Cyclists enjoy the best and endure the worst of Vancouver
With the hazy days of summer came a commensurate surge in sightings of fair-weather cyclists.
The intersection at 10th Avenue and Kingsway, for example, is normally the reserve of one or two double-wheeled riders amid the truck and car traffic feeding Kingsgate Mall. Throughout August, it was taken over by swarms of riders at every light change, especially during morning rush hour. Most likely, the engineers at City Hall were away on vacation and missed it. 10th Avenue is a commuting route for cyclists, much like the somnolent Adanac Street route to the north.
And so goes this back-and-forth, glass-half-full-or-half-empty dichotomy that tends to infuse every local cycling issue. Is the city a cyclist’s dream or a nightmare of mediocrity?
The answer is both. And with deference to The Matrix, there have been plenty of blue-pill moments, when city engineers and politicians choose conformity and retention of the status quo, or worse. Then there are the revellers and risk takers, who long since slugged down the red pill of unabashed adventure and renewal.
Let’s see which areas of the city’s cycling scene can be attributed to the conformists and which to the risk takers. Saving the best for last, we’ll begin in the conformist corner.
WORST POLITICAL DECISION
Burrard Bridge bike-lane-trial reversal
If Vancouver’s Non-Partisan Association gets smoked at the polls in November and loses its tenuous majority on city council, remember this 2005 fiasco. It may yet come to signify how grossly NPAers misread the public appetite for dedicated cycling infrastructure ahead of endless pandering to car culture.
The NPA’s reversal in council chambers of the bike-lane trial initiated by ballsy ex–COPE councillor Fred Bass was the kind of political expediency and bland opportunism that typified the blue party’s clamour for power rather than bold policymaking. The fact that dozens of cyclists spoke against the move made no difference. Current NPA mayoral candidate Peter Ladner, first a supporter of Bass’s proposal, caved and reversed his vote, later telling the Straight, “I can’t win that one.” Mayor Sam Sullivan and the current NPA councillors—Elizabeth Ball, Kim Capri, B. C. Lee, Suzanne Anton, and Ladner—all voted to scrap the trial and must now be consigned to the corner.
WORST POLITICAL FAILURE
Vancouver not reaching the 10 percent bike mode share
Lucky they chose the summer to pull this one. The city’s engineering-services department sent a report—penned by Michael Anderson and Lisa Leblanc—to the transportation and traffic committee meeting of July 22: “The Bicycle Advisory Committee’s 2005 Work Plan identified the Committee’s vision to bring the City-wide cycling mode share up to 10 percent by 2010. Although Council supported this target in principle, complementary education, awareness, social marketing, financial and other incentives have not been fully developed. As a result, staff recommended in the 2006 Bicycle Plan Update that a five percent mode share (100,000 trip/day) target for 2010 may be a more realistic goal.”
This means city engineers cannot get the bicycle’s share among transportation modes up to 10 percent unless “financial and other incentives” are developed. Here’s a good financial incentive, at no cost to taxpayers: you save money every time you use less gas and more ass. The archived footage of the committee debate is particularly damning, with Anderson and Leblanc taking all the heat, mainly from COPE councillor David Cadman.
Perhaps cyclists can ask mayoral and council candidates trawling for votes ahead of the November election whether they intend to get cycling mode share up, as West End transportation activist Rob Wynen advocates, to 10 percent. That’s still way behind Mí¼nster, Germany, and Copenhagen, Denmark, where it hovers at about 40 percent.
POLITICIAN WITH THE MOST POTENTIAL
On an NPA council dominated by bumps on logs for three years, Anton is a rare breath of fresh air—and she cycles, to boot. She and her husband, Olin, have cycled from B.C. almost all the way across Canada in stages, and one suspects Anton is that close to total and utter rebellion.
BEST CLASH OF COMMUTER CULTURES
June 2008 Critical Mass bike ride
If ever bike and car cultures butted heads, it came about while irreverent Critical Mass cyclists took over the Lions Gate Bridge during the record-breaking month-end ride in June. At one point, a BMW driver from the North Shore lambasted the ride and stared aghast at the figure-hugging costume worn by cyclist Ifny Lachance, an outfit that provoked the comment: “What kind of an example is that?”
BEST CYCLING PIONEER
The feline Quebecker was instrumental in keeping the flame burning when cycling was not on the local radar in the ’90s, but now eternal Critical Mass rider and envelope pusher Guy Wera has relocated to Quebec and is MIA. Even regular riders like Richard Campbell, formerly of Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, only have tenuous e-mail contact.
Wera is featured in Robert Alstead’s 2007 documentary You Never Bike Alone. Two Straight e-mails also failed to rouse him.
Bonnie Fenton, Mary Sherlock, and Kari Hewett
Whereas the Critical Mass crowd is fiercely irreverent, the above triumvirate keeps cycling issues in front of the noses of elected officials and newspaper editors without opting for underpants worn outside of tights or elf ears in place of a bike helmet. At any given event—Bike to Work Week, Critical Mass, council meetings, or organized transportation events—you will see one of these three consummate professionals addressing the issues of cycling infrastructure and making Vancouver a more livable and less polluted city. And most of this is in a volunteer capacity, though Fenton charges a fee for a well-received TransLink-funded course on commuter cycling skills.
It may not be apparent now, but activists lamenting the lack of lane space for cyclists only have to wait another election cycle for the Burrard Bridge to move back onto the radar screen. The NPA first cancelled the lane-allocation trial, then opted for sidewalk widening that would see no loss of car capacity and cost $14 million. The estimated cost has since ballooned to $57 million, with no end in sight. It is clear the NPA does not want to touch the bridge now, so it’s up to the next council to figure it out. This gives those in former COPE councillor Fred Bass’s corner a chance to regroup and redirect their energies, and push once again for some kind of serious reallocation of lane space.