It's clear that separated bike lanes have become good politics in Vancouver
It's Bike to Work Week in Metro Vancouver and just like almost every first week of June I can remember here, the weather is not at all bike-friendly. My wife, who cycles from our east Vancouver home downtown everyday to work rain or shine for eight months of the year, doesn't mind the wet weather because there's fewer riders to share the road with.
And as a result it reduces the likelihood she'll be killed or seriously injured during her ride.
The last thing I want is my wife not to come home because of a cycling accident. Stacey is the most safety-conscious rider I've ever met. She only travels bike routes, wears protective gear, respects the rules of the road, and never takes the kinds of risks that others might. She's raised our daughter on good cycling practices, and no one in our household starts pedaling without a helmet strapped on our heads.
In spite of all the precautions there is a lingering doubt in my mind about her safety. Lately when she comes home she quips darkly, "well, only three people tried to kill me today." She blames both inattentive drivers and careless cyclists. She regularly witnesses bike riders blowing stop signs, ignoring the rules of the road and taking their lives into their hands, right on the well-marked cycling routes that cross Vancouver.
In other words, there's lots of blame to go around when it comes to cycling safety in Vancouver.
New separated bike paths proposed
A proposal is now coming from the City of Vancouver to improve bike infrastructure on two busy thoroughfares: Commercial Drive and the Cornwall/Point Grey Road route. Both routes present huge engineering challenges by being narrow. Both routes have a lot of cyclists and in the case of Cornwall it's a busy car commuter route during the morning and afternoon rush hour. Commercial Drive appears to depend on a level of street parking to keep retail businesses viable.
For westsiders looking to get home by car, the Cornwall route is a top choice. It's possible you could drive all the way from Burrard Bridge to Jericho Beach and never have to touch your brakes. Because this route has few traffic signals drivers are likely to raise a fuss if it is altered signficantly. While tens of thousands of car trips take Cornwall/Point Grey Road daily, it's likely the surrounding community would welcome a separated bike track along this thoroughfare. While some folks will be unhappy, the majority of the public will probably be onside with the bike path.
Over on Commercial Drive the conditions are somewhat different. There is probably no neighbourhood in the city with stronger grassroots support for cycling and for separated bike lanes. Commercial Drive also happens to be one of Vancouver's few vibrant suburban shopping areas. It would be foolish to assume that major alterations to the streetscape would not impact businesses, so it must be thoroughly studied. If the City wants to put some kind of bike path along this street, it certainly would be well-received by residents in the area if not by the businesses.
Unlike the Cornwall route, Commercial Drive has a parallel thoroughfare
one two blocks away – Victoria Drive – that could also serve as a bike route. It would not have the profile of a Commercial Drive path, but it could achieve the same goals around safety. However, if you really want to make a statement about cycling, then you choose Commercial Drive, which what the City will do.
While there are many people who grumble – sometimes loudly – about separated bike paths taking up space otherwise used for parking or driving, the fact is that the public wants bike lanes. To support them is now just good politics in Vancouver. That doesn't mean you run roughshod over the public process like we saw with the downtown separated bike lanes. I think there would have been less furor over the lanes had the public been properly consulted. With the routes along Cornwall and Commercial there is a chance to do it right.
A word about helmets
There are no shortage of people who have strong feelings about bike helmets. A bike helmet law was imposed in the 1990s under the NDP government of the day, and it's one that the majority continues to support. When it became law a decent bike helmet cost you about $75 — today an attractive and safe helmet costs about a third of that. There is no excuse to not wear helmets, but many continue to argue we should toss our helmet law, including a former NPA mayoral candidate and city councillor, Peter Ladner. In a recent Business in Vancouver column Ladner says that bike sharing programs fail in jurisdictions with helmet rules, and with an announcement on bike sharing imminent in Vancouver, we can't let helmet laws impede its success.
I disagree with Ladner, preferring the viewpoint of Vancouver Sun columnist Craig McInnes:
For me the most compelling argument for mandatory helmets is that children are the most likely to suffer permanent brain damage from a bike accident. The research clearly shows that in jurisdictions where helmets are mandatory, the percentage of children who wear helmets goes up.
While some jurisdictions, including Manitoba last week, have brought in mandatory helmet laws just for children, as a parent it was always much easier to get my kids to follow safety rules if the adults had to follow them too.
Vancouver has long been a city of cyclists. It's becoming an increasingly popular form of transportation, and politically it's a no-brainer. Ultimately this is about safety, and making sure that people like my wife make it home safely.
If you want bike lanes on Commercial and Cornwall, I say 'go for it'.
- post by Mike