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Controversial Vancouver bike lane seems to be effective

Cyclists travel along the separated bike lane on Point Grey Road in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday January 1, 2015.

DARRYL DYCK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

There were protests in the streets, and allegations of class warfare and political favours. Even by Vancouver standards, the debate over the city's latest bike lane grew especially heated.

But nearly one year after a stretch of Point Grey Road closed to vehicles, the city says the bike route that was later installed is often the busiest in Vancouver and the plan to shift traffic to major arterial roads has worked.

"It was a tremendous success in terms of achieving the goals that we had, which was making it safer and more comfortable and convenient for people walking and cycling," said Jerry Dobrovolny, Vancouver's director of transportation.

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"It was certainly a challenge because it was a big change in terms of changing traffic flow, establishing a new equilibrium in the transportation network there, and change is difficult with people."

Point Grey Road, an area on the city's west side with some of Vancouver's most luxurious homes, closed to vehicle traffic last January. Construction of the bike lane, part of the Seaside Greenway, was completed in June.

Before construction, Mr. Dobrovolny said, a mid-week sample showed 600 cyclists travelled the route. In June, a mid-week sample found 1,500 cyclists.

By August, the sample was at 2,700 – which made the route busier than the Hornby or Dunsmuir bike lanes. On an August weekend, Mr. Dobrovolny said, the number of cyclists reached 3,300.

"It quickly went from having low ridership … to being one of our busiest routes," he said.

Mr. Dobrovolny said it took months for vehicle traffic to find a new equilibrium. He said the city made adjustments, such as introducing traffic-calming measures on 2nd Avenue.

The city has said Point Grey Road was never supposed to carry a lot of vehicles, and that more than one-third of the traffic was commuters.

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Mr. Dobrovolny said the city wanted to redirect as many vehicles as it could to 4th Avenue, Broadway and 16th Avenue. He said early returns suggest it has succeeded. He said the city had believed 17,000 vehicles would still travel along Macdonald Street – where Point Grey Road cuts off – but the number has been under 15,000.

Pamela McColl, a neighbourhood resident who supported the street closing and collected more than 2,000 signatures for a petition, said several parents have told her they will now let their children ride bikes on the street.

Ms. McColl said the traffic along some of the streets has been quieter than she had imagined.

She said she was shocked how controversial the bike lane became, with allegations Point Grey Road was being closed off as a favour to wealthy residents – even though some of them opposed the project.

Lisa Slakov of the cycling advocacy group HUB Vancouver said she too was surprised by the animosity. She said she received "hateful" messages.

Ms. Slakov, who also lives near the bike route, said she used to travel along it infrequently. Now she often uses it.

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"I've heard a lot of people dismissing it with, 'Oh, well, it's just a gift to that neighbourhood of wealthy people.' I really do just want to reiterate the fact that this is now opened up to so many more people to use it, in terms of people who are recreational users, and tourists who want to get down there and be able to look at the houses," she said.

George Affleck, an NPA councillor who promised his party would reopen Point Grey Road to all vehicles if elected, said he believes consultation for the project was poor. Mr. Affleck said councillors will receive a report on traffic volume in the new year. He said whenever he travels along 4th Avenue, it appears backed up.

The Kitsilano Chamber of Commerce – which has since joined the Vancouver Board of Trade – had opposed the project, but a spokesman said he had not heard any direct concerns since the two organizations unified.

The spokesman said the board plans to consult with area businesses in the new year.

This series looks at businesses, services, infrastructure and ideas that are not often heralded.

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