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The big-picture plan to encourage cycling in Vancouver

February 3rd, 2010 · 42 Comments

The big cycling news reported this week was the creation of a protected bike lane on the Dunsmuir Viaduct. But the more interesting story, I thought, was really the future plans to create protected bike lanes through the downtown and potentially elsewhere (Point Grey Road? Maybe).

My story in the Globe today looks at where the city’s thinking of going and why. I can’t help but agree that they’re not going to get new cyclists until they get more protected routes downtown.

I’d describe myself as being in the “confident and enthusiastic” category, after having cycled through Europe twice in my youth and being generally not the fearful type. But after one ride up Burrard on that skinny little bike lane where you’re in between a bus lane and a car lane, I said “no thanks, never again.” One wobble and you’re dead.

It should be interesting, though, to see how discussions go in the public consultations post-Olympics on where exactly those lanes should go.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • This may be a fractious thread, which is unfortunate and unnecessary. We have everything to gain, and nothing to lose by making Metro Vancouver a safe haven for urban cyclists. My personal position is one of strong support for a network of complete streets that accommodate pedestrians, transit, cycling, and automobiles, but rather than hop on top of a soapbox I’d like to suggest something.

    These kinds of initiatives were going to happen no matter which civic party holds the reins of power. Looking at past councils and the individual councillors, it’s clear that both the ruling parties of the past decade or so would be tackling this issue with the same toolkit and essentially the same philosophy. A discussion of the hows and whys, where and whens would be much more productive than partisan mud-slinging.

  • spartikus

    These kinds of initiatives were going to happen no matter which civic party holds the reins of power.

    This is a point worth repeating: there is a consensus across the political spectrum that there is a need for more and better cycling infrastructure. And from FB’s Globe piece, it appears even the Charles Gauthier’s have sensed which way the wind is blowing.

  • Bill Lee

    The real horror of Point Grey road is private dwellings along the water side.
    As with Beach Avenue towards Stanley Park, the city should demolish all homes as soon as possible to give us a true bike way and a linear park atop the cliffs. That goes for you too, Mr. David Suzuki.

  • Joe just Joe

    I agree that this is going to happen regardless of who’s in power, the only differences will be how quickly and how it’s done. I still feel that the method used in the Burrard st lane is the incorrect way to go. The way to win peoples hearts is not to pit them one against the other. If these bike lanes can be created w/o punishing drivers then ulitmately we can all have our cake and eat it too. It will take more work and money but it’s the right way to go.

  • I really feel the drivers were very well accommodated in the Burrard Bridge situation and that perception is reinforced by the surveys that dispelled the pre-supposed idea that uproar would ensue. It’s the pedestrians that got the worst of it.

  • Dan Cooper

    I’m a hardcore bicycle commuter, and I generally – though not always – avoid the major streets. Happily, I can go from home to work all on side streets. Then again, I don’t have to go downtown for work. I do go there occasionally to the main library, but more often take the bus, or skip it and go to a different library. (Parenthetically: I like the Main branch because, obviously, it has a lot more books and isn’t as cramped and grimy as most of the other branches. Sadly it also has the least friendly, and in fact often outright rude, staff in the library system; I rarely go there that someone on staff doesn’t make me feel like dirt. But anyway, back to bike lanes….) I would definitely be inspired to go downtown more by protected lanes. The Burrard Bridge lane has made me feel okay taking trips into the West End and Stanley Park, which was difficult before. As Frances B. notes, though, getting TO the Burrard Bridge lane can be scary.

  • IanS

    I agree, ultimately, that the goal should be to make the streets as safe and efficient as possible for everyone. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. The difficulties arise where something is taken from one group and given to another. That’s where the real debate arises.

    I also think that that debate would benefit from an honest and reasoned exchange of positions and information regarding any changes. The Burrard Bridge situation is a good example of how not to go about it. Between the doom and gloom reaction of the naysayers, the inaccurate and condescending claims of the supporters (right up to the Mayor’s recent misstatement of the results of the bridge “trial”) and the suppression of data concerning the trial, it was often difficult to form any kind of accurate assessment.

