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British Columbia Members of B.C. Regiment criticizing city’s bike-lane alteration

Members of the British Columbia Regiment are criticizing the city’s alteration of a bike lane that runs past the Beatty Street Drill Hall, which the regiment has called home for more than a century.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The City of Vancouver's push for bike lanes has, at times, drawn the ire of local businesses wary of losing customers. But an alteration to a bike lane in the downtown core has turned up a new foe: an army reserve unit.

Members of the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own) are criticizing the city's alteration of a bike lane that runs past the Beatty Street Drill Hall, which the regiment has called home for more than a century.

This is the latest clash between the city – over its push in recent years to rapidly expand its network of separated bike lanes and cycle-friendly routes – and businesses, residents and other critics who have argued against them.

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Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel Scott Shepherd told reporters on Wednesday that the regiment was not warned of the changes ahead of time. Vehicles had previously been able to park next to the sidewalk, with the bike lane to their left. However, the bike lane now runs next to the sidewalk – between the curb and vehicles.

Mr. Shepherd said that has created a situation in which members loading trucks with equipment and ammunition must carry them through the bike lane, weaving around cyclists.

The city denied it failed to warn the regiment of the changes ahead of time, saying it reached out to all businesses and institutions along Beatty.

"We don't want to have a situation where a [cyclist] can be hurt while we're trying to load. And we sure don't want a situation where any of our soldiers could be hurt," Mr. Shepherd said.

The regiment has slightly fewer than180 members and the drill hall is used on a daily basis, he said, adding it's difficult to say how many members are at the site on a typical day.

The city plans to continue installing new bike lanes in the coming years, with several more upgrades expected in the downtown core, in addition to Beatty Street. The lanes remain popular with cyclists, with a 32-per-cent increase in ridership citywide in 2014-15. On Burrard Bridge, one of Vancouver's busiest bikeways, there were nearly 1.4 million bike trips last year, up from about one million in 2011, according to data released by the city.

Mr. Shepherd said he doesn't consider the matter a political issue, adding, "We love bike lanes." But he said the city would be better served moving the lane to the other side of the street. He also questioned how some of the regiment's larger trucks would be able to park on the street without blocking vehicle traffic.

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"The wrong outcome here is the outcome that reduces safety and reduces access for us to our own base. This is how we serve the people of Vancouver – and how my women and men, many of them veterans, volunteer and serve as part-time soldiers here," he said.

Ted Hawthorne, an honorary colonel, said: "I don't know that it was all that well thought out."

A City of Vancouver spokesperson said in an e-mail that safety was the reason the bike lane was moved. "Prior to these improvements, people parking vehicles along Beatty Street had to open the driver's door and exit their vehicle directly into a painted bike lane. The changes are to improve safety by reducing the potential for conflicts between people driving and cycling," the e-mail read.

The spokesperson said city staff went to all businesses and institutions along Beatty to speak about the proposed changes and to invite them to an open house. If staff did not receive a response, a letter was left explaining the project and providing contact information. Addressed mail was also sent.

An open house was held in March and most of those in attendance were in favour of the changes along Beatty, the spokesperson said.

Mr. Shepherd said the regiment only learned of the changes when the lane was altered last week.

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The city said it does not have current count information for the Beatty bike lane, but data from a few years ago indicate the route is used for 1,000 trips a day. The city expects that number to increase.

Melissa De Genova, a Non-Partisan Association councillor, said after the news conference outside the drill hall that the lack of consultation with the regiment is "concerning."

"We always have to make sure that we're doing what we can to enable the military to do their jobs, which ultimately is helping us, is helping the citizens of Vancouver," she said.

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