After a historic battle over creating separated bike lanes downtown that has created serious friction with the business community, Vancouver city councillors say there won't be any more new lanes brought in during their term.
"This is the last separated bike lane for this mandate," Councillor Geoff Meggs said Wednesday, after a unanimous vote near midnight Tuesday to approve a $3.2-million six-month trial on Hornby Street. It was the last link in a route that now connects east and west through the downtown. "Some people are very, very upset and we need a chance to work it through."
Many people throughout the evening called the vote a historic move, including former Non-Partisan Association councillor Gordon Price, who came out to speak around 10 p.m. He called it a "click moment" that will define the image and future of Vancouver, the way creating a seawall around Stanley Park did or blocking plans for a downtown freeway.
But the bike-lane issue has also created rifts with the business community, a group the new Vision Vancouver council has been courting assiduously in its first term.
"I think this whole process has been very damaging to the reputation of the city and their relationship with small business," said Laura Jones, vice-president of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Her group led an aggressive charge to have the city provide more consultation and more options for lanes than just Hornby Street. She said her group's surveys show businesses now feel as though they can't trust the city to protect their interests and they're worried about the city's dismissive attitude.
The Downtown Business Improvement Association took a more low-key approach, but its representatives say they are also concerned about the consequences of such a rushed move to put the bike lane in place.
"It's going to create a bit of a divide. These are legitimate concerns and they aren't being listened to," said Charles Gauthier, who emphasized that councils of all political stripes have disappointed his group because of their poor approach to creating real dialogue with business owners. "I hope [the relationship]can be repaired. But many are feeling, 'Why are we trying to co-operate when this is the result?' "
They also don't understand why in their minds the process was so rushed.
A brief glance back shows that it was quickly pushed through because the new council suddenly realized that a large bike-lane network might be politically feasible. During the election campaign, the party had committed only to creating the city's first-ever separated lane on the Burrard Bridge.
Despite many predictions of traffic chaos from critics, the lane turned into a non-story. That prompted the council to move aggressively on more lanes while they had the opportunity and political capital.
The Vision councillors made a quick move to convert one lane of the Dunsmuir viaduct into a bike lane shortly after the Olympics. A separated lane on Dunsmuir through to Hornby quickly followed, with city crews moving in to do the construction work hours after the vote in May.
The concrete was barely dry on that when the Vision team started to push for the Hornby trial. Public planning and consultation started only in July.
The concerns from the business community were clearly on the minds of Vision councillors during the Wednesday debate. They quickly adopted an amendment from the NPA's Suzanne Anton that the city should do everything it could do help businesses on Hornby adapt. Mr. Meggs also noted later that the city has been very responsive to business in many other ways, like its moves to lower business taxes.
But the city was not willing to offer any compensation to businesses potentially affected by bike lanes. Instead, several councillors urged businesses to see cyclists as a new market for them to cater to.
Ms. Jones said that doesn't offer businesses any comfort at all.
"If they're so confident this will be a success, then why don't they agree to compensate the business owners for any losses? That idea was met with laughter."
Special to The Globe and Mail