Monday, 24 September 2012

Separation anxiety

Back in July I wrote about how great an idea separated lanes are and that the City of Vancouver should work to expand the network of such lanes in the city, including in my own neighbourhood of Commercial Drive. To my surprise and delight, I have started seeing more and more articles about separated lanes in my city, including along the Cambie and Granville Street Bridges.

However, much to my dismay, there is still so much aversion to them by various city officials and business owners and some of the general public. Rhetoric about bike lanes being "anti-car" is being thrown around in local publications, and one member of the Downtown Business Association states that separated lanes may "choke the lifeblood out of downtown". Is this really the view of population of Vancouver, or the voices of just a small few? I looked up some facts about separated lanes and their benefits, and wanted to share them with you. Maybe if we start looking at the long term benefits, we can stop arguing about separated lanes are start emulating some truly innovative cycling cities that aren't afraid to make some real change to their infrastructure.

In New York City, The Department of Transportation built a bicycle path and traffic calming pilot project for Prospect Park West in Brooklyn in 2010 and published their results in early 2011. The path was 2-way and separated from traffic lanes by a 3 foot parking lane, and meant the removal of just one lane of traffic. Here's what they found:
  • weekday cycling traffic tripled after the implementation
  • cyclists riding on sidewalks fell to 3% from 46%
  • speeding dropped from 74% to 20% of all vehicles 
  • crashes for all road users were down 16% and injuries to all road users were down 21%
  • the was no change in traffic flow or travel times
A study was conducted in Montreal in 2010 that compared the amount of cyclists using separated cycle tracks vs regular road traffic without any dedicated cycling infrastructure. The streets ran parallel to each other and had similar intersection and cross traffic frequency. Again, the results are pretty convincing:
  • 2.5 times as many people used the separated cycle track than the road without dedicated infrastructure
  • the relative risk of injury on the cycle track was lower than cycling on the street
Here in Vancouver, while our adoption of separated cycle tracks has been met with diversion each time, their results have always shown a positive increase in cycle traffic.
  • Trips over the Burrard Bridge increased 15% between July 2010 and July 2011, and saw over 1 Million trips taken in that time
  • Between 1996-2011, there has been a 25% decrease in the number of vehicles entering downtown, but an increase of 10% of people entering downtown (during peak hours)
  • In June 2011, there were 55,000 recorded trips along Dunsmuir
  • Total trips on Hornby grew from 60% of Dunsmuir levels in January 2011 to 80% as many in June 2011
  • Women riders were up slightly versus the previous painted lanes, making up 1 in 3 cyclists on Hornby in 2011
  • Children were now four times more prevalent in stats collection in 2011
My own personal reflection:
You know my story. I'm a mom with two young children, living without a car in Vancouver. We try to use our bikes whenever possible to get around the city, and use they cycling infrastructure in this city to do it. My eldest is 6 and travels on her own bike now, which means I am very conscious of being sure the areas we ride in are safe, with as little risk as possible of us coming into close contact with fast moving cars. So when we are heading into downtown, we make a point of using the separated lanes on Dunsmuir and Hornby. Before the completion of Hornby separated lane, I used the painted lane only once with the kids in tow, and refused to do it again until the cycle track was built. Having cars race past at high speeds and risking running across a vehicle parked in the lane made it incredibly nerve-wracking and dangerous. Now that the path is separated, I have no qualms about using them with my kids.
My youngest trailing behind with a green
buffer from the cars

My eldest on the Dunsmuir Viaduct
It's time we stopped fighting about bike lanes. It's a waste of time, especially for a city that wants to be the Greenest City in the World by 2020. If we don't provide the average person with a safe means to travel by bike, they just won't. Separated lanes also make trips more pleasurable for pedestrians, creating a barrier between them and the cars. My husband, Chris, actually commented last week that his walk home with the kids the 3 blocks along Commercial Drive was unpleasant with all the cars and exhaust during rush hour. Something as simple as a separated lane would have made that journey even slightly better, and who can really argue with that?

Some final words on the topic from Brent Toderian, the City's Planning Director for 6 years and now and independent planning consultant, “Bike lanes are not a fad. They are part of a multi-modal city, a critical part of the city working well in the future.” Well said.


Some other articles to check out:


  1. Hi Melissa,

    I'm now following you. I realize now that I had "liked" your FB page. I don't think I realized you had your own blog. Well, I've subscribed by email to keep up with your updates. Cheers! Check out my blog if you get the chance.

  2. I love love love the separated bike lanes. My (then) four year old daughter used to bike from commercial drive to her daycare in downtown van using the separated bike lane along dunsmuir

    1. Coralie rode along Dunsmuir and Hornby several times this summer and I absolutely love them. I would be so happy if they put one in on the Drive!