VACC's Chris Keam assesses the changes to Vancouver commuter cycling over the past year and forecasts a bright future for the region
Last year was a big year for bikes in Metro Vancouver. Environmental concerns, economic pressures and increased political will put pedal power front and centre. But, it wasn't all downhill cruising and rain-free commutes.
Hit: Burrard Street Bridge bike lanes
Giving over a lane of the Burrard Street Bridge to bikes had skeptics predicting chaos and confrontation. But the actual outcome was a resounding success. Statistics show a 25 percent increase in cyclists using the bridge. To everyone's relief, delays to drivers have ranged from minimal to non-existent.
Miss: Helmet road checks
The crackdown on cyclists without helmets was of little success. Many bike riders continue to ride without head protection. Further, it was a questionable use of scarce police resources. Downtown streets remain more dangerous places than they should be—because of speeding, distractions such as mobile phones, dangerous disregard for traffic signals and a lack of serious consequences for careless road users.
Hit: The Central Valley Greenway
Separated bike lanes are a proven way to encourage cycling. One such facility—the 24-km Central Valley Greenway from New Westminster to downtown Vancouver (officially opened in June 2009)—is a great example of the kind of cost-effective infrastructure improvements that make people comfortable cycling for transportation.
Miss: HST on bikes
For years, BC cyclists enjoyed a PST exemption on bikes. With the BC government's announcement they would be implementing the HST, that exemption is due to disappear next summer. The decision is puzzling considering the provincial government's supposed aim of reducing greenhouse gases, especially in light of the HST exemption on gasoline.
Hit: Canada Line pedestrian and bicycle bridge
Cycling between Richmond, Vancouver and the airport got a lot easier last August, with the opening of a dedicated pedestrian/cycling bridge beneath the Canada Line's North Arm Bridge. The one-kilometre crossing makes getting across the Fraser River a breeze for bikers and walkers.
Miss: Bike parking
Secure valet bicycle parking has become a popular service at special events. But for many commuter cyclists, leaving an expensive bike locked outside, exposed to theft and rain is an everyday occurrence. A big increase in secure bike lockers throughout the city would be a major improvement in cycling infrastructure.
Hit: Cycling education
Groups such as the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition and PEDAL Development are teaching young people essential skills for safe cycling, bicycle maintenance and route planning. These initiatives fill a big gap in the BC school curriculum and give youth the tools they need to ride with confidence.
Two wheels good… and getting better
Overall, 2009 was the year urban cycling truly arrived in Metro Vancouver. Bike lanes, separated routes and cycling education are now recognized as necessary elements in any transportation plan. The future looks bright for bikes.
Adapted for Granville Online from the VACC monthly newsletter by Chris Keam.
Chris Keam is the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition’s communications coordinator, a freelance writer and video editor. Visit his website and blog at www.chriskeam.com for links to additional articles and videos on cycling and other topics.