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If riders don't feel safe, they'll leave bikes at home Add to ...

In Vancouver, the Bermuda triangle for cyclists is the downtown peninsula.

In neighbourhoods such as Kitsilano or Commercial Drive, bike trips account for 10 per cent or more of travel.

But those numbers drop to about half of that as cyclists are asked to cross bridges and enter the downtown's busy streets, where there is nothing more than painted lanes separating them from buses, cars and trucks.

"We have a good network downtown, but they're narrow spaces.

"They're daunting," said Geoff Meggs, the Vision councillor who sits on the city's bicycle advisory committee. "We haven't produced as much bike share as we'd like."

Vancouver engineers and cycling enthusiasts want to change all that by creating at least one route through the peninsula where cyclists are physically protected from vehicular traffic, arguing that they're never going to attract the silent majority of potential cyclists if they don't.

"If we want to get to the 10- or 20-per-cent mark, we're going to need facilities," said Rob Wynen, the committee's vice-chair.

The city started this week with a motion calling for a bike lane protected by a concrete barrier on the Dunsmuir Viaduct - one of the major east-west commuter routes into the downtown.

That proposed $300,000 upgrade, which so far has prompted none of the doomsday predictions that accompanied the creation of a bike lane on the Burrard Bridge last summer, is considered an easy first step.

"That's low-hanging fruit," said Mr. Wynen, who noted that a lane has been closed on the viaduct for the past four years. "But obviously when we get to a list of routes going through the downtown core, that'll be trickier."

That tricky part is coming soon. The report on the Dunsmuir Viaduct, expected to be passed at council tomorrow, also asks for approval in principle to create a route through the downtown to connect the Burrard Bridge and Dunsmuir Viaduct.

Like Mr. Wynen, city engineer Jerry Dobrovolny argues in his report that people won't be enticed into cycling unless they feel physically protected. A Portland study he cites found that people separate into four general categories when it comes to cycling. The "strong and fearless" and the "enthused and confident" - mostly men aged 20 to 50 - account for about 8 per cent, while 60 per cent are "interested but concerned" and 33 per cent say "no way no how."

The No. 1 method to make that big "interested but concerned" group get on bikes is by providing physical separation, Mr. Dobrovolny says. In Copenhagen, where 36 per cent of the population bikes to work, giving people a sense of security about cycling is one of the guiding principles and separated bike lanes abound. New York has also been energetically creating protected bike lanes.

"To attract the majority of the population not currently cycling, separated bike lanes are the only option," said Mr. Dobrovolny in his report.

However, that's going to be both expensive and contentious, say councillors from all parties.

"There is a fairly general desire for it," says Non-Partisan Association Councillor Suzanne Anton, also a dedicated cyclist. "But it will be costly." To create a bike lane, either parking - a revenue-generator for the city - or a traffic lane will have to be removed. As well, there is bound to be a heated discussion about who loses what space when the engineering department holds consultations after the Olympics.

In Vancouver's dense downtown, almost every street functions as a commuter arterial in rush hour and remains heavily used during off-peak hours.

"We're not necessarily opposed to this, but we want to understand what roads they're looking at," said Charles Gauthier, executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association. "Some parts of our downtown are well serviced by off-street parking, but others aren't, and losing even a little in the street has an impact."

If engineers can work out an acceptable solution, they can move on to the next challenge in the city's bike network - a barrier-protected bike lane down the city's popular and busy road along the beaches of Kitsilano and out to Point Grey.

That option has been discussed by the bike committee, although warily.

Even Mr. Meggs is cautious about it.

"Point Grey Road may be an excellent idea. But my concern is that we avoid spending money on disconnected pieces of a network. We want to start building fixes where we get the biggest bang for our dollars."

 

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