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    In Vancouver, B.C., new bike lanes and soon public bikes

    As in Seattle, new bike lane closures bring protests, but the city is rolling right along toward a goal of 10% of all trips by bicycle.

    Editor's note: This is the first column by our new regular Vancouver, B.C., correspondent.

    Vancouver’s bike infrastructure has taken a symbolic roll forward with the recent opening of the Dunsmuir Street bike lane and the pending opening of a protected harbor-to-inlet north-south lane along Hornby Street. Merchants and drivers are protesting, as in Seattle, but the bikes keep rolling along.

    As with the successful Burrard Bridge lane reallocation for bikes, it’s hard to justify these piecemeal improvements by counting cyclists versus cars. These are still small havens of safe riding, and the cars are still vastly more numerous, even though cyclists’ numbers are moving up. (Latest numbers show bike crossings of the Georgia viaduct/Dunsmuir route up from less than 100 to 1,500 a day.)

    Instead, these new lanes should be measured as progress milestones on the road to this British Columbia city’s goal of a 10 percent share of all trips by bicycle. That would be a North American high, even if far off the 40 percent share seen in cities like Copenhagen. That achievement would take many more cars off the road, lighten the load on public transit, improve public health (cleaner air, more exercise), lower greenhouse gas emissions and, yes, generate new business for stores along the route.

    Stopping for an impulse retail buy while you’re riding a bicycle is about 100 times easier (based on my personal experience) than when you’re driving a car. But some of the businesses along the proposed Hornby Street route are not looking for drop-in customers on bikes. They need valet parking, deliveries, and front-door vehicle drop-offs, and they’re very unhappy about the new lane.

    They’re doomed to be ground up in this nice new sausage. The lanes have unanimous support at City Hall. Even the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association’s protests sound a bit half-hearted, maybe because the executive director is a cycle commuter. The biggest complainer about the Burrard Bridge bike lanes was an art dealer who had through traffic diverted away from his street. It turned out his destination business was already shutting down, opening only for a few hours a day.

    The next big step in bike infrastructure for a city that’s aiming to be the “greenest” in the world is a public bike-sharing system. Now established in cities around the world (Paris, London, Lyon, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Montreal, Minneapolis, Denver, San Antonio, Mexico City…), this concept has been in discussion here for the last three years. TransLink and the municipalities most involved (Vancouver, Richmond, North Vancouver) have yet to figure out how to finance that big first step to achieve critical mass — probably around $15 million in capital costs for 2,700 bikes plus a net annual operating cost in the $2 million range.

    These systems work: in Lyon, the number of bike trips has gone up 500 percent, boosting the bike mode share to 9 percent and reducing car traffic by 5 percent.

    This doesn’t all have to be public money. In London, Barclays Bank just bought the city’s system of 6,000 bikes and 400 stations for C$38 million. In Melbourne, the Royal Automotive Club was a partner in a system that is starting with a $5 million contract for 600 bicycles. In Minneapolis, the Blue Cross Center for Prevention invested as a health-improvement measure. In Montreal, businesses like Deloitte are sponsoring stations outside their offices for the convenience of their staff and clients. In Paris, J.C. Decaux pays for the city’s 20,000-plus bikes with advertising revenues.

    When I was in Montreal recently, I bought a three-day transit pass but never used it after I discovered a Bixi public bike rack outside my hotel. I inserted my credit card for the daily $5 fee, then had unlimited use of these funky 3-speed tech wonders for any ride under 30 minutes. Locals pay $78/year.

    No other city in the world with a public bike system (except Melbourne) requires helmets. Mexico City just repealed its compulsory helmet law.

    The beauty of the public bike system for a place like Vancouver (or Seattle) is that you can ride in your street clothes year-round and never have to worry about getting soaked in the rain. If it starts raining (or if you start sweating), pull over to the nearest rack, lock up the bike, and move on by foot, bus or taxi. For a tourist, it’s a dream: no rental hassles, just slide in your credit card, punch in your code, and ride off, knowing there will always be a nearby place to park it.

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    Posted Thu, Aug 12, 11:41 a.m. Inappropriate

    More wishful thinking from bike advocates - according to the figures I found online the bicycle portion of commute trips increased 12% between 1996 and 2006 - from 3.3% to 3.7%. Vancouver doesn't have as many hills as Seattle, but it shares our lousy weather, and to blithely state that the city is "rolling right along" to achieve 10% is absurd.

