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A victory ride for cyclists in battle for road space

Cyclists use the Dunsmuir Street bike lane in Vancouver on June 15, 2010. The separated lane provides an easier, more comfortable cycling connection to and from the downtown area.

lyle stafford The Globe and Mail

The nearly 20,000 cars and trucks that use Vancouver's busy Dunsmuir Street every day squeezed together this week to make room for the 1,000 cyclists who now have their own first-ever, barricade-protected lane on a downtown street.

A group of about 50 happy cyclists rode in Tuesday morning with Mayor Gregor Robertson to officially open the six-month trial period for the route, which is separated from car traffic by barriers, such as planters, parked cars and bike racks.

Drivers were absent from the celebration, though they were present in the background: squeezing around trucks, mistakenly straying into the small part of the bike lane not protected by a barrier, and waiting at red lights.

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Mr. Robertson praised the new eight blocks of bike lane as an important step in providing safety and convenience for cyclists downtown, noting that ridership has already increased from fewer than 100 a day before the Olympics to about 1,000 a day since construction on the lanes started two weeks ago.

"It shows that if you provide the separate lanes, they will come," said Mr. Robertson, who promised that more lanes are on the way.

The city is looking at building the same kind of lane on Hornby, Burrard or Thurlow to create a complete route through the downtown to the Burrard Bridge, which was the first route to get a physically separated lane last summer.

Mr. Robertson said staff are also looking at creating a separated lane on a retail street somewhere in the city, possibly Main Street or Commercial Drive, where bike traffic holds up cars, as well as a separated lane on a residential street.

It's all part of an aggressive initiative by the first-term Vision Vancouver party to push for safer routes in the city to encourage cycling. Mr. Robertson said although Vancouver has a reputation as a green and cycling-friendly city, it's actually behind many others.

"We have a lot of catch-up to do with cities in northern Europe, with cities in China," he said.

But while Mr. Robertson's efforts have generated praise from the cycling community, they've also generated opposition as others try to keep their share of space in Vancouver's confined downtown.

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So far, the new Dunsmuir lane hasn't produced any vocal outcry from drivers. The B.C. Automobile Association says it hasn't had a single complaint, nor has the B.C. Trucking Association.

But trucking association president Paul Landry said the lanes must be having an effect. "I know personally in my travels, my timelines were a lot longer than in the past," he said.

Dunsmuir is heavily used by trucks that either come along the east-west corridor leading to it or from Main, the north-south street that typically funnels two lanes of heavy traffic onto Dunsmuir in the morning rush hour.

The businesses along Dunsmuir have been vocal about the potential problems. "If this doesn't work, I would like the city to pay for my $11-million in renovations to this hotel," said St. Regis Hotel general manager Jeremy Roncoroni, whose building sits at the busy intersection of Seymour and Dunsmuir Streets.

He said although it's nice if bike lanes make the city a greener place, there's a real bottleneck in that section of Dunsmuir between the bike lane, the three-minute parking he went to battle to keep for his customers checking in with bags, and the trucks that need to use the lane next to the hotel for deliveries.

That lane is used by dozens of delivery trucks to serve his hotel, a Starbucks, Gotham Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar, the Bay, the Shore Club and several other Granville Street businesses. Their trucks occasionally have to back in, blocking the entire street.

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"Why they didn't use West Georgia, when there's so much space there, I don't know," Mr. Roncoroni said.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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