What drives public opposition to bike lanes?


Downtown Vancouver Bike LanesA couple of weeks ago, former Vancouver city-council candidate Sandy Garossino tweeted out:

Heard over the weekend: Opposition to bike lanes would decrease if cyclists could stifle the sanctimony. Agree or disagree?

I’m not sure what the context was, but in the few related tweets that followed, there was some discussion about the divisiveness of Vancouver’s monthly Critical Mass rides.

There seem to be few things in Vancouver city politics that cause more emotional responses than the separated bike lanes. Starting with the Burrard Street Bridge bike lane, then the two downtown bike lanes (Dunsmuir St and Hornby St) reaction to their creation has been vocal and divided.

Ms. Garossimo’s tweet bugged me. Now, as she pointed out to me, it was something she heard and not necessarily something she agreed with. The broad-stroke painting of “cyclists” and reference to “sanctimony” are really what bothered me.

The efforts by various bicycle advocacy groups in Vancouver have been strong and ongoing for many years. Some have been more “in your face” than others, some have been “behind the scenes” working with various governments. All have been efforts to increase cyclist safety and bicycling participation in the city. To imply feigned belief in these goals is insulting to the hard work of many people over the past several decades.

But, backing off the emotional phrasing and response, suppose the question was phrased “Would opposition to bike lanes decrease if cyclists were less vocal?”

It seems to me that the opposition to the bike lanes focuses on two main issues: 1) Bike lanes negatively affect businesses, mainly through the removal of parking, and 2) Bike lanes increase motor-vehicle congestion. Both of which are disputed by city staffers. See the July 2011 report.

I don’t see how becoming less vocal would affect either of these opinions, particularly given that they don’t seem to be based on any facts.

Further, when has any social change (and the introduction of bike lanes in a major city are a social shift as much as anything else) been helped by NOT talking about it? In particular, in Vancouver, with its history of protest, marches, parades …

In short, no. “Cyclists should stifle the sanctimony?” Seems like it’s not cyclists with the attitude problem. There are groups in Vancouver that oppose ANY change to the status quo.

What do you think? Do cyclists in Vancouver deserve the sanctimonious label? Should they be quieter to build support for the bike lanes? Is opposition to bike lanes just another form of NIMBYism?

Last modified: August 6, 2012

14 Responses to " What drives public opposition to bike lanes? "

  1. Evan says:

    One thing that might increase public support is if bikers (and pedestrians for that matter) better obeyed the rules of the road. By no means am I saying that all bikers are like this, but especially in Kitsilano there are often bikers riding on the sidewalks or darting across the road, even when bike lanes are present. I don’t think sanctimony is the right word, but I would love to see neighborhood bikers be a bit more mindful of traffic laws.

  2. Ian says:

    Dear Evan, I would just as much, and even more since they command hundreds of kilograms of steel, wish drivers would obey the rules of the road. Far too many blow yellow/red lights, turn illegally into bike roads or otherwise endanger the lives of everyone.

  3. Adam says:

    “I’ve heard others say” is an odd way putting something out there, and likely not really honest. Floating a mean spirited thought while at the same time trying to distance oneself from is is weaselly Sandy.

    Anyway…….As someone who has recently taken up riding to work, and who loves it, I do voice my views frequently. It’s fun, fast, free, and i get exercise doing something that used to be lost time. There i said it. Any sanctimony in that? Only if you have some insecurities. Ok, there was some sanctimony in that last comment. Couldn’t resist.

    Does anybody object to the bike lanes anymore? If so it could only be because they haven’t been to observant. Oh, and that buggy whip store owner on Hornby who blames the bike lane.

  4. Gwyn says:

    Cyclists on sidewalks is symptomatic of inadequate bike infrastructure

  5. Todd says:

    Sure, cyclists should just shut their pretty mouths and be happy with what they have, and then just maybe the almighty yet terribly oppressed driving public will grant us the rights to the road that we already have in law. We just have to learn not to act like we have the right, not to demand it, not to demand better from drivers who constantly ram through amber lights, drift through four-way stops while on cellphones and absent-mindedly open their car doors without looking. After all, when we screw up we’re the people most likely to be hurt. When a driver screws up, they’re likely to take out someone else or at least maim them. But we should never sanctimoniously point out the danger inherent in the current system.

    We should just learn to be happy with what we have and shut up, because demanding better is so un-Canadian.

