Cyclists and motorists can coexist peacefully in Vancouver

In May, I attended a conference in Vancouver called Changing Lanes. Organized by the Canadian Automobile Association, it was intended to bring cyclists, motorists, decision makers, and anyone else interested together in an effort to address the growing popularity of bicycles and all that goes with it: revamping infrastructure, changing attitudes, attempting to bring motorists and cyclists to some sort of reciprocity, and that sort of thing.

The conference had a particular relevance for me because three years ago, I was knocked off my bike by a teenager in an SUV, was hospitalized, and spent some time in a wheelchair. It was completely her fault, but I’m the one who got banged up. As it happened, I was on my motorcycle, but my comments apply just as well to bicycles.

After listening to speakers representing the cycling community, law enforcement, and special-interest groups—and as someone who is equally enthusiastic about cars, motorcycles, and bicycles—I have a few observations of my own to pass along.

According to a recent study by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada, motorists simply do not “see” motorcycles and bicycles. Because of their smaller size and different rates of speed, bikes do not register in the brains of many drivers in the same way automobiles do. A neglectful driver may see a bike, but somehow the message is lost along the way before his or her brain can do the right thing. This is especially true with older drivers. The phrase “I just didn’t see him” is one that’s well-known to medical and law-enforcement personnel. The fact is many motorists do not see bikes; I have the scars to prove it.

So it behooves riders to keep this uppermost in their minds when they ride, and this applies to both motorcycles and bicycles. One may be slower than the other, but in the eyes of motorists, they do not carry the same weight as a car. Ignore this at your peril.

Which leads me to those who drive an automobile: how about giving cyclists a break? How about checking twice before you pull out into traffic, turn left, or open your car door? How about waiting for that extra half-second before you make your move? And if you see a bike—human-powered or otherwise—stop and think about the situation. The consequences of your neglect are severe. In a nutshell, readjust your thinking. Bikes are here to stay, and there are going to be more of them on the roads as time goes by. If I had my way, every motorist in the world would have to spend at least a week on a bicycle and a motorcycle before they could get their driver’s licence. Maybe then they’d see how dangerous it is out there.

And for you hard-core cyclists, lose the attitude. Stop demonizing automobiles and acting like you have the high moral ground here. It’s annoying. Riding a bike doesn’t make you special or cooler than motorists, or mean you’re above the rules that apply to the rest of us. For reasons I’m not clear on, Vancouver in particular seems to have more than its share of in-your-face, militant cyclists who will only be happy when every single automobile in the world goes away. As far as they’re concerned, automobiles are tools of the devil and the sooner we get rid of them, the better.

But what about the single mom who has to drop off and pick up her kids at daycare every day, the senior who relies on a car to get the necessities of life, or the tradesman who has to commute with a full load of tools and equipment? In one form or another, cars are also here to stay, and staging Critical Mass events, giving motorists the finger, and stifling main routes of traffic downtown doesn’t help anybody. I ride a bicycle as often as I can, but that doesn’t mean I feel compelled to paint myself silver, wear funny clothes, and block traffic.

That’s right, Critical Massers, I’m talking to you. You’ve made your point; the authorities are listening and things are changing. Vancouver has installed two significant downtown bicycle lanes, with plans for more to come, and things are better for riders than they used to be. But for most people, bicycles remain a discretionary form of transportation, primarily enjoyed by young urbanites.

Which leads me to my final observation, and this is for the people who make decisions about cars and bikes: try to remember that a car is not a luxury or an unnecessary evil. Most people can’t get by without their cars, and continually hassling motorists with punitive traffic fines, higher taxes, escalating gas prices, heightened law enforcement, and convoluted city planning just makes things worse. I was born and raised in Vancouver, but conditions for motorists in the downtown area are becoming intolerable, and it’s not fair.

Look at the numbers. How many people ride bikes and how many drive cars? By all means, build as many bike paths and rights-of-way as you can, but don’t do it at the expense of motorists. The tail is wagging the dog in Vancouver these days, and the majority of commuters suffer because of the whining of a small group of zealots.

