When Vancouver councillor Suzanne Anton sent out an urgent news release last week rescinding her vote for the Hornby Street bike lane, it looked as though the stage was being set for a replay of the bike lane as a civic-election wedge issue in 2011.
It's an issue that worked for her Non-Partisan Association in 2005 and certainly their opponents, the ruling Vision Vancouver party, believe that's what they're gearing up for again.
"Every single thing the Non-Partisan Association is doing is leading people to believe they're against bike lanes," said Vision's executive director, Ian Baillie.
But although the NPA might appear to be the party of "anti-bike people," past and current NPA councillors say that's not true.
It's the way bike lanes were planned, not bike lanes themselves, that are the wedge issue, says the party's only councillor.
"If people are looking for someone to stand in the way of the bike lanes, they're looking at the wrong person. They're not going to get that from me," said Ms. Anton, an avid cyclist. "The people who actually hate bike lanes, it's a fairly small group of people."
She maintains that she only opposes the way that Vision Vancouver is rushing to put in lanes without consulting people.
"If we are elected, we will continue with the program. For instance, we might want to look at the south end of Burrard, which is a dog's breakfast, to put a lane in there," she said. "But you do a lot better when you sit down with the people with local knowledge."
And she says she didn't reverse her position because of criticisms from people in her party, in spite of the rumours circulating to that effect on blogs and elsewhere.
She insists she changed her mind only when she realized city crews the next day were all ready to start working on the lane within hours of the close-to-midnight vote - proof, she says, that the Vision council wasn't really listening to any of the opponents who had come to city hall to object.
"When I realized everyone had been hoodwinked, I realized I didn't have to be a cheerleader for the process."
Like Ms. Anton, former NPA councillor Peter Ladner also maintains that there is a silent majority in the party who support bike lanes, even the controversial ones like the $3.2-million, separated lane on Hornby that will require the removal of 158 parking spaces on a key downtown street.
But, unlike her, he acknowledges that the NPA has been and could be again the home for people violently opposed to bike lanes.
It certainly was in 2005.
At that time, Mr. Ladner supported a separated bike lane on the Burrard Bridge when it first came to council in the spring. Then, after a couple of days of verbal beatings from the party's prime voter base and even his supporters, he reversed his position.
The NPA then campaigned in the fall 2005 election on a promise to kill the Burrard Bridge trial. Once their candidates squeaked to victory, that's what they did.
Mr. Ladner, now free of political ties and energetically advocating in favour of the Hornby lane, says the party has unfortunately become the home for people who don't like cyclists.
"They'll gravitate to some political place where they have a voice," he said. "And we need to have a place for people who don't agree with Vision Vancouver. So if that's anti-bike people, the NPA is where they'll go."
Ms. Anton's position - we're in favour of bike lanes but we want to do a better job of planning them with the community - might be too subtle for voters to understand, say some political analysts.
Special to The Globe and Mail