    I would hope (without much optimism, I must say) that any future discussions on this topic would see a good deal less of that kind of behaviour.

  • spartikus

    I also think that that debate would benefit from an honest and reasoned exchange of positions and information regarding any changes.

    I would be happy to have that conversation. To that end, I would like more information on the charge of suppression of data – I can’t find anything on the web other than a couple of unsupported accusations left in various blog comments.

    The suppression of data is a very heavy charge.

    The City’s statistics go to November, but that doesn’t mean December and January data is being “suppressed”.

    So, if you have more information I would be appreciative.

  • gmgw

    I just wish the City would direct even a quarter of the effort they put into promoting bicyclism toward enhancing pedestrian safety as well, something that’s sorely needed in Snafuver. Unfortunately, we walkers don’t have anywhere near the extraordinary clout at City Hall enjoyed by the extremely visible and vocal bike lobby. Maybe one day Vancouver will elect a mayor who walks and/or takes the bus to work. Until then, I fear nothing will change, except maybe a periodic upswing in the amount of lip service paid to the issue.

    Re Bill Lee’s entertaining Point Grey Road fantasy: Back in the days before real estate prices in this town took off for the neighbourhood of the Andromeda Galaxy, the Parks Board for some time had a semi-official policy of acquiring properties along PGR for parkland, as they became available. That’s where those mini-parks framing Jacqui Cohen’s house and the even smaller park a few blocks west came from. The ultimate goal was to create a seaside drive (this was prior to the Age of the Bicycle) with a truly spectacular outlook.

    Unfortunately, to follow Mr. Lee’s directive now, when not a single property on the seaward side of Point Grey Road could be acquired for less than two million dollars and many would cost considerably more than that, the City would be looking at an expenditure in the neighbourhood of a billion dollars. Not to mention the hell-raising opposition such a “demolition” policy (are we talking about.. let me whisper the word… expropriation?) would raise among this city’s privileged classes, who carry even more clout at City Hall than the bicycle lobby (hard though that may be to believe), and who believe fervently in the sanctity of property rights. These factors serve to indicate why the Parks Board’s long-term vision was abandoned quite a few years ago.

    Nice dream, though, Bill. Got any more you’d like to share?
    gmgw

  • IanS

    @spartikus,

    My reference was specifically directed at the fact that the figures for traffic delay arising out of the bike lane trial on Burrard Bridge were deleted from the City’s web page without explanation, and have never been released. I think it’s a fair inference that those figures were deliberately suppressed.

    Although I didn’t have it in mind when I wrote my earlier post, I don’t think any figures or data has ever been released regarding any increase in safety due to the bike lane. In the final report, I believe the City Engineer indicated that the number of bike accidents had decreased from 3 to 1 from the comparable time period the year before, but I don’t recall any data being released. At various times, I think reference has also been made to a study being conducted with respect to bike safety during the trial, but that has never been release either. At least. as far as I know.

  • @IanS
    Before making accusations of data being suppressed, how about doing just a bit of research. A quick phone call or e-mail to the city would probably clear things up. Compared to most other transportation initiatives in the province, there has been far more debate and information available on the Burrard Bridge Trial.

    Anyway, it has obviously been successful. Why spend more of taxpayers money collecting and reporting on data when this would not change the fact that it has worked.

    Regarding safety, the major problem were conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians due to the sharing of the substandard narrow sidewalks. With cyclists and pedestrians separated, these conflicts are eliminated. With the problem fixed, I’m not sure why the city would need to spend money to collect more data, which can be quite expensive, just to prove what we already know.

  • spartikus

    I think it’s a fair inference that those figures were deliberately suppressed.

    It’s a possibility, to be sure, but not the only one.

    The third result in a Google search travel times burrard bridge goes to this page which contains travel time data. Note both the URL and the timestamp at the bottom:

    Last Modified: Thursday, January 21, 2010

    The link for statistics off the project page goes to this. Note the URL and the timestamp:

    Last Modified: Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    This last page, despite being “older”, has the more recent data. I have no explanation, but the travel time data is still online. You can also find it by using the search feature of vancouver.ca

    If it’s being deliberately suppressed, it’s not being done very well.

