By Sarah Ripplinger
Photography: David Niddrie, Ryder Goatley, and Ben Johnson
Vancouver isn’t your typical metropolitan center. Known for having a densely populated downtown core where many health and ecology conscious citizens walk or cycle to work, its lush mountains and glittering glass condos attract soul seekers, explorers and hedonists alike from around the world. Vancouver is a place where extremes often meet.
Within the extreme transportation demands of a bustling port city and tourist destination, lives a thriving commuter cycling movement which is seeing the fruits of about 30 years of effort. The city of Vancouver has extended an olive branch to cyclists in an effort to improve the transportation system and meet the mounting calls for safer and more sustainable roads.
“Several cycling projects that people have been working on for years have been completed or happened this summer, including the Central Valley Greenway, the bike path on the Canada Line Bridge and, of course, the Burrard Bridge [bike lane trial],” said Richard Campbell, commuter cycling advocate and co-founder of Better Environmentally Sound Transportation (BEST) and the British Columbia Cycling Coalition. “All of these point the way to the future.”
The Burrard Street Bridge bike lane trial, in particular, has been a defining moment in Vancouver’s cycling history. After a disastrous first attempt in 1996, the separated bike lane trial that launched on July 13, 2009 has been praised as a success story for the city. Statistics indicate an estimated 26 percent increase in ridership over the bridge since it began and no significant change in the number of motor vehicles heading over the bridge. In turn, pre- and mid-trial polls of 300 residents – conducted for the city – found that 45 percent supported a continuation of the trial, with 31 percent opposed.
“I think this bodes well for other protected bike lanes in the city in the future,” said Campbell, who added that he sees more children and women on the bridge now that there are protective barriers separating the bikes-only sidewalk heading north and the bikes-only street lane heading south over the bridge. “We’re having a bicycle baby boom these days… There seems to be children on bikes everywhere.”
Vancouver’s bike cultural scene has been building since people first rode bicycles here in the late 1800s, but the contemporary cycling movement began taking shape in 1968, when protesters headed off the construction of the inner-city Chinatown Freeway, which later became part of the Adanac Bikeway. Transportation cycling discussions took off after 1980, when city hall established a bicycle committee with a mandate to examine infrastructure for cyclists. The first bike stencils hit the ground in the early 1990s for what is now an extensive bikeways system, which utilizes side roads rather than arterials. A moderately well-connected network of on- and off-road bike paths link the downtown core to the many satellite communities within the City of Vancouver proper and the 22 municipalities that compose Metro Vancouver, including Burnaby, Richmond, New Westminster and North Vancouver.
Still, the commuter cycling push at city hall has had some growing pains. Streets generally continue to be dominated by the personal automobile. However, much has changed since the late 1980s when advocates for bike paths and safer roads for cyclists were labeled radicals.