The Burrard Street Bridge is a case in point. Even at the height of rush hour on a nice sunny day, few riders are using the bike lane. The bike path on this bridge only happened because militant cyclists intimidated city council and Geoff Meggs got knocked off his bike last year. The Burrard Bridge is a major artery to the downtown area, and there’s plenty of room for cyclists on either sidewalk. How about some sort of a compromise here? How about giving the bridge back to motorists in the winter and utilizing the sidewalks properly? West side for bikes, east side for pedestrians.

Sooner or later, bike riders and motorists are going to have to coexist. There’s plenty of room for everyone. Just think things through before you start yapping, and show a little respect for the other guy.

Comments (16) Add New Comment
trixie
Omigod!! Do I detect a slight bend in the militant anti-bike Ted Laturnus? A plea for respect and sanity on both sides?
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Harper
You've added nothing to the conversation except a little hyperbole.
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Arno S
I'm really glad that Mr. Laturnus has a few good things to say about cycling safety, especially his plea for motorists to look twice and to try to focus on the cyclist which is nearby.

However his comment on drivers being disadvantaged is not borne out by statistics. Driving times on both Burrard and Hornby are essentially the same as prior to separated lanes going in. Northbound traffic on Burrard is actually faster now than before. Very few active traffic lanes were upgraded to two way cycle lanes. Only Burrard Bridge, 1 block on Hornby and about 5 blocks on Dunsmuir were affected. And even with higher taxes, motorists are still heavily subsidized while cyclists more that pay their way.

The paragraph begining with "Look at the numbers. How many people ride bikes and how many drive cars?" contains backward thinking. Polls show that most Vancouverites are supportive of bike lanes. More safe bike lanes means more people happily riding bikes and less driving cars. This is better for everyone, including drivers. It is not the cyclist or the bike lane that is slowing you down. It is the car in front of you. Convince that driver to switch to cycling and congestion will disappear!
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Arno has it right.
Imagine a city where EVERYONE drove and no one cycled nor took public transit.

That city would be the capital of Hell.
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Mark T
Imagine a city where the idealists dictate how the masses shall live. I have a hard time believing that a centrally planned society will improve anyone's quality of life other then for the elite few. The Author of this article makes excellent pragmatic points yet the feedback received is dominantly unhappy because he does not preach their kind of idealism.

As a community I hope we find the courage to be more inclusive.
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Rhea2
The first and last sentence sound reasonable; but why the ridiculous anti-bike rant in the middle? I'm tired of the myth of an "in-your-face militant Vancouver cyclist" It's all projection. Most of us are just trying to get to work and are thrilled the city has eked out a tiny space for us to safely do so. Our bikes are just one of several modes of transportation we use. Most of us drive occasionally too.

You say there’s plenty of room for everyone, then you want us to "give the bridge back" in the wintertime. huh? I'll tell you something, you already have the bridge, and most of the road infrastructure in this province. There are upwards of 6000 bicycle trips per day on the Burrard Bridge on a "nice sunny day" and 2000 on a winter's day. Maybe one definition of sharing would be to not whine if you don't get 100% of the road space.

Georgia Straight, it's great that you have the occasional article about cycling. How about something non-political once in a while, something just about bikes, like folding bikes or biking with kids. And how about you get someone other than Ted Laturnus to write it. Because, you know, he doesn't come across like he likes his target readers very much.
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Fan'o Truth
I am most often a pedestrian downtown and have been challenged many times on sidewalks and in cross walks by cyclists. They simply don't care.

When I have complained about that to cycling organizations like Arno's I have received a brush off at best.
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BikerCK
These are basically the same ill-informed and reactionary comments Mr Laturnus made at the Sharing the Road conference. Sadly, for him, his remarks were dismissed as downright silly by and large, by most of the participants, who did show up with a real desire to mend fences and find ways to build a better, safer relationship between motorists and cyclists. It's unfortunate to read this column and realize that he appears to be the one person at the conference that didn't listen or learn from the valuable contributions made by many of the speakers.
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Odd

Is everyone like this in Delta? This opinion piece in the "Delta Optimist " is just another example of right wing politics and attitudes. It is a disgusting example of hateful attitudes that incite people to act violently and passive aggressively, as our Mayor Lois Jackson has just done with her inference to the despicable act just carried out in Norway.

