The state of people riding bikes in Vancouver: send more children, women and older folks

building better roads

The City of Vancouver has considered an impressive collection of measures to improve the built environment of the roadway system to promote more cycling. The City needs to promote active transportation and transit use as the city grows as road space is limited. The plan is called  2040 transportation plan. 

Soon  Council will be deciding on the Active Transportation Corridor on Cornwall and West Point Grey road.  The goals of the project is to  encourage folks of all ages and abilities to use active transportation along Cornwall and West Point Grey Road by making a better built environment for walkers and folks that are riding bikes which is safer and more inviting. You can read more about the project here: Active Transportation Corridor.

Undoubtedly this council and the one before have done more for people riding bikes than any Vancouver council before. The hugely successful implementation of the separated bike lane on the Burrard Bridge was a seminal moment in Vancouver to make cycling safer. photos of opening day

Cyclists had been advocating for a long time for bike lanes on the Burrard St. bridge to make a safer link over False Creek. The history of its implementation has been a long and troubled one. A modest bike lane trail on the eastside of the bridge was abandoned in 1996 by the NPA after only a couple of days. A pilot bike lane proposal passed by Mayor Campbell and Council was cancelled after the 2005 election by the NPA. But with the separated bike lane installed in 2009 by Mayor Robertson, Vancouver has turned the corner on making the city safer and more accessible to people riding bikes.

Cycling in Vancouver needs to go mainstream and become an activity that is completely normal and done by everyone because it is the easiest, fastest and safest way to get around. Building a network of separated bike lanes is the next big challenge for the city. With the construction of the Hornby and Dunsmuir bike paths and with the soon to be completed Comox /Helmcken Greenway the city is well on its way to incrementally improving the built environment for folks to ride bikes. The priority now is to build a bike network so folks who would never ever dream of riding a bike will do so.

Think of the biggest “diva” in your life and ask yourself: “ what will it take to get that person on a bike”? Are mandatory helmet laws an issue? I don’t know how Gregor does it, but he never seems to have “helmet head”. I can’t say that is the case for me. I know for a lot of women this is an issue, the whole “hair thing”. Is it safety? I don’t mind riding even without separated bike lanes, but I know my wife does not feel comfortable riding in traffic. So there are number things that need to be done to encourage all ages and genders to ride.

In March I had the privilege to visit Copenhagen, to check out what that city is doing to promote active transportation and I was so impressed with what has been happening there (some photos from Copenhagen). Copenhagen has been encouraging folks to ride bikes by making it faster, easier and safer. The city has a 36% ridership levels and is attempting to raise this to 50% by 2025. Copenhagen’s network of cycle tracks is surely a big part of the high ridership levels, but also an impressive array of small little things they do make a difference, like lights timed for bikes, repair stations, hand rails at lights, no mandatory helmet laws. Your can read about their ambitious plans here in a report entitled:Good, Better, Best

The Danish are so fashion forward and they make cycling look good. It is impressive to see how many folks ride bikes. I was there in March when it was cold with snow on the ground and Danes still were riding their bikes! The Danes are tough and they do it with a lot of style.Chech out these fashion forward people

When I came back to Vancouver I felt a little depressed with the results of our progress on building more and better infrastructure for bikes. But slowly, I came to the realization that building a great bike culture like in Copenhagen takes a long time and there is going to be lots of debate along the way. Copenhagen like Amsterdam took very deliberate steps away from total capitulation to the car in planning land use policy in the early 1960’s. In Copenhagen a huge civic discussion was held around the closing of Stroget street to cars. You can read about here: This important step happen in 1962 and cemented the incremental building of an impressive bike culture.

There are many good reasons for encouraging folks to ride bikes. The road system in Vancouver cannot accommodate any more cars. If the city is to grow and economically thrive more people will need to walk, ride and take transit to avoid total gridlock to the road system. Bike lanes have also been demonstrated to support local business although in Vancouver this seems like a hard sell to the business community (rread this piece by Peter Ladner on the subject:Biz in Van). More importantly is the issue of “urban health”. Our bodies are made to be active. Many of the chronic aliments are connected to sedentary lifestyles. Being more active will make us healthier.

Incrementally we need to be improving the road infrastructure of the city to encourage more folks to ride. Separated bike lanes need to feel and be safe. Riding a bike needs be seen as normal and not a subculture. Getting on bike and riding down to a store needs to be fast and easy.

It is critical to remember that building better roads for bikes requires a broad based consensus on the importance of doing so. There are powerful and entitled forces that will fight to block change for a healthier, safer and ecologically sustainable road system. We only need to think of Rob Ford and Toronto and know that if the merits of active transportation are not supported at the top there can be disastrous consequences.

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