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City Council Approves Bike Lane Trial for Dunsmuir Viaduct

A separated bike lane in Copenhagen. Photo courtesy of sfbike on Flickr.

Dunsmuir Viaduct Trial Approved
Bike lanes separated from vehicle traffic will soon be expanded in Vancouver. Earlier this month, a proposal to construct separated bike lanes on the Dunsmuir viaduct and other connecting routes downtown was approved by Council.  

The addition of separated bike lanes will bring to fruition one of the recommendations made by the Greenest City Action Team last year. 

Mayor and council demonstrated strong support for the motion, voting unanimously in favour of the change. The recommendation from city staff called for construction of a separated bike lane trial on the Dunsmuir viaduct, and further consultation around separated routes connecting to the downtown business district. At the City Services & Budgets meeting, Vision councillor Geoff Meggs put forward an ammendment to consult and move forward with planning and implementing separated lanes throughout the bike network. 

The Dunsmuir lane trial will not affect other traffic lanes, as it re-allocates wasted space to create a new two-way cycle path that is four meters wide. It will be implemented shortly after the viaduct re-opens following the Olympics. 

Separated Lanes Overdue 
As a commuter cyclist, I feel that this change is long overdue. Bikes represent a distinct vehicle type, with slower speeds and greater vulnerabilities than motor vehicles. Asking cyclists to share the road with vehicles that are much larger and faster fundamentally puts us at a disadvantage on the road. For all but the most fearless cyclists, the prospect of cycling in traffic is intimidating, and such fears lead many to leave their bike at home. Separating bikes from traffic has great potential to resolve this fear factor and will hopefully serve to encourage more cycling in the city. 

Local research and case studies from cities around the world supports the claim that separated facilities improve the attractiveness and safety of cycling. The installation of separated bike lanes in other cities has brought more cyclists to the road. In some of the world's greatest cycling cities, such as Copenhagen, more than one in three trips are made by bike. By contrast, only one in twenty five, or four percent, of trips in Vancouver are currently made by bicycle. One of the most notable differences between Vancouver and these great cycling cities is the provision of separated cycling facilities. 

And the local cycling community has also taken note. A UBC survey of Metro Vancouver cyclists and potential cyclists demonstrated that separated facilities are the bike route option that best encourages cycling. 

But Not a Magic Bullet
Separated lanes are great for improving the perception of safety and attracting cyclists. But they will be most effective if they are combined with other improvements to cycling safety. One safety issue that separated lanes cannot resolve is the vulnerability of cyclists in intersections. The City of Portland has achieved cycling rates double that of Vancouver, in part by improving cyclist safety in intersections, where collisions most frequently occur. Following European examples, the City installed colored “bike boxes” in advance of intersections and extended brightly colored bike lanes through intersections. 

While the expansion of separated bike facilities in Vancouver is a welcome and necessary move by council, city staff must also consider the cyclist presence at intersections if they aim to improve cyclist safety. Barriers are important, but a little paint in the right places can also go a long way.

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