HUB Cycling wants Powell Street separated bike lane

Proposed bikeway in Gastown and Downtown Eastside would be four kilometres long

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      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.”

      In 2010, the City of Vancouver built a separated bike lane on Hornby Street.
      Stephen Hui

      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.



      Richard Campbell

      May 21, 2014 at 11:56am

      Great idea! This would be great for commuting and recreation. Basically, the extension of the Seaside Greenway through East Van to Burnaby. With the sidewalk widening on the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, this will complete the the connection between North Van and Downtown.

      The Adanac Bikeway is way out of the way for many people. Also, this connection would almost have no cross streets making it much safer.

      The Gastown BIA should love this idea. It will be great for tourism. People can just get off a cruiseship, rent a bike and visit businesses in Gastown.

      George A.

      May 21, 2014 at 11:57am

      Cycle paths should be on almost every street.

      Steve W

      May 21, 2014 at 2:08pm

      Absolutely there should be a bike lane - if anyone has ever been down those roads you would see that bikes either have to hop on and off the sidewalk or they block traffic - the roads are narrow.

      I prefer separated lanes and know that myself, my family and others would bike along that corridor a lot more and would visit gastown more often giving them more business. Powell is a very scary road to cycle on during rush hour.


      May 21, 2014 at 2:26pm

      It's easy to just say we need a bike path here, we need a bike path there, we need a bike path everywhere. Particularly if you don't have to worry about financing and you don't give a damn for people who drive cars and need to park those cars. But the reality is that cars will always be with us and will always be needed. Not everyone can use bicycles all the time. Hell, even the hard core cyclists don't use most of the bike lanes in the winter. There's a lots of bike lanes that aren't even close to capacity. Let's try to be more reasonable and work together instead of pretending cars will somehow become extinct.

      Ken Ohrn

      May 21, 2014 at 2:44pm

      I am in favour of any increase to safe and effective transportation infrastructure. This Powell Street idea is a good one, since it would provide another connection to and from downtown and areas to the east -- where cycling mode share is already quite high.

      Damn the cars

      May 21, 2014 at 3:30pm

      All of Water Street should be bike and pedestrian only, with a bike lane extending along Powell. More space for bikes, people and transit, and less for cars = healthier cities, less congestion and reduced pollution and emissions.


      May 21, 2014 at 3:39pm

      Why is Water street still open to through traffic anyhow? It's a terrible way to let people enter Downtown. They should adopt the European square model: closed to traffic, deliveries only in the morning before 9. And yes, there's a parkade, but that's local traffic that can be fed in and back out again from the side. The European market squares used to be full of cars, now they're some of the nicest places to sit outside.

      Darcy McGee

      May 21, 2014 at 4:33pm


      The city installed "temporary solution" has been there for what...six years now? Finish the damn project before starting new ones.


      May 21, 2014 at 4:56pm

      Wow - and just like clockwork, Hub and its supporters/advocates/representative are out in full force trying to boost up sentiment for this idea. It's unfortunate that Vision Vancouver is the only organization that cares about your short-sighted and self-righteous approach to recommendations to transportation infrastructure.

      Go ahead and continue to use Europe as an example HUB, as far as I've seen - Europe's been slowly imploding for the last five years.

      I will give a couple of you credit though - at least a couple of you supplied your real names (unlike Vision Vancouver that has been seeding these types of articles for quite awhile now).


      May 21, 2014 at 6:56pm

      “Go ahead and continue to use Europe as an example HUB, as far as I've seen - Europe's been slowly imploding for the last five years.”

      Because of bike lanes?

      (FWIW, if you actually look at which cities have strong cycling infrastructure you'll find that they're among the ones that haven't been “imploding”. Maybe there is a connection after all…)