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Former NPA councillor Peter Ladner: Bikes lanes are working

February 13th, 2011 · 189 Comments

We heard the anti-bike lane case from Rob Macdonald last week. In fairness, here’s the counter-argument from Peter Ladner. This column appeared in Business in Vancouver.

“What do you think of the new bike lanes on Hornby Street?” asked my Aunt Glo over dinner a few weeks ago.

She’s in her 80s and uses a walker.

“I hate them,” she said. “Last week I had to go downtown for a lunch and my taxi was backed up along Hornby. Do you know how many bikes there were in the bike lanes?”

Nope.
“Not one! The taxi drivers hate the bike lanes. Why did the city decide to force them on us? They want everyone to become a cyclist. I’m never going to ride a bike.”
“Nobody is expecting you to ride a bike, Glo,” I insisted, not mentioning my mother-in-law, turning 90 next month, who is back on her bike in Victoria after a bike fall that broke her hip four years ago.
Scene 2: “What do you think of the new bike lanes on Hornby Street?” my friend Dean asked me.
He’s in this 60s, president of a downtown investment firm.
“I love them,” he said. “I’ve started riding to work [from Dunbar], and I’m getting exercise. I feel better when I arrive at work, and I never have to worry about how long the trip is going to take. Riding in the rain really isn’t a big deal.”
His thoughts about exercise and health are echoed in a recent review of the scientific literature that found that the slight increase in risk from bicycle crashes is more than offset by vast improvements in overall health and lifespan when you ride a bicycle for transportation.
The health benefits of bicycling are nine times greater than the safety gains from driving instead.
The transition to a less auto-dependent city isn’t going to be easy, but it isn’t going to stop. Compared with New York City, we’ve just begun. As part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s environmental initiative, not only has Times Square been pedestrianized, the city is set to have 1,800 miles of bike lanes by 2030, with 10,000 public bikes added to the streets in a bike-share program by 2012. Bike use went up 13% last year, double what it was five years ago.
There, the conversation has been about saving lives. The police have handed out 29,000 tickets to cyclists disobeying the law during a “Don’t be a jerk” campaign. Cycling injuries are down 50% with the introduction of separated bike lanes, and all traffic injuries are down 40% because of pedestrian refuge islands built into the bike lane barriers.
Jan Gehl, the Danish architect who inspired New York’s changes, was in Vancouver last month sharing his message: “People are starting to stand up and recognize that we have lost something which was always very important, and now we have time to recover from the first wave of automobile pressure, and rethink a better balance where you like to go out and sit and have meals and watch your fellow citizens, talk with them in spaces which are not completely filled with noise and pollution from cars.” Think of downtown and the 2010 Winter Olympics.
In New York, the new pedestrians are paying off for businesses. In Times Square and Herald Square, retail rents have gone up 71% because of new business generated by the new car-free public spaces.
In Vancouver, the “new pedestrians” are rallying to support businesses along the bike route with a Facebook group called Pedestrians Supporting Hornby Business, organizing social gatherings at restaurants along Hornby. The Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition now has a Business for Bikes program to help businesses along bike routes adjust and market to cyclists.
Vancouver will be hosting major international conferences on both cycling and walkability over the next two years. While the owner of the Wedgewood Hotel was speaking out against the Hornby bike lane outside her front door, her employees were bidding to be the host hotel for the cycling conference.
The shift is here and, with patience, it will work – as long as there is always a way for Aunt Glo to get downtown as conveniently as the cyclists.
Peter Ladner ( pladner@biv.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ) is a founder of Business in Vancouver and a former Vancouver city councillor.

This article from Business in Vancouver February 15-21, 2011; issue 1112

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