Mayor Lois Jackson should resign and apologize for her comments and the Delta Optimist should print a retraction of Mr. Southard's comments and ban him from any future appearances in our community paper. We should not have to put up with this type of inappropriate behaviour.
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Ron van der Eerden
Critical Mass will continue as long as people with this attitude remain. To Laturnus, "compromise" means giving back our hard won gains. Car traffic is down. Bike traffic is up. The obvious thing to do is slowly reallocate space from motorists to cyclists.
Looking forward to the day when Critical mass is no longer necessary.
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Fan'o Truth
Cyclists don't like being reminded of the fact that a large percentage of them behave poorly towards pedestrians. They don't like being reminded of it because they know it's true.
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Lawson1945
No bloody way, the bike lanes are coming down, unless bikers pay registeration fees, access fees to enter transit,translink and pay for the evergreen line, the battle will continue!
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bobo
Critical Mass??? More like Critical Asses!!!
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AG
I am the registered owner of a motor vehicle. I choose to commute by bicycle whenever possible to save the cost of fuel and to avoid adding pollution to the atmosphere. What I notice when I ride my bicycle is that EVERYONE is ignoring the rules. I routinely see motorists driving insanely badly and while I note that many cyclists ride on the sidewalk, pedestrians - especially in the downtown core - like to pretend that no traffic signal or regulation pertains to them (jaywalking; crossing against the lights; etc, etc). A final point: those of you who want to remove the bike lanes had better prepare yourself for cyclists like me. I don't participate in critical mass rides; I AM my own critical mass. That means I take my right of way, I take my lane and I don't give a damn that you don't like it. Right now I choose the separated bike lanes because they are less stressful for me, but I am easily stubborn enough to take my space where there are none.
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604commuter
SEPARATED BIKE LANES RESULT IN MORE CONGESTION
- every commuter crossing Horrible Hornby knows that because traffic lights on Hornby have additional phase to accommodate privileged cyclists they stay on longer causing traffic jams on cross streets and on Hornby. Separated bike lanes added to congestion problems and did not help to solve it.

SEPARATED BIKE LANES ARE MORE DANGEROUS
- ICBC reports 20+ % increase in accidents and injuries on Burrard and Pacific after separated bike lanes were installed. This is consistent with experiences in other cities like Copenhagen and Helsinki that report increase in traffic accidents after separated bike lanes were installed and advise other municipalities not to install separated bike lanes on urban streets.

CYCLING NUMBERS IN VANCOUVER ARE FLAT OR DECLINING
- number of cyclists on the Burrard Br is stuck at ~5% of all commuters crossing that bridge since mid-90's
- cycling lobbyists cherry-pick convenient data points to "prove" an increase in cycling, looking at the on Burrard Br (longest period available) data in the vision city hall report one will find that comparing first half of 2009 to 2010 there is a 9% *decline in cycling*, comparing top half of the data in that report vs. the bottom (the longest time period provided) shows a 3% *decline in cycling*
- Ontario bike route has a 15% decline in cycling in spring/summer of 2010 vs 2009 (CoV data)

604commuter.ca
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Steven Forth
Car drivers are a typical entitled elite. They assume that everyone can afford to drive a car and that cyclists are making some sort of aberrant lifestyle choice. They are used to getting huge subsidies, dominating public space, and having the police and legal system support them. Any threat to these entitlements leads to an often violent backlash. That a few tiny percent of budgets or space might be given over to cyclists is outrageous and a serious threat to their sense of self. As someone who cycles Vancouver's streets pretty much every day I am very aware of the anger that motorists feel. Back when Sam Sullivan and his group were opposing the Burrard Street bike lanes one of his supporters whacked me on the helmet with a sign. I have been doored, squeezed, bumped and on two occasions spat on by motorists. And I am a rather calm, portly grandfather. I hate to think what it might be like for younger faster riders. Car drivers routinely drive above the speed limit, many drive with too much alcohol or dope, or using cell phones ... Criminal behavior by car drivers is accepted as normal, if cyclist glides through a stop sign it is the end of the world. One day I hope to be able to cycle, safely, downtown with my grandchildren, but that won't happen as long as we tolerate criminal behavior by car drivers and trivial investment in cycling infrastructure.
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