    But not quite as absurd as saying that eliminating helmet laws (which I personally oppose) will have any meaningful effect on the utilization of "public bikes." I bought my bike for $50 (and had it tuned up last year for about the same amount), but that cost has NOTHING to do with why I don't ride it to work.

    Posted Thu, Aug 12, 12:24 p.m. Inappropriate

    A big barrier here is our compulsory helmet law.

    Yeah. Ain't it a bitch when one well-meaning regulation bumps up against another well-meaning regulation? "Waiving" the requirement for "public bikes" is a ridiculous suggestion, bubbleator. 1) If - in fact - riding a "public" bike is safe enough to be done without a helmet THEN we can conclude that riding ANY bike can safely be ridden without a helmet and the requirement should be scrapped altogether. 2) If somehow our social-engineers (who have little regard for the sanctity of "law") can squirrel through an exemption for "public" bikes - thereby subjugating equality of law to social-engineering goals - it will be only a matter of time before City taxpayers are on the paying end of a lawsuit from someone who fell and cracked their head while the City played SimCity with equal protections.

    Regulatory reform ain't gonna be pretty (or painless), people. But it has to happen.


    Posted Thu, Aug 12, 2:16 p.m. Inappropriate

    Guess what cities also share our lousy weather? Amsterdam and Copenhagen. The weather argument doesn't hold up. It's about infrastructure and attitudes. Not about the drizzle.

    So why don't you ride your $50 bike to work? And what does that have to do with the "helmet laws don't work for bike-share systems" point (which is entirely valid, if you ask me, and every other city with a bike-share except in Melbourne, where the bike-share has been a resounding flop.)?


    Posted Thu, Aug 12, 2:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    Blue Light - I think you misread my comment, which basically agreed with your point (Mr. Ladner's piece had cited the helmet law as an obstacle to use of public bikes, and eliminating it for them was his suggestion, not mine)

    joolian, I don't ride to work because Seattle is neither as flat nor as compact as Amsterdam and/or Copenhagen. (I readily agree that I confused the two different points I was making, though).

    The bottom line is that for most people, weather and topography are formidable obstacles to cycling in Seattle, and most people won't ride here for those reasons whether bike advocates hector them about how wrongheaded they are or not.

    Posted Thu, Aug 12, 2:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    No, bubbleator, we're in agreement. And - I would bet - our view coincides with a great majority of Seattle taxpayers. It is the party-affiliated special-interest group minority that is setting public policy in this city.


    Posted Fri, Aug 13, 9:57 a.m. Inappropriate

    I probably wouldn't ride to work either if I had a $50 cr*p bicycle, unless the distance was less than a mile. I ride to work nearly every day 28 miles round trip. I can to it because of a couple of key things:

    #1 I have a safe place to park my bicycle where it will still be there when I want to go home, (and it's dry covered, locked parking.)

    #2 My employer is flexible about my work hours, so that a 15 minute extras to fix the occasional flat is no big deal.

    #3 I have a shower at work. (also free towel service but that's not as key)

    #4 The ride to work is safe. It's not all bike trails, that's not essential, but when I'm on the actual roads, the difference between my speed and the cars is max 20mph. (Although the legal difference is only 10mph) and I have "reasonable" roads to share.

    Without these things, bicycling to work is a non starter. You can skip the shower if the ride is under 2 miles. I can ride sidewalks and parking lots if that's what it takes to avoid a bad intersection. I can use the bus to help cut the distance or go home if my bike breaks and I can't fix it.

    Otherwise, its been a great healthy way for me to reduce my weight, get my blood pressure under control, cut my carbon output, reduce my commute expenses, and increase my productivity at work. Because I'm refreshed after some exercise on a daily basis.

    Rain...smain.. unless it snows I'm on the road.


    Posted Fri, Aug 13, 10:49 a.m. Inappropriate


    That's all great (really!), but most people don't have the luxury of doing as you do.

    PS - my $50 bike is a quite excellent Peugeot 10-speed that is in sound riding condition (or is after the $50 tune up I referenced). To go back to the original article and my original point, almost no one decides not to ride for lack of free public bicycles (well, perhaps tourists would use them if they were available). They decide not to for the reasons Gary mentioned, but even if rain isn't a factor for him, it sure is for most people....

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