Should cyclists be banned from riding on arterials?


Share the RoadLast week, city reporter extraordinaire Frances Bula posted in her blog about whether or not cyclists should be banned from using arterial roads. This was an issue that councillor-elect Adriane Carr clumsily raised during the civic election. Bula cited two pieces of evidence for an existing arterial-jam problem: watching “traffic jam up behind a cyclist who has decided to take up a lane on 12th or Hastings or Granville during rush hour,” as well as an anecdote about a lady riding along Broadway.

I don’t really want to rehash the question of whether or not cyclists should be banned on any city road — you can read through the comments on her blog for an interesting (but somewhat derailed) discussion. My take on it is: bicycles are traffic, deal with it.

The “deal with it” means not only should motorists learn to drive with cyclists (and vice versa), but also the city’s engineering department should design and build infrastructure that accommodates all forms of traffic in the city.

I’m also of the philosophy that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. In this case, I think there are certain arterials that make no sense to ride on at all. This includes the stretch of Broadway between Granville and Arbutus, and the stretch between Macdonald and Alma. In these cases, there are bike routes one or two blocks north AND one block south (mostly). Unless you’re visiting a local business, the high-density traffic on Broadway, the cars constantly parking and flinging doors open, and the constant transit traffic make this a choice that is much more dangerous than riding the nearby bike routes.

Not to say that the bike routes don’t have their problems. Particularly through Kits, the routes are so narrow that with cars parked on both sides of the road, there is only room for a single vehicle to actually drive on the road. Playing chicken with oncoming traffic isn’t fun. Because there are so many parked cars, the chances of being doored are high if you’re not careful. Being careful means riding a full door length and then some away from the parked cars. Motorists are also not very picky about coming to full and complete stops, or for that matter, slowing down at all for stop signs. And, if you’re riding at night, the lighting along many stretches of the bike routes is abysmal.

Having said that, though, there are certain arterials where it makes sense to ride on them rather than the alternative. Cornwall/Pt Grey Road is one of these. There is no better alternative if you’re trying to get to or from the Burrard Bridge on the northern edge of Kits. Riding from the bridge to Alma Street is about 3.5 km/10 min along Cornwall/Pt. Grey Road. If you were to follow the bike routes to and from the same destinations, it’s 5 km/15 min, hillier, and potentially more dangerous given the tight streets with parking both sides and uncontrolled crossings of major arterials (Macdonald, Alma, etc). The picture below shows the two routes; you tell me which one makes more sense.

But still, I wonder. I often see people riding Broadway or 12th and I just shake my head. I literally don’t understand why you’d do that other than “because you can”. Doing so is significantly more dangerous for the cyclist and does nothing at all to lessen the pajorative attitude that many drivers have with cyclists.

And so, I’m left with an honest question: If you ride on arterial roads, particularly in Kits, please leave a comment and explain *why*. Perhaps with a better understanding of why this happens, things can be done to make getting around the city safer for everyone.

Last modified: December 5, 2011

19 Responses to " Should cyclists be banned from riding on arterials? "

  1. Ian says:

    I personally don’t ride on arterial roads unless I’m stopping within 1-2 blocks, but when driving I don’t really mind the bikes that do.

    What I would rather see is banning left turns off of arterial roads where there is no dedicated turn lane or signal! Driving up Hastings or Broadway is a nightmare of weaving between cars going slow or parking in the right lane and those turning left in the other lane. I’ve had far more close calls because of this than because of cyclists.

  2. RJ says:

    Agree with the blogger on this. I cycle and drive so I’m sympathetic, but it’s hard not to shake your head of people riding down sections of 4th or Broadway that clearly not safe to be riding on when you know full well that there is a bike lane just a few blocks up. That said, if they want to take the chance then they have every right to do so

  3. Why ride on Broadway? Because that’s where the stores are.

    If a bike is to be a normal mode of transport like the bus or walking, then it can’t be relegated to backstreets only to pop out at intersections like a mouse behind the wall.

