Arno Schortinghuis: Burrard Bridge bike lanes will help take cycling in Vancouver to next level

By Arno Schortinghuis

The debate over lane reallocation on the Burrard Bridge has raged for over 15 years. How do we make the bridge safe for cyclists and pedestrians? Should sidewalks be widened or lanes reallocated to cycling?

The Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition is very pleased that Vancouver city council has quickly moved toward a lane-reallocation trial to provide room on the Burrard Bridge for all modes of transportation. Council is being fiscally prudent by potentially saving the $30-million cost of widening the sidewalks. By quickly moving ahead with this trial, council has shown that it considers cycling to be a critical component of the city’s transportation system.

A two-lane reallocation will establish a safe and convenient crossing for existing pedestrians and cyclists, and will also encourage more people to enjoy walking or cycling across the bridge. The cycling lanes on the Burrard Bridge promise to become a key component in a safe, complete cycling network which will transform Vancouver from a good cycling city into a truly great cycling city.

Though there are still some who question why we should spend precious resources to improve cycling conditions in Vancouver, it is actually in everyone’s interest to rapidly improve cycling infrastructure. Though Vancouver is already one of the better cycling cities in North America, we have a long way to go to match the cycling mode share of Copenhagen, Amsterdam, or Bogotá, Colombia.

Cycling offers many benefits, some of which are:

Ӣ To the individual: An enjoyable commute by bike improves health and saves time.
Ӣ To the community: Cycling reduces noise and pollution, and creates a more vibrant community. Improved health through cycling reduces health-care costs.
Ӣ To the planet: Cycling helps to dramatically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, thereby helping to make Vancouver a more sustainable city.
Ӣ To the economy: Increased cycling ensures that more money stays in the local economy instead of being spent on oil and automobiles. By improving cycling, we can attract cycling tourists and assure that they have a great experience in Vancouver.

In Copenhagen, decades of dedicated work by city council and staff has obtained a 40 percent cycling mode share. Even so, they still focus on improving cycling because they know that for every $1 they invest in cycling, they save $5 in other government services. It clearly makes sense to invest heavily in cycling infrastructure, and in cycling safety and encouragement programs.

Professor Kay Teschke of UBC has shown in her Cycling in Cities survey that more people will cycle more often if safe cycling facilities are established. Her research shows that most people, especially potential cyclists and those who cycle less often, prefer segregated cycling facilities. If we hope to attract many more people to cycling, we must provide some segregated cycling paths.

I envision segregated cycling paths connecting the Burrard Bridge paths to the sea-wall paths at each end. This would allow someone to cycle from Stanley Park to Kits Beach or Granville Island using the Burrard Bridge. We suggest that the city negotiate with CP to put a temporary bike path on the Arbutus rail corridor, so that one could ride from Richmond, over the new Canada Line bridge, along the Arbutus corridor, and over the new bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge to downtown Vancouver (or to North Vancouver), all on segregated paths.

If Point Grey Road were made one-way, segregated cycling paths could be extended to Spanish Banks and UBC. The Central Valley Greenway (which follows the Millennium SkyTrain line) is now almost complete. We look forward to the day when one can cycle throughout Metro Vancouver on a complete network of safe and convenient segregated cycling paths.

A two-lane reallocation of the Burrard Bridge will help to raise cycling in Vancouver to a new level—a level where people aged eight to 80 can ride comfortably and safely throughout the city. If this project is completed and a complete network of safe and convenient segregated bike paths is established, then cycling will become so irresistible that most people in Vancouver will choose cycling as their first choice in transportation. Once that happens, people will look back at the great Burrard Bridge debate and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Arno Schortinghuis is the president of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition.



Peter Fischer

Mar 6, 2009 at 6:27am

This is an excellent analysis of the benefits to all (not just cyclists) of the bridge lane trial. The vision articulated of an integrated network of cycling paths is one that all of us ought to endorse and move forward. Vancouver has a long way to go to become the "greenest city" as desired by the current city administration. This trial (and hopeful implementation) is an important step in trying to catch up to cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam whose sustainablity initiatives and legislation are light years ahead of our own when it comes to city transportation.

Andrea M

Apr 3, 2011 at 9:16pm

I fully support the infrastructure improvements, but felt I needed to correct one little thing: The cycle mode share in Bogota is 4% or 5%...

Their famous cycling sundays are pretty much purely recreational. Healthy, yes, Fun yes, Inspiring, yes, but functional transportation... not so much.. at least not yet.