Let's make Vancouver the Bike Capital of the world
The main setback that bicycle commuters in Vancouver face is the lack of well-maintained and safe roads. Most bike routes in the city are just wider roads that are designed to accomodate both cars and cyclists. While this design works well most of the time, the road presents cyclists with many circumstances that can be difficult and dangerous. Recently, a Quebec truck crash killed 3 cyclists. In light of that tragedy, it's time to think again about how to make roads safe for cyclists.
Vancouver trails miles behind cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen in terms of providing accessible and safe bike routes. Below is my assessment of some of the bike routes in Vancouver, and what does and doesn't work about them:
West 8th Avenue
Riding along this road to work or school can be quite dangerous for several reasons. First, it is tempting to disregard the stop signs, which turn up every two blocks and make the commute (if all signs are obeyed) a series of jerky stops and starts. Second, there are no traffic lights to help the rider get across large streets like MacDonald and Alma. Third, because the traffic on and through this road can be high, especially during commuting hours, it is difficult to ride normally through intersections even when there are no stop signs.
Also, because the road is in a residential area, there are the occasional vehicles that are trying to park and drivers who are trying to get out of their cars. Past Alma, the road is in such disrepair that heading east (or going downhill) from UBC can be a shaky and uncomfortable experience.
Frequent stop signs and the lack of traffic lights make commuting along this road both inconvenient and dangerous. Considering this road is the major bike route along Broadway and goes directly to UBC, commuting on a bicycle around that area is by no means convenient or safe.
Northwest Marine Drive
Although a scenic and smooth ride with no traffic lights, the road is not well-maintained and bumpy, with intermittent potholes. Cars rarely obey the speed limit, and the road becomes far too narrow to accomodate both cars and cyclists on the hill climb up to UBC. Also, for those who don't live near the beach, taking this route usually means taking a long detour around most of UBC.
Southwest Marine Drive
Southwest Marine Drive has a wide lane for cyclists and very few traffic lights. It is convenient for long commutes, especially to and from UBC (or Richmond). However, it can be dangerous because of the high volume of fast-moving traffic, and often entails a wide detour to get to one's destination.
West 16th Avenue
Although not officially a bike route, the road is wide enough from Arbutus (to UBC) to be used as one. Like all other bikable routes on major streets, dealing with right-turning cars and buses near bus stops can be quite dangerous. Also, cars go at relatively high speeds along this road, especially near UBC.
By contrast, in Amsterdam, a variety of bike-friendly transportation policies are in place, including a speed limit restriction of 30 kilometres per hour for cars in residential areas. The city, unlike Vancouver, also contains an extensive system of bike lanes that allows cyclists to bypass traffic signals and take shortcuts around the city. This encourages residents to ditch their cars.
A bike route in Amsterdam (Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)
Similarly, in Copenhagen, Denmark, commuters on bicycles get their own paths, separate from main traffic lanes, and their own signal systems. Cyclists get priority over cars, and a neighbourhood called Christiania is already entirely car-free. Buses block car traffic when they have to stop--rather than swerving off to the side of the road and blocking bicycle traffic.
A bike box in the downtown core of Victoria, BC (Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)
Bicycle commuting in Vancouver would benefit from a redesign of the city's bike routes. The most dangerous aspect of commuting is dealing with cars that turn right without checking for cyclists. This is in part due to the poor design of bicycle lanes. For instance, drivers rarely check for bicycles when they turn right onto Chestnut Street (near the Planetarium) while travelling westbound on Cornwall Avenue. But they should.
Accidents can be prevented by the implementation of bike boxes (see image above). In fact, Vancouver's near-by neighbour, Victoria, has already begun using bike boxes to keep bikers safe.
Bumpy roads often force cyclists to look for smooth stretches of the road and swerve from side to side. That means it's time to re-pave those roads. Finally, a more ideal placement of stop signs and traffic lights would reduce the number of accidents caused by cyclists "rolling" through stop signs and disobeying car traffic rules.
C'mon, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver City Council. We know you love to bike. Let's make all of our roads safer for cyclists. Let's make bike paths everywhere so cyclists don't have to share the roads with lethal weapons that guzzle gas. Let's radically reduce our carbon foot print. Hey, let's be a world model. Let's become the Green Capital of the world. But while we're at it, let's be the Bike Capital, too.