Beyond the Vision for a Pedal-happy Vancouver

As the cycling debate continues, what improvements are needed to get more people behind two wheels—before the next civic election?

Chris Keam asks three central figures in Vancouver’s ongoing cycling debate about what’s needed to move city cycling ahead before the next civic election


It started in July 2009. The creation of a separated, protected lane for cyclists on the Burrard Bridge turned out to be just the beginning of Vision Vancouver’s ambitious plan for increasing cycling in Vancouver.

In 2010, the addition of separated lanes on Dunsmuir and Hornby Streets not only created more protected routes for cyclists, they also added fuel to the fire in what became a fractious and heated debate over the allocation of road space in the city.

Now, with the Vision Vancouver-dominated council having created a separated lane system running through the downtown core, they’re claiming it’s time to step back and take stock of the situation before launching any new initiatives. In fact, no major changes to the existing network are expected to be introduced before the next civic election in November.


But what might we expect after voters go to the polls if another cycling-friendly council is installed at city hall? Three central figures in the debate say planning, education and communication are as important as painted lanes and concrete barriers in building the bike lane ahead.


Downtown Vancouver separated bike lanes

Separated bike lanes being used on Hornby street in downtown Vancouver. (Image: Flickr / Paul Krueger)


Gordon Price calls for more cyclist education

Gordon Price is a former NPA (Non-Partisan Association) councillor and the current director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. During the debate over the installation of the Hornby Street bike lanes, he spoke in favour of the proposal, saying, “There are times in the growth of the city when networks begin to fill in, when connections are made, when the infrastructure gets to a certain point where things just go… click.”


He views the wait-and-see attitude as a sensible approach for the time being.


“After the next election makes sense because it both fits the timeframe and allows the issue to be de-politicized a little,” he says. “It’s not contradictory to wait for enough time for people to absorb change and planning for change. But moving forward on the Bikeway Network makes sense, particularly where it provides links between the existing routes.


Price thinks the original planning for bike lanes, developed during the mid-1970s, is still a good blueprint for further development.


“Both the big idea and the specifics are all laid out. I’d do the groundwork for the next routes and be ready to go when the time is right.”


Beyond changing road space, Price thinks there’s a change that needs to happen in cyclists’ headspace as well. He sees increased education as a crucial next step.


“An education program is a must—particularly for cyclists. And now’s the time. As numbers grow, cycling shifts from a purely individual exercise to one where cyclists move through the city in groups (or platoons, as the engineers call them). That requires more awareness and respect for others. And I think the general public needs to see that cyclists have defined responsibilities too.”


VACC president Arno Schortinghuis agrees with Price, calls for cycling education

More education for cyclists is also high on the priority list for Arno Schortinghuis, president of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition.


“The City of Vancouver already supports some cycling education in the school system but we would like to see a comprehensive school cycling program accompanied by a ‘safe routes to school’ program implemented. Such a program would likely involve a larger inter-governmental strategy with appropriate long-term funding in place. There is a small cycling awareness component associated with obtaining a driver’s license but this should be enhanced.


“We would also like to see a series of cycling safety campaigns conducted by ICBC, police forces, and municipalities which addresses both driver and cyclist behaviour with the goal of improving safety for cyclists.”


Schortinghuis also believes improved bike parking downtown could have a positive impact on cycling in the city, while both he and Price mentioned the implementation of a public bike program as a logical next step for Vancouver. A plan for a Vancouver bike share system is rumoured to be in the works, but as yet, no official plan has been made public.


NPA councilor Suzanne Anton demands public consultation on Vision Vancouver cycling initiatives

NPA councillor Suzanne Anton spent 2010 juggling her role as a voice of opposition to Vision Vancouver’s political machine with the belief that cycling can play an important role in the city’s transportation network. Opposing the party, while sharing the premise behind some of their programs, has made life difficult for the NPA’s sole voice on Vancouver City Council.


For Anton, the major failing of the current initiatives and a crucial element of any future cycling improvements is consultation and communication.


Cyclist in downtown Vancouver

Cyclists use the new bike lane in Gastown, Vancouver. (Image: Flickr / contessak)


“People should look on cycling as being benign,” says Anton, “as something that’s good, and healthy and good for the city. That’s certainly not the conversation that’s being going on in the past few years. You don’t need to rush into it and turn the city on its head.


“It would have been far preferable to have spent more time on it (the Hornby Street separated lane). You probably could have started it in January, let those businesses get on with their Christmas shopping and get them more on side with how they will run their businesses with the bike lane.”

One change to the road network that piques her interest is an idea originally put forth by former NPA councillor and mayoral hopeful Peter Ladner. Ladner has proposed creating a separated bike lane along Point Grey Road and Cornwall Avenue. to better connect the south shore of English Bay to the Burrard Bridge bike lane.


While reluctant to offer specifics without further consultation with residents, Anton thinks the idea has merit—and fills a gap in the cycling network.

“That Kits-Cornwall area… is a missing link. You get dumped off the south end of the Burrard Bridge and you’re in that mess of traffic around Cornwall and Cypress.”


Another area that Anton thinks needs addressing is the False Creek Flats. The industrial area, bisected by rail lines, creates a north/south barrier from Clark Drive to Main Street that requires lengthy detours. She’d like to see better access from Clark Drive to the north side of the False Creek Flats and the Great Northern Way Campus shared by UBC, SFU, BCIT and Emily Carr University.


Talk back: Vote on Vision Vancouver’s city cycling strategy 

Clearly, there are lots of bike-friendly ideas for the next council to choose from. And just as certain, bike lanes will be back in the news when the election promises start to fly.


What remains to be seen, is whether Vision Vancouver’s ambitious approach turns out to be a milestone on the path to re-election, or the millstone that sinks Gregor Robertson’s second term.


What do you think? Will the current mayor and council’s bike-heavy transportation strategy land them re-election?


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