  • Up to the minute information on traffic delays is available on a number of radio stations, websites and television channels. I personally listen to CBC Radio One, with the occasional visit to CKNW, and like many people watch the news in the morning and evening, where traffic helicopters roam the skies looking for significant delays. They regularly revisit the same areas where delays are chronic. Outside of the first day of the trial, media attention to the Bridge w/r/t delays (or accidents) has been practically non-existent by my unscientific and anecdotal listening habits.

    GMGW:

    Everyone I know who is involved in advocating for cycling safety in Vancouver also wishes there was a group or individual advocating on behalf of pedestrians. The pedestrian advocacy work done by Bev Ballantyne (Putting Pedestrians First) is sorely missed and greater consideration for pedestrians would be a boon to seniors and children especially.

  • IanS

    @spartikus:

    I agree its not the only possible inference. However, given that the data was removed from the statistics web page without explanation, I think it’s a reasonable one. A suspicious person might conclude that the data was removed because it didn’t support the political conclusion the City wanted to reach.

    Yes, there are earlier versions of the trial page where the data was presented. The page you link is the one which did present the data, I believe for the period between June and August.
    My point is that the data was removed from the updates without explanation. Which begs the question, why was the data removed from the updated page and not made public for the period after August?

    I reiterate that my conclusion is an inference only and there may very well be other reasons why the data was removed. Perhaps they determined that the methodology was flawed? I don’t know, but I don’t think removing the data without explanation encourages any kind of open debate, which is my point.

    @Richard:

    I’m not sure what you mean by “it works”. However, I do agree that, if we just assume it works and not bother with collecting and discussing data, we can certainly bypass any kind of debate on the issues. That is certainly one possible approach, yes.

  • @IanS
    It is really bordering on nitpicking to demand endless data on Burrard Bridge. The facts are the number of cyclists have increased, the safety issues have been addressed and it has not produced unreasonable delays for motorists.

    The Burrard Bridge debate has lasted almost 20 years. It probably has been the most studied and debated issue ever in the history of Vancouver yet you still want to continue. Beyond debating for the sake of debating, which I suppose is fine if that is really what you want to do, there really is no particular reason to so.

    Put a fork in it, it is done. Time to move on and address the numerous other issues that we face as a city.

  • IanS

    @Richard:

    I’m pretty sure there’s no evidence to support most of the “facts” you cite, but I don’t propose to repeat that argument.

    My only point is that it would be beneficial to have an open, honest debate on these issues going forward, based on actual data.

    I appreciate you see no need for such a debate and, in the result, we will have to agree to disagree.

  • Hello Frances,
    Great story today. I have linked to it on a recent blog posting, headlined “Danish women on bikes.” It’s about a Danish website called Bicycle Chic, which posts photos mostly of Danish women in multiple fashions on their bicycles. Including high heels. The Danish site has been copied around the world since it began in 2006. The fella also has some shots from Vancouver.
    Readers can try either:
    http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/thesearch/archive/2010/02/02/danish-women-on-bikes.aspx
    Or
    http://www.vancouversun.com/thesearch

    Douglas Todd

  • “I’m pretty sure there’s no evidence to support most of the “facts” you cite”

    AFAIK, there is a fairly significant body of research world-wide that shows separated and protected bike lanes encourage cycling and improve safety. If you have evidence to suggest otherwise Ian, I for one would be most interested in finding out more. With respect, I don’t think an open honest debate is possible if supposition and inference are the main ingredients in your argument.

    Speaking specifically about the Burrard Bridge, it’s very early in the trial. So far, the data certainly suggests it has been an improvement, however, the protected lane remains an oasis in an otherwise challenging road network. As safer, accessible routes to and from the bridge proliferate, I think we will see even more residents moving toward cycling as a commuting/transportation option. That process is going to take some time though. Expecting instant results from this piece of infrastructure is unrealistic. We don’t expect any piece of transportation infrastructure to be a magic bullet, so I would question why that must be the case when it comes to cycling infrastructure.

  • IanS

    Chris,

    We’ve had this discussions before, IIRC.

    I don’t dispute the your assertion re there being a significant body of research re protected bike lanes in general.

