Having witnessed the fractious debates over Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge, Dunsmuir Street, and Hornby Street bike lanes, Erin O’Melinn knows that proposing a new separated lane is a recipe for potential controversy.
Nevertheless, the executive director of HUB Cycling argues that this infrastructure is the best way to turn riders of all abilities into commuter cyclists.
“You don’t have to worry about a car coming along and whether they’re going to see you or give you enough space,” O’Melinn told the Georgia Straight ahead of her nonprofit’s spring Bike to Work Week, which runs May 26 to June 1. “That’s how a lot of people feel, so particularly on those busy arterial streets, we need separation.”
Speaking by phone from Robson Square, O’Melinn called attention to the lack of east-west “connectivity” in the northernmost parts of the city. The cycling advocate asserted the solution should be a two-way separated bike lane running through Gastown, the Downtown Eastside, and Grandview-Woodland, connecting the downtown core with the city’s northeast corner.
Extending four kilometres, this dedicated bike route would, ideally, use a combination of either Cordova and Powell streets or Water and Powell streets, according to her.
“It’s a bit of a no-go zone right now, if you’re not willing to ride right with car traffic,” O’Melinn said. “So that’s a gap.”
O’Melinn noted the proposed bike lane would link up with the seawall at the Vancouver Convention Centre on its west end and the Wall Street bikeway, near Victoria Drive, on its east end. It would also intersect the Carrall Street greenway.
George Affleck, a Non-Partisan Association councillor, told the Straight a separated bike lane would be a “potential traffic choker” on Powell Street, which is a truck route. According to Affleck, the busy Adanac Street bikeway already serves cyclists in the city’s northeast “quite well”.
“Is this for people who live in North Van?” Affleck asked by phone from his office. “Who would this be for? The population around the PNE is not particularly high. It’s mostly single-family residential, everything north of Adanac. So unless we’re trying to encourage people from Burnaby and North Van to bike into Vancouver, I’m not quite sure what their intention is here.”
Leanore Sali, executive director of the Gastown Business Improvement Society, said she couldn’t comment on a proposal she hadn’t heard about until now. But Sali told the Straight she couldn’t imagine a separated bike lane being added to “very, very narrow” Water Street.
“Isn’t it interesting that this would be a proposal to run through our neighbourhood and we don’t even know about it?” Sali said by phone from her office.
Joji Kumagai, executive director of the Strathcona Business Improvement Association, told the Straight his organization’s members support “alternative transportation” but the proposal calls for a “much more complex conversation than whether or not a separated bike path on Powell Street is good or not”.
Speaking by phone from his office, Kumagai pointed out that the $50-million Powell Street overpass, which is scheduled to be completed this summer, will feature a separated bike lane. Local businesses are already concerned about losing parking spots due to the overpass, he noted.
“Many of them do take alternative transportation and many of them do cycle, but there’s also a need for parking spots for clients and people that they’re meeting with,” Kumagai said.
O’Melinn said the best route for the proposed bike lane is a matter for discussion. For instance, Alexander Street could be an option in the Railtown district.
“We don’t mind if it’s a street over,” O’Melinn said. “Something quieter would be fine. We want it to work best for all of the different modes. But there does have to be some facility there that works for cyclists—that gives them some dedicated space too.”
According to O’Melinn, South Vancouver is also in need of a continuous east-west bikeway that lets cyclists “enjoy the Fraser River”. She said a bike route connecting the University of British Columbia’s Point Grey campus, new condo developments on Southwest Marine Drive, and Burnaby would benefit both commuters and recreational riders.