Vancouver cyclists have been pedaling regularily this winter and are continuing to do so now during the Olympic weeks. The spring-like days make cycling irresistible. For beginners, it is a great way to test cooler weather cycling downtown in a festive street atmosphere.
Cops on Bikes
Before the 2010 Olympic Games started, a cyclist was already faithfully riding on the job, for nearly the entire Olympic torch relay
across Canada on its way to Vancouver. Bike police officer, Sergeant Tony Parks from Victoria, BC was cycling just a few wheel spins ahead for nearly each segment of the 45,000 kms. torch relay run. He hovered occasionally, in front of TV cameras as he rode ahead to instruct the next relay runner and help hold back cheering crowds flanking the route course.
When the torch relay crossed into Metro Vancouver, there were more cops on bikes ahead and close by torch relay runners as the crowds became thicker. This full-time police bike squad is only being provided during the Olympics. During the Games, we saw them ride
around on duty through the downtown core. After the Olympics, the number of Vancouver police officers will be reduced to 56 officers on part-time bike patrol. One wonders why the bike squad will be disassembled when it is well known that bike squads are less costly to operate than police officers in just cars and are more effective in neighbourhood on-street policing.
Cycling with the Olympic Torch
Yes, the Olympic torch relay did include many different modes of transportation, including by bike. On the final torch relay day near Rupert St. on Adanac, Rob Wynan, member of the City of Vancouver Bicycle Advisory Committee, chugged his way up the hill valiantly with one hand on the handlebar while holding the torch in the other hand.
Another cyclist, though not part of the official torch relay, rode near the tail end for a small East Vancouver segment, on his recumbent bike. He gives a saddle seat view for a few minutes, of the enthusiastic crowds that marked most of the relay route.
Cycling in Downtown
Cycling did become easier since car traffic became much lighter with road closures to accommodate large volumes of pedestrians in downtown Vancouver. The caveat for good cycling during the Olympics was reorienting oneself to road and path diversions and avoiding peak pedestrian volume areas. Many locals left their cars at home during the Olympics and joined the record-breaking passenger crowds on the transit system or in pedestrian walkways created by road closures. Road closures also resulted in some festive public spaces popping up with happy, relaxed revellers.
In Yaletown I caught a glimpse of some cyclists on the Dutch Ov-Fiets bikes from Richmond where the fleet is temporarily located for public loan during the Games. Maybe they were the same cyclists with same bikes parked outside the Sheraton Wall Hotel earlier in the day on Burrard St. Several days later, we spotted a single rider on same bike model on the Cambie Bridge.
Just a tiny example, if there is free loan of bikes, people might ride them a lot farther than expected or at least use the bike racks on TransLink buses.
Elsewhere at the Olympic Swiss House (normally Bridges Restaurant), a few bikes were spotted with an electric battery pack and marked with “Swiss House” –most likely for the staff working there. Convenient to have, even if they only rode around False Creek.
Bike Valet Parking
Although use statistics at the seven Olympic bike valet parking lots will not be finalized for awhile, there appeared to be parking use at select lots downtown. During the first week of the Olympics on rain-free days, bike valet use increased. Bike parking space packs in 10 to 14 bikes for each car vehicle parking spot. During the Olympics, the designated bike valet parking areas occupied underutilized walking space under road viaducts and by community centres. At Thunderbird Arena, University of British Columbia, a venue for some Olympic hockey games, we did not see any bike parking facilities near by at all –a bit strange since the arena is on a campus. Cyclists were locking up their bikes to any railing, post or tree available, even if found in the middle of the road.
According to preliminary comments from the City of Vancouver, cycling levels on Cambie, Burrard and Granville Bridges did reach warmer season levels. We look forward to release of traffic data count. Roads south of False Creek seem to carry spring traffic loads. The north part of the Ontario Bike Route appears to be lighter, which may be partially due to complete bike route closures around the Olympic Village and signage for alternate routes, such as Yukon St.
Olympic Winter Cycling Traffic: At Warmer Season Volumes
As a casual observation, there has been less cycling in the Downtown Peninsula than expected during the Olympics. Again, it may be due to some road and path closures or preference by some regular cyclists to walk or take transit with non-cycling friends to enjoy Olympic events. The Seaside Path in Yaletown was quite void of cyclists, with pedestrians crowds overflowing on both bike and pedestrian paths, but many cyclists merely went onto the road. Just a bit further west, the Seaside Path seemed to be used by cyclists often enough as during spring season.
Organized effort to provide infrastructure and advance cycling information for transportation in Vancouver, did yield some cycling traffic during the Games at levels noticeably higher than other winters. Most certainly, large mass events must provide secure bike parking if participants are not given the option to drive. The Vancouver experience avoided the problem of the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympic experience when bike valet parking was inadequate at many major venues, even though cycling was promoted to reduce congestion.
We can only hope that overwhelmingly high volumes of transit users and pedestrians during the Games, will spark rethinking by some celebrants to integrate cycling more often into their lives after the Olympics.
Bicycle Advisory Committee. City of Vancouver. Extension of Vancouver Police Department (VPD) Bicycle Squad. Report date: Dec. 21, 2009. Presented to City Council, Feb. 10, 2010.
City of Vancouver. “Olympic Transportation Plan Creates Sustainable Legacy for Vancouver.” Media Release. Feb. 24, 2010.
Zacharias, Yvonne. “Bike Escort Touched By the Way the Relay Inspires, Brings Canadians Together”. In Vancouver Sun, Jan. 27, 2010.