Mayoral candidate Shauna Sylvester calmly faces down hecklers while defending value of separated bike lanes

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      Things got heated last night at a Vancouver mayoral candidates meeting, perhaps no more so than over the topic of bike lanes.

      The first speaker on this topic at the Hellenic Centre, ProVancouver's David Chen, called for the removal of bike lanes from arterial roads.

      He also questioned why bike lanes couldn't be restricted to "seasonal and hourly use" through the use of technology.

      "They already do that on the Stanley Park Causeway," he said.

      That elicited a round of applause at the meeting, which was hosted by the Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners' Association.

      Chen's call for creating seasonal bike lanes was echoed by Vancouver First mayoral candidate Fred Harding, who also received a solid applause.

      The NPA's Ken Sim expressed reservations about a new separated bike lane behind Vancouver General Hospital and the Cambie Street Bridge. 

      Sim, however, said that he wouldn't be declaring war on bike lanes as mayor because he didn't think that was financially prudent. That's because major changes could cost money. And he accused others of "promising you things that they think you want to hear"—i.e. lower taxes and adjustments to bike lanes.

      He emphasized that far more attention needs to be focused on traffic congestion, including as a result of pedestrian-activated crosswalks and vehicles entering intersections on amber lights.

      The NPA candidate's comments elicited a very loud ovation.

      The most militantly anti-cycling-lane message came from Coalition Vancouver mayoral candidate Wai Young.

      "I'm the mayor who is going to take out the ridiculous and the redundant bike lanes," the former Conservative MP said with a flourish. "I'll tell you why: we know for a fact that there are only two percent of people who actually commute on their bikes in this city.

      "Two percent," Young repeated. "Now, it doesn't make any common sense to anyone in this room why 98 percent of the people in the city should be inconvenienced or should be blocked in front of a hospital emergency ward with a separated bike lane."

      The problem was that Young's two percent figure came from a Statistics Canada survey for Metro Vancouver. The City of Vancouver's data show that 10 percent of those travelling to work or school do so by bicycle.

      The only candidate who seemed to be aware of this was long-time environmentalist Shauna Sylvester, an SFU professor of public practice.

      She pointed out that cycling has been the fastest-growing mode of transportation in Vancouver.

      Sylvester also declared that if all the city's cyclists were placed on bike lanes, they would exceed the number of Vancouver residents who take the Expo Line on SkyTrain.

      She began her speech by encouraging the opponents of cycling to get their heckling out of their system in advance of what she was about to say.

      Then she told a harrowing story that silenced the room.

      "I was a commuter [cyclist] in my 20s and I was hit," Sylvester stated. "I fell, and then the car began to back up. My head was under the wheel.

      "Had it not been for a cyclist there who pulled me—literally pulled me—out of that situation, I would be dead today," she continued. "No doubt about it. The guy didn't see me. He kept going.

      "I lost a friend to a cycling accident. This isn't a 'nice to have'. This is an issue of life and death. It's an issue of safety."

      Then she repeated her earlier message, encouraging people to heckle.

      "Get it out, get it out," she suggested in a patient tone. "If you need to say 'boo', say it. If you need to hiss, say it. That feels better."

      The audience let her continue speaking.

      But when she talked about the taxpayer subsidies that go to motorists, some in the audience became agitated.

      "I get subsidized to take my car," Sylvester stated definitively. "Do you know how much that subsidy is? It's over $2,200 a year."

      Then she said that if she were a transit user, the subsidy would be about $700 per year.

      And for a bicyclist? Less than $100.

      "So who's paying for what in this city?" Sylvester asked.

      The loudest hecking came when she said that she wants roads for people who need to be in cars, including seniors, adding that she wanted people out of their cars if they didn't need to be in them.

      From the back of the room, a man shouted: "Who dictates that?"

      Sylvester declared that nobody was "dictating" that but the heckling intensified.

      She didn't buckle, telling the crowd that as mayor, she wants to ensure that all modes of transportation are available in order to respect residents of the city.

      This includes for those who have money and those who don't. She added that her approach would accommodate those who can afford a car and can drive a car, as well as those who can't. Then she stated that she will consider those who take transit and those who choose not to do so.

      "I will ensure that we will have the resources and the capacity for people to take the kinds of modes that they need and want to take," Sylvester added, before sitting down. 

      That earned her some applause, though not nearly as loud as the cheers that followed Sim's comments.