It has now been over 10 years since the last bicycle master plan was brought forth. For the last few years, cyclists have been calling for a quick, three-year completion of the 1999 Bicycle Plan. Cyclists were looking for a completed cycling network to get around this city. While we have seen significant progress in rolling out the network plan in the past year, there is still much to do. The Bicycle Plan is getting old and a new one is required to address the changing needs of future cyclists.
Meanwhile attitudes are changing towards more cycling for transportation — including government direction.
In 2003, cyclists wanted completion of a bike route network within the city that would include some bike lanes in the downtown peninsula. Also time was spent on dialogue between the philosophies of a bike route-only oriented network versus a network which included bike lanes. The thinking has changed with time.
While this discourse was going on, a few cyclists were calling for a change in the cycling design toolkit. They had come under the spell of success in cycling growth in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and other cycling-active cities within Europe. Usually these cyclists had some European cycling experience. They were calling for physically separated bike lanes instead of bike lanes created by painted lines. Separated bike lanes provide a greater level of comfort while cycling and appealed to a larger
number of cyclists and, most importantly, potential cyclists. While a significant number of cyclists prefer off-road cycling facilities, separated bike lanes provide part of that cycling experience within roadways.
Slowly, the call increased for separated cycling facilities within road right-of-way, especially as more cyclists went to Europe. In 2005 and 2006, UBC’s Cycling in Cities Survey brought research support for the concept. The potential cyclists saw separated bike lanes and off-road bike trails as prerequisites for making a mode change to cycling for transportation. Without such facilities, these people would not make the change.
While we tend to look at Victoria’s Galloping Goose Trail as a prime local example for the value of separation, we can even look at data from the Burrard Bridge which supports such separation. During the years of separating cyclists from cars but not from pedestrians, still grew to 4,000 daily trips across the bridge. With full separation achieved in 2009, the immediate response was a 25% growth in cycling traffic. What will that growth be in two years when new cycling facilities tend to mature in cycling traffic growth? Some of us predict that it will be in the 100% range.
In June 2009, Vancouver Council supported the call for separated bike lanes with a motion.
Now, a motion is before Council which recommends one separated facility and approval in principle for separated connection of two bridges to downtown Vancouver. http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20100204/documents/csbu2.pdf
Within the cycling community, there are discussions going on with the priority of investment in the city’s cycling infrastructure. Some are arguing that the current bike routes need to be upgraded and the network plan needs to be completed first, before new initiatives are undertaken.
There is a bit of a quandary here on direction: complete the network first or shift gears. Advocates have been quite verbal for significant increases in funding for earlier completion of the Bicycle Plan, rather than much later. Advocacy has also been increasing for separated bike lanes for many, many years now.
With the support of Cycling in Cities Survey, more people, including potential cyclists, have been calling for separated bike lanes. If we consider Council’s direction for the Greenest City in the world, the question is if the timing is right to take a dramatic step change now: “Move quickly in rolling out separated bike lanes within the next two years and then complete the network.” The speed of rollout for these separated bike lanes could be significantly accelerated by using the New York City approach. First, put in temporary facilities and then making the facilities permanent when funds become available. This way, many more kilometres of facilities could be implemented each year –perhaps three times or more.
Has step change occurred in other cities? Sydney, Australia comes to mind as an example. In 2008, the Mayor undertook a four-year, $70 million Green City plan which will see 55 km. of separated cycleways (bike lanes) implemented on local roads.
History has shown that true change does not happen from small corrections in the course by an organization is sailing on. Effective change tends to come from bringing the ship to a halt and turning down a new course.
People tend to need demonstration facilities to try out new designs before they feel comfortable to support a direction in their community. The use of demonstration facilities is a good step before reworking a Cycling Master Plan. Public engagement will be more effective and knowledgeable for the direction that cycling facilities should develop. Demonstration facilities should also be geographically placed where people normally cycle. Demonstration facilities downtown and in residential areas of a city, will provide more opportunities for exposure to the separation concept on a street.
A comprehensive Cycling Master Plan will succeed in attracting potential cyclists, especially those who drive today, by using time-proven, European design techniques of cycling separation, visibility, trip time efficiency, and priority at intersections. A Cycling Master Plan should truly be designed to implement Vancouver’s transportation priority of “Cycling second after pedestrian movements”. This Plan is also a lever to drive us in the Greenest City direction.
As someone remarked: “while cycling is a thing of its own, it is really an indicator of the health and liveability of a city”.
Note: A bike route is defined as a local road which has been traffic calmed resulting in less motorized vehicle (cars primarily) traffic and slower speeds.
City of Copenhagen. Cycle Lanes and Cycle Tracks. (Accessed Feb. 2, 2010). Defines differences between cycle lanes and cycle tracks.