    I agree Broadway is horrifically unsafe for anyone not in a vehicle, but that’s a different issue. Broadway has too many car-lanes and not enough pedestrian crossings. A cheap first-fix could be to dedicate the curbside lane to bus & bike, with a barrier or low hump: buses would run a lot more regularly without the need to dive in and out of parked cars. And with the doorzone, the lane is wide enough for buses to pass bikes. And that would then push moving traffic further from the sidewalk, making the sidewalk more pleasant too. Cars could then park in the next lane, leaving a lane each way for moving traffic. (To those who say a lane each way would lead to congestion: remember that adding more lanes doesn’t stop congestion; adding more modes and more transit does.)

  4. Nick Cairns says:

    I would argue in favor of less rules and less medians, as I don’t think the benefit will out-weight the cost. There really is no right answer. As a car commuter (I go from the city to Richmond for work), I can certainly sympathize with the idea of banning on arterials. It is very frustrating as a driver [as is the left turn issue]. If a car passes a cyclist, they should not have to do it again – don’t squeeze up the side at a light. If the road supports it fine, but most arterials do not.

    I would like to see equal rules enforced if there is ever going to be a solution. I would say that the downtown bike lanes are a great idea poorly executed.

  5. Matthew says:

    I often ride along Broadway .. but not in Kits. I will ride along Broadway further east, however, as I move at the speed of traffic, and this is much faster than I can move along the nearby bike lanes.

    Within Kits (I think … where are those boundaries again?), I bike now and again along 16th during end of day rush hour times. Again, I move faster than cars through this stretch (when the whole trip from UBC to Main Street is taken into account), and this is the hands down fastest way for me to get from point A to B. When time is my largest concern, this is my route of choice. That said, I dislike this route as cars can be aggressive.

  6. rob says:

    I ride Kits to Yaletown daily alternating between Cornwall and the 8th ave to Cypress bike route- occasionally i use Broadway in between Cypress and Trafalgar.

    Riding main streets I actually feel much safer due to the street lighting and flow of traffic/peds.

    Granted, the occasional aggressive driver makes me think twice about riding them but in my opinion riding 8th(or 10th)ave is much more dangerous due to leaves(fall/winter), roundabouts, low light, doors, pedestrians, etc.- its like navigating a mine field.

  7. Bill Barilko says:

    All else aside the red route as shown is somewhat disingenuous-few leaving the Burrard Bridge are going to ride all the way north to Hadden Park and then down the so called Seaside bike route

    The easy way is to head north on Cypress St to Creelman-west to Arbutus and then through the parking lots to the Seaside bike route-this the actual bike route is marked on the pavement in some places believe it or not.

    Failing that after exiting the bridge head south on Cypress to 3rd then west to Alma.

    Cornwall west of Cypress is a suicide route unless it’s very very early or late.

    As to cycling on Broadway I’ve got ‘the door prize’ and have the scars to prove it-never again.

  8. Kitsbiker says:

    W 8 and W 10 to Cypress is the safer routes to Burrard bridge. It is crazy to ride on Cornwall or W4 avenue.

  9. Phil says:

    This a really charged topic for me – so I’ll put that forward right off the bat. It’s also another example of where I find myself often more frustrated and facepalmy with my fellows cyclists than motorists (been riding daily for over 10 years in Winnipeg, Montreal, Toronto and now Vancouver).
    I don’t understand why someone would want to cycle down Broadway either – my best guess would be they just don’t know any better. And those types of cyclists will always be on the road, especially with the growing number of cyclists and people trying it for the first time it takes awhile for many new riders to discover where the safest routes are even in their own neighborhood. The lay of the land, and the best route, is very different when you’re behind a wheel.
    Overall I strongly do not think further legislation is needed. This is a problem that will exist for a long time to come, no different than being stuck behind an extremely cautious and slow driver. I think because of how marginalized cyclists are currently, even in a very bike-friendly city like Vancouver, there’s a tendency to attack them.
    The fact is motorists have had a very comfortable monopoly on city streets for a very, very long time and asking them to now share the road is going to take time. All “sharing” amounts to for most drivers is having to drive slower and spend more time in traffic which, understandably, is not much of a motivator for advocating for more cycling infrastructure! The fact is cyclist numbers are growing and that makes me very hopeful πŸ™‚ Baby steps… but please, not more legislation.