    However, as for the Burrard Bridge, as we’ve discussed, the data which the City has chosen to make available:

    1. does not support the assertion that there has been an increase in cycling;
    2. shows that the car use has not decreased; and
    3. appears to indicate an increase in driving times at certain periods of the day. (I say appears, because that is the data which the City chose to remove from the website.)

    Now, I don’t dispute that the protected lane makes cyclists feel safer and, from the report issued by the City Engineer, it appears that the number of bike related accidents during a comparable period from the year before has decreased from 3 to 1. As far as I can tell, that’s all we can take from the data made available.

    I agree with you 100% that the process is going to take some time and that is is unreasonable to expect instant results. I also agree that the goal of increasing cycle use is one worth pursuing. FWIW, as I’ve said in the past, I think the bike lane on the Burrard Bridge has been largely successful.

    However, I also feel that the manner in which the Burrard trial was approached and the results portrayed (or suppressed) is not conducive to an open, honest debate.

  • There was capacity crowd public consultation sessions, lengthy council meetings debating the trial, months of regularly posted traffic count data, and even the material you suggest has been ‘suppressed’ is actually available with a Google search as demonstrated upthread. My personal belief is that the debate has been extremely open and honest.

    Finding out why the data you seek is unavailable is an email or phone call away Ian. I believe we would all be well-served if you took the necessary steps to satisfy your curiosity and then let us all know why things are the way they are.

    cheers,
    CK

  • IanS

    Chris,

    You’re wrong. The data is was posted for the June to August period and then removed without explanation.

    Yes, I suppose I could contact the City to ask why they stopped posting the data. Heck, I guess I could even stand on the bridge and conduct my own study. However, I fail to see how that addresses my point. It’s not my curiousity which is the issue, which I think you know.

    In any event, perhaps we can at least agree that the issue of whether and how to implement additional facilities for cyclists in Vancouver going forward would best be served by an open debate and honest portrayal of information and leave it at that?

  • “However, I fail to see how that addresses my point. It’s not my curiousity which is the issue, which I think you know.”

    Frankly, I really don’t know what you’re getting at. You’re claiming data is being suppressed Ian, but there’s plenty of data available, including the traffic delay information. I really think you need to bring more to the table than supposition if openness and honesty is at issue. One phone call or email to either confirm or deny your allegation is an entirely reasonable expectation IMO. I hope you will follow through and satisfy your curiosity.

  • spartikus

    Finding out why the data you seek is unavailable is an email or phone call away Ian.

    I have done so. My query has been forwarded to the webmaster. I will keep everyone posted.

    Suppressing data is a very serious accusation to level against a government. I mean we wouldn’t want to invade Iraq for their ties to al-Qaida and their weapons of mass destruction or anything.

  • Jake

    The fundamental truism espoused by advocates for increasing the number of dedicated bicycling routes throughout the city is that “if we build them, they will come”, i.e. if we make it safer, more people will choose to ride. While this notion may hold a modicum of truth, the empirical evidence issuing from the Burrard Bridge trial does not appear to support it.

    I believe the core issue is not the lack of dedicated bicycle lanes or even the prevailing automobile culture, but rather something fundamental that sets Vancouver apart from Copenhagen, San Francisco and wherever else there is a more sizeable population of dedicated riders that we seek to emulate: THE WEATHER. Riding here in the winter sucks. You have to be completely dedicated and prepared to make it work and frankly 99.9% of the population simply can’t be bothered. I count a number of avid cyclists amongst my friends and can attest to the fact that not one of them changed their behaviour after the Burrard Bridge lanes went into place.

  • Phil

    I can’t shake the feeling that the argument about “suppressed data” is tied to the idea the cyclists are getting something they don’t deserve for which the inverse is, of course, that motorists have had to give something up that they should not have had to.

    And this is where the debate really bugs me.

    I learned a long time ago in undergraduate urban geography that transportation systems based on the private automobile have a fatal flaw in that the average speed of traffic falls to zero very quickly as congestion builds.

