Accommodating Vancouver’s increasing bike population

Off BroadwayMy, that was a glorious end to summer! After a miserable start (anyone remember the 7 days of rain we had during June’s Bike to Work Week?) it was perfect riding weather for all of September. Anecdotally, at least, the gorgeous weather brought out many more cyclists to the bike routes across the city. I’ve never seen so many cyclists pushing their way up the hill to UBC in September, and the usual drop-off during the second week wasn’t nearly as severe as it typically is.

Some interesting figures recently released from Translink show that it’s not just the weather, either: Translink claims in its 2013 Base Plan that between 2008 and 2011 there was a 26% increase in travel by bike (with only a 4% increase in travel by car) for a 6% population increase (pdf). They don’t break it down by region, but if we take the 2006 census data showing 12% of all trips in Kitsilano were by bicycle and then generously assume the growth has occurred at the same rate since then and applies to Kits, the cycling mode share in Kits could be as high as 17% in 2012.

Despite the addition of the separated bike lanes downtown (the Burrard Bridge, Hornby St., and Dunsmuir St.) cycling infrastructure in Kits really hasn’t kept up with the increase of cyclists. There have been more side streets designated as “bike routes” (10th Ave., Valley, Balaclava) which is a good step forward, but the quality of these bike routes leaves much to be desired. A study released by UBC this summer (pdf) indicates that the type of residential-street bike route that Vancouver typically puts in (ie traffic-calmed, speed-reduced) are actually more dangerous than “ordinary” residential roads, or those designated as bike routes without any special infrastructure. Traffic slowing measures, including traffic-circles (a personal pet peeve), speed bumps, and curb-bulges were highlighted as being features that increase the danger to cyclists rather than decreasing it (pdf). The things that cyclists in the study identified as being deterrents to riding are problems with many of Kits’ (and Vancouver’s) bike routes including: route has glass or debris, route has surfaces that can be slick when wet or icy when cold, route is not well lit after dark, vehicles drive faster than 50 km/h. To those I’d add the car canyons that are features of many Vancouver bike routes: cars parked on both sides of the road leaving little room in the middle, reduced visibility, risks from cars suddenly pulling out without checking for bikes.

Which brings me to Cornwall Ave/Point Grey Road. We’ve discussed Cornwall before when talking about cycling on arterial roads. We know (pdf) that the city is considering some sort of “AAA” (“all ages and abilities”) bike route on Cornwall/Point Grey as part of its Transportation 2040 plan. Now, some residents want the city to be more proactive: they want traffic diversions installed (barricades, essentially) to transform Point Grey road into a local street and divert everything but local traffic — and bicycles — to Macdonald St. and 4th Ave. This change to Point Grey road was one of three detailed in a 2011 UBC report. While this would be good for cyclists, some dismiss the move as an effort to isolate the posh houses on Point Grey Rd, others note that West 4th is already jammed up during peak periods and forcing more traffic there would be impractical.

It’s clear that there’s a demand for improved cycling infrastructure in the city. Vancouver faces quite a challenge balancing the interests of all citizens: motorists, cyclists, and residents alike.

Is the city taking the right approach? Should they be installing less traffic calming and more traffic diversions? Should they be putting in more separated bike lanes, even outside of the downtown core?

Side note: The Fall edition of Bike to Work Week happens this year between October 29th and November 2nd. Sign up here: Biketoworkmetrovan.ca/

3 Responses to “Accommodating Vancouver’s increasing bike population”

  1. Great article – tough question. While increasing the cycling infrastructure always *sounds* good, like implementing bike lanes, it only strangely seems to increase danger for cyclists – a fact I’ve encountered in traversing the hornby bike lanes. I found cars were more aware of my presence before there was a separated lanes, albeit my presence on the road was likely more bothersome and annoying to drivers – but at least they weren’t turning right into me like they do consistently at Davie and Hornby!
    It’s so bizarre that the actions taken to reduce perceived risk can encourage more ridership, but on the other hand actually objectively make the activity more dangerous! Perhaps I’m out to lunch, but I see the best and the most effective thing we can do as cyclists to make the road safer is to just ride as frequently as possible and demonstrate responsible riding. Try and make a point of riding on designated bike routes consistently in order to discourage drivers, due to the high level of cycling traffic, from even choosing those streets.
    Purely my opinion but in respect to the traffic circles and prevalence of injuries surrounding those – I think it’s entirely due to the circles being used incorrectly. I can’t help but think that when 90% of surrounding intersections are about stop/start and Green light-GOOOOO that drivers and cyclists alike approach these intersections the same way. If a more widespread implementation of traffic circles occurred I’m betting you’d see a huge drop in severe injuries and fatalities.

  2. James Deroux says:

    It’s clear the end game for 21st city streets is either a) narrow, slow and shared or b) wide and complete. By narrow, I mean laneway-sized, but you can create this on the side of a wide street by having a separated, wider parking lane.

    Outside of downtown, all the destinations in Vancouver – the stores, restaurants and offices – are on the unpleasant car-first arterials, whereas all the pleasant streets are deadly boring. Real cities have destinations among residential neighborhoods.

    Shunting cyclists onto the beautiful but boring off-broadway streets, and providing no safe access on the destinations-streets, re-emphasises that cycling is not encouraged for normal people, people who have stuff to get done. It’s a niche sport for the geared-up few, or a fanciful hobby for seawall cruisers.

    Regarding the UBC study: did they explain why bumps, circles and bulges increased accident risk? I might guess that cars accelerate between those, which is a case for narrowing all the way along (by moving in parking to create a separated lane, or by the Thin Streets plan).

  3. “Shunting cyclists onto the beautiful but boring off-broadway streets, and providing no safe access on the destinations-streets, re-emphasises that cycling is not encouraged for normal people” — really well put James.