  10. Anthony says:

    @ian I agree entirely about the uncontrolled left-turns. Although it’s my suspicion that the City of Vancouver Engineer department leaves them in place as a way of keeping speeds down.

    @rob It’s quite the trade-off. Leaves aren’t really a big problem (city staff has been doing a fantastic job at cleaning them up for the past few years) but the car-canyons, poor lighting, and suicidal pedestrians make for some dangerous rides. More dangerous than riding an arterial? It really depends which one, I think.

    @bill You’re right, the red route does exaggerate things a bit, but it keeps on the city-recommended routes. The route you suggest includes a stretch that isn’t a designated bike route.

    @phil “Facepalmy” — I’m stealing that. Great comment, thanks.

  11. Anthony says:

    I’m still interesting in hearing reasons why people would want to ride on the arterials. I think the safety argument is a good one, counter-intuitive, and one that most motorists don’t understand. Some comments on Twitter have suggested that people ride there for the rush, and others as a way of thumbing their nose.

    I shot some helmet-cam video of a ride along Cornwall/Pt Grey road (on a Sunday, mind you):

    For contrast, the return trip took the Seaside Bike Route:

    Sorry about the sniffing and heavy-breathing, I had quite a cold. Also the incessant squeaking is my pannier-less rear rack and fender bouncing around. Time for a tune-up I guess.

  12. Phil says:

    The “rush” reason is cute, but facepalmy πŸ™‚
    In terms of “nose-thumbing” – yah I can see that. I’ve personally encountered, witnessed and certainly gleaned from meeting lots of other cyclists that there is a rebellious factor to cycling that attracts many. I see it in the ferocious reactions of riders when they’re on the receiving end of an honest mistake by a motorist – be it turning right and cutting off a cyclist, opening their drivers side door to exit, etc… the vitriol-on-tap that many of these riders have (mainly middle-aged and older!) kind of astounds me. Anyway – I think that same element could proudly take-the-lane on an arterial in the name of their vehicular rights and flash birds at grumpy Transit drivers giving them the horn. Just anecdotes here, take it for what it’s worth.
    @Anthony: thanks for posting those videos. Neat to watch my regular ride on Youtube. I used to take that route up Cornwall/Pt Grey road but decided on a better alternative – just head up Cypress all the way to 10th. 10th is a dream. Even if it ends up that I’m going out of my way a bit it’s a stellar portal to move east-west in Vancouver. I would’ve used it on your ride. Heading west I would transfer at MacDonald to 8th, though I don’t care much for the narrowness. I find Broadway west of MacDonald pretty manageable as arterials go actually – I do use that quite often. I think for slower riders it would not be a comfortable option.

  13. VancouverWestSide says:

    After looking at that map. Why doens’t the city create a new bike between Mcdonald and Cypress, south of Cornwall. York Avenue looks like a good bike route.

  14. S. Morris Rose says:

    The arterials are where the destinations are, so of course that’s where you’ll find some cyclists. Bike routes are great when that’s where you are going, otherwise- not so much. This doesn’t seem mysterious to me.

    Proposing yet more barriers to bicycling isn’t forward thinking.

  15. Aiffe says:

    I’m a cyclist and I ride on Broadway between MacDonald and Alma nearly daily. For a moment I thought I *was* that lady the other blogger saw–except I don’t own a straw hat, and I sure hope no one mistook me for 50-something. And I can tell you exactly why I do it.

    1) I want to buy things. A bike isn’t very useful for getting around if you can’t actually ride to the damn store, is it? Sometimes I may want to hit up several stores, so I’ll stay on the road for a bit.

    2) Broadway is, well, broader than the bike routes. Cars can actually go around me. I get quite nervous when a car lags two feet behind me for blocks at a time, too chicken to just PASS ALREADY when I am giving them as much room as I can to do so.

