Traffic crash injuries and deaths dropped in 2020 in Vancouver as the pandemic shaped a new world where people drove less and cycled more for fun and exercise.
New statistics from the city show fatalities from car accidents decreased to eight last year – a low not seen since 2010, when the Olympics prompted many people to reduce their commuting in the city. Visits last year to the emergency ward at Vancouver General Hospital for traffic-related accidents dropped by 55 per cent between January and October.
At the same time, recreational and multipurpose cycling increased above 2019 levels, although commuter cycling showed the same kind of fall as transit ridership and walking along some downtown streets.
The new numbers come at a time when Vancouver is in a public debate over a move by the city’s park board to reintroduce a lane for cycling on the two-lane road around Stanley Park – an initiative that was tried temporarily last year and that the park board chair says is supported by the current popularity of recreational cycling.
“This was very, very popular,” said Green Party commissioner and chair Camil Dumont, who expected that a board vote Wednesday night would support the reintroduction of the cycling lane for the coming warmer months.
The patterns of lowered traffic collisions and deaths appear to be part of a larger provincial trend, in contrast to recently released statistics for the United States showing they were higher there during the pandemic.
Definitive numbers aren’t available from the provincial government car insurance agency, ICBC. But calls to 911 emergency services for traffic and transportation incidents in British Columbia are down significantly in four of the five health regions in the province, according to data from B.C. Emergency Health Services.
Vancouver Coastal had about 3,700 of those calls in 2020, compared with 5,300 the previous year. Calls in Fraser Health dropped to 7,900 in 2020 from about 9,800 in 2019. In the whole province, there were about 4,000 fewer incidents over all.
The popularity of cycling and the lowered volumes of car traffic is reinforcing city moves to close some streets for cycling, walking or outdoor seating near restaurants, said Paul Storer, Vancouver’s director of transportation. “People are using the streets to get out,” he said.
That’s why the city decided to continue with a cycling lane for one-half of Beach Avenue, which runs along the beaches on the west side of the downtown peninsula.
Mr. Storer said the survey the city did about that lane showed levels of support – up to 90 per cent – for the closing, an approval rating that almost never happens with city projects.
The park board survey about the changes for cycling in the park also generated high approval ratings among the 11,000 respondents. Those changes had restricted both lanes of the road for cyclists between April 8 to June 22 last year and then reduced it to one lane from then until Sept. 22 before making both lanes open again to cars.
Mr. Dumont, the park board chair, said he brought a motion to restart the single-lane option because it will give staff more data this summer to help them come up with a long-term plan on how to manage all the types of traffic in the park.
But that has generated a pitched battle between the cycling-lane supporters and those who say the reduction reduces park access for people with disabilities or mobility problems.
Park board commissioner John Coupar, who has opposed the new bike lane proposal, said his biggest concern is about access for those people.
Mr. Dumont said he expects staff will address this concern in a new plan for this summer, building on the experiences from last year.
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