    Based on that, you can imagine that if every person who has to get to downtown Vancouver on a regular basis chose to travel as an sov motorist, no one would get there. It would be total gridlock. Each person would be occupying their share of our common roadspace but no one would be able to get anywhere.

    That means that, when I choose to ride a bike downtown, a person who chooses to drive their car (and manages to drive to their destination in down town vancouver ) is borrowing part of my share of the common road space (and part of the share that belongs to every other cyclist, transit rider, pedestrian, etc.).

    When we, as a community, decide to allocate less space for sov commuters we’re not really taking anything away from any motorists. We’re really just choosing not to let have, for themselves, so much of the common roadspace. I don’t see why we have to spend so much time worrying about how these sov motorists feel about not being able to use such a large portion of my share of the roadspace.

    For some reason, motorists I talk to don’t seem to like the sound of that argument 🙂

  • @IanS

    The small delays at the north end could be reduced or eliminated once the city makes permanent changes to the bridge and the north intersection. One option would be to normalized and signalize the right turn from Pacific to Burrard and add another right turn lane.

  • “the empirical evidence issuing from the Burrard Bridge trial does not appear to support it.”

    There hasn’t even been enough time to conceive and bring a baby to term since the trial began. Maybe we should let Junior at least make it to pre-school before we decide he’s not Harvard material?

  • IanS

    @spartikus, I look forward to hearing about what you learn.

    @Richard, I don’t disagree at all with your comments re how to address the delays. That is the sort of discussion which I think should take place.

    @Phil, I can understand how you formed that impression, given the level of hostility directed at the bike lane trial from some quarters. However, MY concern, as I’ve tried to express here, is not that cyclists are getting something they don’t “deserve”. My point is that the data should be available so that we can properly discuss the pros and cons of the trial and possible future changes. That’s all.

    @Chris, you’ve posted previously that you feel the trial was a success and, in this thread, have repeatedly express a lack of concern (or lack of curiousity) regarding the data arising out of the trial. Now, in response to Jake’s assertion, you make a comment to the effect that its too early to judge? Which is it? Are we far enough along to make a determination as to whether the trial has been successful (as you profess to have done)? Or should we wait to give it time? If so, how much time? And how will we make that determination without data?

    At the end of the day, all I am saying is that the discussion regarding bike infrastructure should be informed by an accurate and honest assessment of the data. I would have thought that to be an uncontroversial statement.

  • Ian:

    I think the trial has been a success in making the bridge safer for cyclists without a major impact on automobile traffic. I think it’s too early to tell if it will increase mode share (Jake’s contention), which was not the primary goal of the trial… especially without safe routes linking the bridge to the downtown core. Separate (albeit linked) issues – safety/increasing mode share, so I don’t think my response contradicted my previous statements.

    cheers,

    CK

  • “in this thread, have repeatedly express a lack of concern (or lack of curiousity) regarding the data arising out of the trial.”

    Not true, I simply disagree with your contention that the data is unavailable or being suppressed until you (or someone) comes up with proof to that effect.

  • IanS

    @ Chris,

    Fair enough.

    FWIW, I agree generally with your assessment of the trial as well, with the caveat that I would like to see the data regarding the impact on traffic (ie. whether there is, or continues to be, an increase in travel times) and some kind of data regarding the increased safety (ie. whether there really are fewer accidents etc).

    Given the costs of the bike lane – the cost of implementation, some increase in congestion / travel time / pollution – I think we should be looking at all of that data, particularly in determining how to move forward.

  • @Jake
    I believe the thing that sets Vancouver’s winter weather apart from Copenhagen’s is that Vancouver’s is much warmer. I can’t comment on the weather in “wherever else” I’m afraid – I couldn’t find a page for it on The Weather Channel.

    It’s fun to see that the Burrard Bridge trial has it’s own equivalent of the Birthers of the 9-11 Truthers, all they need now is a catchy name. I will refrain from using the first that comes to mind 🙂

  • “Birthers *or* the 9-11 Truthers”

    Apparently the data from my grammar checker was suppressed.

  • Bill Lee

    @Mark Allerton // Feb 4, 2010 at 1:25 pm Comment 21

    You don’t want ‘weather’ you want climate, or the general long term norms or normals.