    3) I do a lot of riding after dusk this time of year, and Broadway is better lit.

    4) This may seem a bit silly, but…more witnesses. Once I had a car genuinely lunge at me like they wanted to kill me when I was riding on a small back road. I don’t know what kind of rage issues the driver had, but I think he’d be less likely to do it with more people watching.

    5) HILLS. Arterials are just less hilly. It isn’t noticeable in that particular stretch, but say, on 12th just west of Alma? Hell yeah I’m taking 12th instead of the bike path on 8th. It’s the difference between a nice, gradual incline and mashing my gears on a brutal hill. Going down huge hills is an issue too, as my brakes don’t handle that well in the rain, and the steeper the hill I’m on, the less stopping power I have. Leaves have been mentioned as an issue, and ice is as well. I’ve had some bad spills on ice on untended back roads.

    That said, I do take bike paths sometimes. I take them when I’m not going anywhere on a major road right away, when I feel I can manage the steeper hills and darker roads, etc. Probably about half the time. There are advantages to the bike paths too: fewer traffic lights, much less noise.

    Also, I don’t think it’s at all practical to ride a door length away from cars. I haven’t been doored yet, but I did have a very close call once. (It was on an arterial, but to be fair, it was on my own block–I didn’t have a choice about going there because I live on that street, okay?) I do try to be vigilant and slow down or give cars a wide berth if I see someone in the driver’s seat, but people need to look before opening their doors into traffic too–not just for cyclists, because I doubt they’d be more pleased if a bus hit their door.

  16. Martin says:

    Hi everyone from Germany,
    Living in Germany’s bike capital (Muenster), I feel with you bikers in Vancouver. I’ll be staying in and around Vancouver for a couple of weeks in April and am dead set on exploring the area by bike.
    But I’ve got to admit, after watching Anthony’s (and a couple of other) videos, I am also a bit scared. I really feel with both sides here, because bike and car traffic are just not made for each other – at least not when they have to share the same turf. Therefore, it’s hard for both sides (and yes, it’s definitely more stressful for car drivers as well to look out for bikes all the time).

    My single piece of advice: Be patient with each other. Transforming an auto city into one with bikers and car drivers being equal takes consideration from both sides, but first of all: time. Muenster’s transformation into a biker-friendly city has taken decades of city engineering; of car drivers getting used to the bikes (many of them switching to bicycles themselves); of building a lot of mutual respect.
    Yes, biking is healthier, cheaper and environment-friendlier than taking the car. But not everyone is able to take the car, be it out of health reasons or just because the drive is too long. A dozen cars being slowed down by just one bike is just as irksome as the same cars being slowed down by a slow truck on a steep highway. So bikers, keep on fighting for more bike-only lanes everywhere, for planning in bikes whenever construction work is being done on a road, for dedicated bike ways where there is no space for cars. That is the ultimate goal (that Muenster and a few other cities e.g. in Germany and the Netherlands have already achieved).

    Some fun bike facts about Muenster, just to make you envious ;-)…:
    – Two thirds of the people living here take the bike every day
    – There are dedicated bike lanes for 99.9% of all streets where the max. speed is >30 km/h
    – There is a dedicated underground bike parking lot for >3000 bikes directly next to the main station – and its monthly/yearly passes are always booked out. (There are two more smaller lots in the city center that are also mostly booked out.)
    – There is an additional ~10,000 “wild” bikes around the station, the unattended ones being removed twice or thrice a year
    – Latest estimations speak of 3-4 times more bikes (~1,000,000) here than inhabitants (275,000)
    – Muenster has one of the highest crime rates in Western Germany. But count out bike theft and it’s one of the lowest in whole Germany πŸ˜‰
    – There is one thing where BC is definitely ahead of Germany: Wearing a helmet is NOT the law over here.

    Some video impressions of Muenster and its bikes:

  17. Anthony says:

    @Martin Thanks for the comment and links! Don’t just go by the things you see online. They, of course, represent the extremes. For the most part riding around Vancouver is great, with only minor irritants. The infrastructure is better here than most other North American cities, but nothing like you have in Europe.