Vancouver’s cycling-friendly side streets seen as a key step forward for North American cities
For the past decade, Vancouver’s separated bike lanes have continued to generate headlines and heaps of public scorn from conservative Vancouver residents who see them as the most overt example of Big Government’s ongoing “war on the car.”
Urban-planning and transportation experts have long feted Vancouver’s extensive system of bike-friendly side streets as a cheap and uncontroversial way for bike-resistant North American cities to create the infrastructure that gets people out of their cars and onto two wheels.
“It’s very simple,” says Gordon Price, a six-term former city councillor and former director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program. “All you have to do is put in traffic signals where these side streets cross another arterial.”
Mr. Price says Vancouver’s place at the forefront of North American cycling infrastructure stems from activists in the early 1970s successfully stopping a freeway from carving through its downtown core. After that, he says, Vancouver’s politicians declared that the car would not be the dominant mode of transportation, which paved the way for the city’s first dedicated bike lanes to be created in the early 1990s, with little backlash.
These lanes – which force cars to obey lower speed limits in order to give cyclists preferential treatment on an open residential street – soon began to reshape the “mental map” residents use for getting around the city, he said.
Mr. Price was a councillor from 1986 to 2002, after which he says his Non-Partisan Association party committed to fomenting a “bikelash” among Vancouver’s more conservative residents to oppose any expansion to the city’s cycling infrastructure. This movement began to reach a fever pitch in the run-up to council reallocating a car lane of the Burrard Street Bridge in 2009 to create a separated path for cyclists riding in and out of downtown.
Networks of traffic-calmed streets can be an important – and politically feasible – middle step for a city to make cycling safer and easier for many, but, ultimately, separated lanes on busy streets are the key to getting more commuters peddling to work, according to Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former director of planning.
Roughly 10 per cent of Vancouver commutes are now on bikes thanks to these separated lanes, making it one of North America’s top-three cycling cities, he says.
“By far the biggest safety benefits are in terms of huge declines in traffic injuries of children,” Mr. Pucher says of the side streets calmed for cyclists. “What resident of a neighbourhood is going to oppose this?”