Biking in Vancouver is an excellent year-round activity with an award-winning network of more than 400km/249mi of bike routes and a grid of designated bike corridors covering the whole city. The seaside bicycle route, the Stanley Park Seawall, Richmond, and the Iona Jetty bicycle route are among the most popular in Vancouver. Cycling is perfectly suited to both individuals and families and is one of the best ways to explore Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver Area. Biking in Vancouver is really a piece of cake.
Cycling is energy-efficient, stress reducing, carbon-footprint-free activity and it’s very beneficial for your health as well. No wonder that biking was popular also a hundred years ago! Vancouver had bike lanes even back then! A Pricetags article published a 1931 observation by archivist Major James Skitt Matthews that allows us to peek into the last century’s perception of biking in Vancouver.
The ‘machines’ were so numerous that the City Council ordered special bicycle paths constructed on those streets which were most frequently used. These paths were invariably cinder surfaced, and rolled flat, and ran along the edge of the street between the gutter and wooden sidewalk. They were about six feet wide, and constantly kept in order, level and smooth, by city workmen.
Although bike lanes in 1931 Vancouver were provided by City Council, they weren’t free. A person who wanted to use them had to pay $1.00 per year for a license.
Not Everyone Is Excited about Bike Lanes
Bike lanes seem to be immensely successful in Vancouver; however, not everyone would vote in their favour. Peter Weber wrote for The Province about his negative experience. He describes a change of Beatty Street from a one-way fluent road to a two-way street with bike lanes on either side.
We now have much worse traffic flow and during rush hours cars are often backed up on this street. Even though these sacrifices have been made for cyclists, they still insist on riding their bikes on the sidewalk when there is a bike lane beside them on the street.
Pedestrians also frequently complain that cyclists constantly ride their bikes illegally on the sidewalks of Smithe and Nelson to access the Cambie bridge. Enforcement regarding illegal riding on the sidewalks has to be immediate. Bikers are often badly disciplined on the road, creating diversions like the one on the Beatty Street. According to Jon Ferry from The Province the problem lies in the lack of regulation. Those who ride bikes don’t need any licence; they haven’t undergone any formal training, which results in mistakes when they enter daily traffic in the city. In Toronto, meanwhile, Councillor David Shiner is pushing for cyclists to have to take a basic rules test, as boaters do. He pointed out that, as things stand, anybody can buy a pedal-powered vehicle and ride it on a public street. “Some of them seem to think that they have more rights than others on the roadway, that they’re above the law,” he said in a telephone interview for The Province.
Public Consultations on Newly Planned Bike Lanes
New plans to turn parts of Point Grey Road, Cornwall Avenue, and Commercial Drive into bike lanes as a part of the city strategy to reduce a car vs. bike conflict seem to spur both positive and negative reactions. Some people have a similarly cautious approach similar to Jon Ferry, while some are excited to see biking in Vancouver flourish. Jerry Dobrovolny, city transportation director, commented on the situation:
With four of the city’s 20 highest-crash intersections for cyclists sited on those three roads, it makes sense to look at a variety of ways to make cycling safer.
The biggest question is: what should these new lanes look like? The options are many, but the wisest thing to do would be to install fully separated lanes like the ones on Hornby and Dunsmuir. This way, cyclists are protected and traffic flow doesn’t suffer at all. The lanes can guarantee drivers more protection and make cyclists feel much safer. This is particularly beneficial for less experienced riders, and it encourages more people to get out of their cars and onto bikes.
Robert D’Onofrio, manager of Commercial Drive’s Kalena’s Shoes, doesn’t like the idea of separated bike lanes. In his statement for The Vancouver Sun he said, “Separated lanes wouldn’t work on the street because it isn’t wide enough and its sidewalks are already too narrow. Painted bike lanes wouldn’t be as much of a problem, but if they do what they do downtown with separated lanes, we don’t have the width for that."
Some people feel that since cyclists are getting a designated lane, they should be liable for insurance or licensing, since the money comes from public funds. Also, many businesses complain about the reduction of parking spaces once bike lines are installed.
Former city councillor Peter Ladner also commented for The Vancouver Sun:
There are too many dangerous conflicts between cyclists, pedestrians, and automobiles on Point Grey Road. I would say most of the neighbours are in favour of traffic-calming, at least, if not a protected lane for cyclists.
On Wednesday, May 16th, city council approved the plan for five new bike lanes expansions or improvements worth $3 million. These includes the construction of a pedestrian trail along 58th Avenue, a one-block separated bike lane on Cambie Street near the Langara Golf Course, a north-south bikeway on Dumfries Street, the conversion of a pilot bikeway on 45th Avenue into a permanent one, a revised North Arm Trail bikeway, and improvements to the Adanac bikeway at Union Street and Hawks Avenue. Later this month, the city plans to issue its new Transportation 2040 long-range plan. The city plans to invest yet another $10 million in improvements over the next two years.
The traffic in the city has resulted in an increasing number of accidents involving bikes and motorized vehicles. According to The Vancouver Sun, between 2006 and 2010 there were six accidents on Commercial Drive at each intersection at Broadway and 10th Ave. Over the same period, there were ten bike-vehicle accidents on Cornwall at the west end of Burrard Bridge and another six on Cornwall at Cypress Street. Like Commercial Drive, Point Grey Road is bracketed by existing bikeways on three sides.
Vancouver One of the Most Bicycle-friendly Cities
According to research from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver is among the ten most bike-friendly cities in Canada. The research evaluated cycling infrastructure, the topography of the city, desirable amenities (i.e. grocery stores and restaurants), and road connectivity. Other standout neighbourhoods for bikeabiltiy are Kitsilano and Riley Park. However, the research notes that there is still lots of room for improvement, since average bike scores in Canada are below 75 (out of 100). The conditions are incomparable to some cities in Northern Europe like Copenhagen and Stockholm. Researchers also compiled a map showing bike traffic in Vancouver.
Do you think that the City of Vancouver is doing enough to support biking? Should the City install more bike lanes, and where? Share your opinion!