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The Globe and Mail

Vancouver Mayor Robertson rallies Vision troops

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson rides his bike in the newly designated bicycle lane on the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver July 12, 2009.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Mayor Gregor Robertson sent out a video plea to party members Sunday asking for support in the November election because he says he's facing political opposition that is "highly negative, well-funded and determined to take us backward."

The appeal marks Vision Vancouver's entry into the campaign battle, after weeks of attack ads, platform announcements, street campaigning and aggressive fundraising from the competing Non-Partisan Association.

It also follows a strongly worded private pitch letter from NPA fundraising chair Rob Macdonald to the city's developers, leaked to The Globe and Mail earlier, that said the party is trying to raise $2.4-million to fight Vision's "half-baked radical green agenda," among other things.

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Vision executive director Ian Baillie acknowledged that the letter jolted the party, which swept to its first victory in 2008 and reduced the NPA to one council seat.

"Without question, it woke people up. It's a rallying cry to our members."

Vision launched its lawn-sign campaign on the weekend and will start its first wave of radio ads this week.

NPA strategists have worked to frame Vision as a party that wastes taxpayers' money on frivolous initiatives, like backyard chickens, or one that rides roughshod over neighbourhoods by forcing massive new towers onto them. Vision, however, is trying to drum home a narrative about its efforts to reduce street homelessness, build affordable housing and – a new tack – improve public transit.

"Transit has always been an issue for people in the city, but from what we've seen in polls and focus groups is that it has been creeping up," said Mr. Baillie.

But NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton outlined a completely different transportation issue Sunday, as part of her party's ongoing campaign attack.

She promised there would be a moratorium on separated bike lanes – even though Vision hadn't proposed any new ones – and an immediate review by an independent group of the existing bike lanes, if she were elected.

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"What we can't fix, we will take out," said Ms. Anton in a statement on Sunday.

However, Ms. Anton insisted that it's "highly unlikely" she and her party would rip out a whole lane of the three that Vision Vancouver installed on the Burrard Bridge, on Dunsmuir and on Hornby.

"This announcement is not saying I'm going to rip out the bike lanes," said Ms. Anton. "It's very unlikely that there would be a whole piece that would have to be taken out."

But some parts of the lanes, especially at the north end of the bridge and north end of Hornby, have been very difficult for both cyclists and drivers and possibly should be reworked, she said.

She also said a proposed new lane for Drake Street, although not a separated lane, has been generating controversy during city consultations about it and should be handled carefully.

Her qualified stand on the lanes shows what a tricky issue they have been for the party.

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Although the introduction of the lane on Hornby, in particular, enraged many and is regularly brought up by people as a reason they oppose Vision, that opposition hasn't spread beyond a dedicated minority.

In September, 2010, an independent Justason Market Intelligence poll of 500 people showed that 48 per cent of those surveyed supported the Hornby lane, compared with 34 per cent against.

A city-commissioned Mustel Group Market Research poll found similar results. Surveying 500 people in the Hornby Street area in August and September, 2010, the poll found that 75 per cent of people supported the separate downtown bike-lane network. Even among drivers, there was majority support, 56 per cent, the poll said.

City of Vancouver data shows that bike-lane use is growing. The Dunsmuir lane had about 70,000 trips in August 2011, up 40 per cent from about 50,000 in August, 2010. The Hornby lane had about 50,000 trips in August 2011. It opened during last winter so there aren't year-ago comparable figures.

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