  6. Sully says:

    People in this city would not have such a problem with bike lanes if cyclists actually used them. I cycle and I use them but there are more then a few bad apples who think they are living in a mad max movie and then they are screaming at cars with profanity. The fact is is that the city is broke. BROKE!!! And this administration wants to leave a structural legacy with permanent bike lanes and a newly paved beach which would be the seawall. Meanwhile property taxes, cost pf living and translink fares are always going up. Buildings are continually being built by the Olympic village and are selling yet 2/3rds of the city owned Olympic village is not occupied. Priorities people. There are a lot of bike lanes all over the city and a good many of them are separated.

  7. Bill Barilko says:

    See Ian’s post for a Classic example of cyclist sanctimony.

  8. Kathy Smith says:

    Sanctimonious – hypocritically pious or devout. Hypocritical – or pretense of having virtues, beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually possess. (taken from Webster’s Dictionary). Pretty much says it all. My experience with cyclists is in downtown and Kitsilano areas, where a large part of the cycling community in these areas seems to think it is their right to ride wherever they want. While out walking I regularly see a father and son riding in the area and he lets his son ride out front and blow through stop signs, ride side by side and no signals – I follow up with – ‘Good Lesson there Dad’ and I usually get the finger. While walking I stop at all crossings to check if cars or cyclists are approaching – after all being hit by a bicyclist once I tend to steer clear of them. I seem to remember my parents teaching me the proper way of crossing a street/road/laneway/whatever and that was over 50 years ago – funny I still remember that lesson and all the ones I was taught as a 16 year old learning to drive. The one ‘act’ that really pisses me off is the Critical Mass rides – if you want to be respected act like a good upstanding citizen, vote when you should and stand up for what really matters in this world. I could go on with this but alas I will stop here all the while staying on topic – go figure!

  9. Andrea says:

    Oh Kathy! Just seeing the words “Critical Mass” gets my blood boiling. I hate nothing more than this senseless stupid “group” in the city. I am a biker, pedestrian and car user in the city and I would NEVER take part in Critical Mass.

  10. Phil says:

    I’ll try to keep this comment on-topic 🙂
    @What do you think?
    I think asking passionate people to “stifle their sanctimony”, regardless of the idea they are trumpeting, is just a passive-aggressive way of telling them to shut up. That’s not wrong per say, just two-faced. “You’ll get what you want if you stop asking for it.” Come on. Squeeky wheels get the grease, we all know that.

    Do cyclists in Vancouver deserve the sanctimonious label?
    Vancouver cyclists in general? Of course not. I’m sure, like any group, there are those that have earned the label.

    Should they be quieter to build support for the bike lanes?
    It’s like saying to a farmer that if you harvest less you’ll end up with a bigger yield.

    Is opposition to bike lanes just another form of NIMBYism?
    When it comes to public policy, what form of opposition isn’t?

  11. Bon says:

    Seriously? — bikes using the bike lane instead of Cornwall, bikes coming to a full stop at stop signs, yielding to pedestrians, waiting for the light to turn green before proceeding through the intersection, coming to a stop at the Burrard/Pacific intersection to wait for their opportunity to cross instead of ‘expecting’ cars to stop (which the vast majority do), using the fully developed/unbearably expensive Hornby bike lane instead of blocking traffic on Burrard by ‘sharing’ the curb lane with buses? Yup — go figure why there is ever-increasing animosity between pedestrians/bikes/motorists.

  12. runDRD says:


  13. Jen says:

    I would love to see more safe bike lanes for cyclists. But I would also love to see more cyclists obeying the traffic rules. As it is, I’m always astonished when cyclists actually do stop at STOP signs, or politely wait for pedestrians to cross at crosswalks instead of barging on, nearly running them down, and then screaming at them to get out of the way. Cyclists usually seem to think the rules of the road don’t apply to them. They seem to think they can ride on through red lights, and they usually neglect even to slow down, as if somehow they’re invulnerable as well as privileged.

  14. BB says:

    Ha! Cyclists using bike lanes as they should? I wouldn’t say that all cyclists are alike, but I can definitely say that more often than not, cyclists DO NOT obey the rules of the road. I’m a motor biker and mostly I’m afraid of unpredictable cyclists on the road. Cars and buses and trucks are dangerous, yes, however I can’t count how many times I’ve been bullied by someone on a bicycle. Not stopping for stop signs, or not using hand signals, and basically pulling a crazy ivan any time it pleases are common cyclist maneuvers. Another no-no is creeping in on a motor biker’s lane thinking it’s ok to “share”. Ever heard of lane positioning? Cyclists may not have big heavy bikes that can cause a lot of damage, but their irresponsible riding can certainly create a costly accident. I say force cyclists to sport plates and carry insurance, then we’ll see how responsible they stay on the roads they have to share with people that do.