2 February 2009
It’s hard to believe, but it looks like a long-debated plan to dedicate two lanes of the Burrard Street Bridge to bike traffic is finally moving forward.
Hard to believe, because for years this issue has pitted the local cycling lobby against a politically powerful voting bloc: Residents of Vancouver’s west side. Back in 2005, Sam Sullivan — who was against the plan — used the issue as a wedge to propel himself to an upset mayoral victory against Jim Green.
More recently, the mayoral election of cycling enthusiast Gregor Robertson has reversed the tide once again.
A vote on the issue is set for March, which should result in a lengthy trial period for the bike lanes, stretching from this spring until October.
As a bike commuter myself, and one who crosses the bridge with some regularity, I’m inclined to cheer on this development. After all, while our politicians talk a big game on the virtues of cycling, actual bike infrastructure in this region is still weak.
The result is that relatively few people in metro Vancouver actually commute by bike. So a commitment to more bike lanes should be viewed as a positive.
Still, I’m hesitant to embrace this initiative.
In my opinion, the current sidewalk cycling lanes on the bridge are adequate. Safety problems seem to arise with a handful of Tour de France wannabes who insist on riding much faster than the bridge’s posted speed limit for bikes.
And once this plan is underway, there will be the entirely predictable backlash from upset motorists, some of whom will surely do their best to depict local cyclists as a group of pampered, self-centred brats.
At least those same drivers can find another bridge to get across False Creek. The same can’t be said of a different group of inconvenienced commuters — bus riders.
Several key transit routes cross the bridge, so it would be a shame to see buses bogged down in traffic congestion stemming from this test run.
Instead of propping up a politically divisive plan, local politicians and bike lobbyists should instead focus on building a new bridge across False Creek — known as a passerelle — devoted exclusively to cyclists and pedestrians.
It’s an approach long-championed by Gordon Price, director of Simon Fraser University’s city program.
And, unlike the current proposal, it is a solution that cyclists, motorists and bus riders can all get behind.