the lion's share of infrastructure and funding to the automobile at the expense of other forms of transportation when the automobile is increasingly out of touch with human and environmental needs? In Denmark, motor vehicle emissions result in ten times more fatalities than traffic accidents. Our cars are making us fat, helping to "fuel" an obesity epidemic which in turn is fueling a diabetes epidemic.
The time has come to guarantee safe travel for all. In the face of climate change, peak oil, auto fatalities, auto emissions, the obesity and diabetes epidemics, and urban sprawl, we can no longer afford to make automobile traffic the dominant mode of transportation. While we still need automobiles, especially some of us in rural communities or those of us with compromised health, it makes sense to limit automobile use when possible, especially in walkable communities like downtown Vancouver. It also frees up the roads for those who truly have no other alternative, and allows for an easier flow of goods, buses, taxis and emergency vehicles.
A car is often a hindrance and expense many who live in the city can easily do without, especially with car share companies conveniently located in many of our communities. Active transportation encourages physical activity and good health, reduces health care costs, and encourages healthy, vibrant communities.
Pledges aside, perhaps we should look at ensuring safe active transportation facilities for non-motorized users the same way we look at ensuring road safety for motor vehicles, as common sense. If facilities are not up to the same standard for all users, one mode will become dominant, as we have seen with motor vehicles. Driving is a privilege, but the ability for all people to travel safely is a right.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of the Bicycle Advisory Committee or the City of Vancouver.