    How much, how many rainy days, (and my bugbear: how many days is it raining when starting out at 7, 8 AM) . Riders are surprised when I show them that it is not always raining in the early morning, the heat-island effect makes for more noonish rainfall.
    And they don’t have rain capes, booties, gloves, hard full 690 kilopascals ( 100 psi for oldies) tires, and properly adjusted brakes and know when to use them.

    There are many such climate sites, and I wouldn’t limit myself to English only–some of the best sites on ‘Klima’ are in German.

    Samples:
    http://www.weatherpost.com/longterm/historical/data/copenhagen_denmark.htm

    http://www.worldclimate.com/cgi-bin/data.pl?ref=N49W123+2100+71892W

    more at

    http://www.wetterklima.de/klima/klima.htm

    And you could read (easy executive summaries, or the whole damn thing)
    http://www.sternreview.org.uk/

  • Jake

    Copenhagen> ave. annual temperature High 11.1 C Low 5 C ave. annual precipitation 525mm

    San Francisco > ave. annual temperature High 18 C Low 11 C ave. annual precipitation 566mm

    Vancouver>ave. annual temperature High 13.7 C Low 6.5 C ave. annual precipitation 1199mm

    The other comparative statistics that could potentially be instructive are the population densities and average travel distances/cyclist.

  • Surely the poster children for cycle usage in the US are Portland and New York, not San Francisco.

    Portland: av hi 17c/ av lo 7c/ precip 950mm
    NY: av 12.7/ precip 1080mm

    SF has actually had a very hard time putting in new cycling infrastructure due to laws that have allowed pretty much one guy to hold everything up. You could also argue those hills are an impediment to cycling.

  • Jake

    Wherever else:
    Amsterdam > H 12.3C / L 6.1C / 779.5mm
    Barcelona > H 20C / L 11.1C / 628mm
    Berlin > H 11.6C / L 5.9C / 571mm
    Portland OR > H 17C / L 7C / 922mm

  • spartikus

    To update on the missing travel time statistics, here is the response I received from the Engineering Dept:

    The web page http://vancouver.ca/projects/burrard/statistics-traveltimes.htm is a stale page with information dating from late September 2009. Some of the travel time information on that page is incorrect. Specifically, the southbound AM travel times are based on some incorrect calculations. Subsequent updates of this page excluded travel time info until we sorted out the problem. The source of the error was a flawed formula in a spreadsheet. We were able to correct the mistake and the correct calculations are reflected in our November report to Council http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20091103/documents/ttra1.pdf and the associated presentation which you can watch online http://cityofvan-as1.insinc.com/ibc/mp/md/open/c/317/1199/200911030900wv150en,003 (travel times are discussed starting at 15:40)

    I don’t have an explanation for the January 21 timestamp. The content appears to be unchanged since late September.

    We will be updating the Burrard web pages shortly to reflect more recent data and will be once again including information regarding travel time.

    Conspiracies exist, but it’s been my experience that benign explanations apply 99 times out of 100. The charge of data suppression didn’t simply call into question the integrity of civic politicians but of the engineers running this project. It’s not an accusation that should be made lightly.

  • IanS

    @spartikus,

    Thank you for that. As I indicated, my statement was based on an inference and, as you suggested, the real explanation was a good deal more benign. I agree that my statement that the data was suppressed was inaccurate and look forward to seeing the data on the web site when it’s updated.

    Perhaps you could help me out, though. I’ve taken a look at the linked report, and I think I did read it at the time it was released, and I can’t find the travel time data that was removed from the web site. Am I missing something?

  • Most surveys and market research indicates safety is a far greater barrier to potential cyclists than inclement weather. Peopleare made of sterner stuff than we give them credit for IMO

  • @Jake

    The only detail your case is now missing is some data that shows those rainfall numbers are correlated to the success or otherwise of measures to increase cycling mode share. Then you’re set. Good luck!

  • Rod Smelser

    An exraordinarily tireseome discussion, the kind of urban stupid dialogues in which lifestyle fashion statements are the “substance” of politics.

    This discussion hasn’t been about transportation or cycling, it’s been about competing brands of political correctness.