Metro Vancouver was in the middle of its “Go By Bike” Week – and the country in the midst of a wildfire crisis – when the mayor’s ABC Party sent out a congratulatory tweet about the removal of most of a temporary bike lane from Stanley Park.
“More access to more users again,” the municipal party that forms the majority on Vancouver’s City Council and Park Board trumpeted on June 1, as it recognized the Park Board for its “hard work” on the matter.
While the estimated cost was $333,000, a spokesperson told me it wasn’t possible to determine the actual cost of implementing this plan until the next removal stage is complete, which is more complex.
It’s odd how worked up people can get in their opposition to bike lanes. Of all the things in a city to be angry about, this environmentally friendly form of infrastructure is what infuriates?
Let me state the obvious: Riding a bike is good for your health. It’s also good for our collective urban health. Rather than increase congestion, bike lanes move traffic along. This isn’t just about convenience and the environment, but safety. People are literally losing their lives over this wedge issue.
As both a driver and a cyclist, the value of separated bike lanes is obvious to me. But there is no need to take an individual commuter’s word for it. A 2019 U.S. study found that while cycling is 10 times more dangerous than driving, cities that have high rates of cycling are safer for all road users when they offer protected and separated bike lanes (which also encourage more cycling).
If you ever wanted an argument in favour of fewer cars, just look up at the skies over Eastern Canada and the U.S. this week.
In Toronto’s mayoral election, bike lanes have become a campaign issue under apocalyptic conditions. Candidate Mark Saunders doesn’t just want to stop their expansion, but has vowed to rip up some that already exist. Why on (this burning) Earth would you do that? This is the time to put in more bike lanes. The climate emergency is upon us. Yes, I know that the people who ride a bike to work instead of driving a car are not going to save the planet. But the practice is moving us in the right direction.
A 2021 Globe and Mail editorial asked whether the war on bike lanes was finally over, concluding that bike lanes have become an accepted transportation alternative. But somehow, the debate continues.
Some background on Vancouver’s Stanley Park: It has a road that goes around its circumference, overlooking the water, with two lanes of traffic, going in one direction. A separate seawall has a path for cyclists and pedestrians.
Early in the pandemic lockdown, bicycle traffic was moved onto the road, which became car-free. This got bikes off the seawall, to increase physical distancing for pedestrians. This is when access truly was barred to anyone who could not get to the park on foot or by bike. Eventually, after some twists and turns, one road lane was reopened to vehicles, the other reserved for cyclists. Bikes were also allowed back onto the seawall. But some people called for the return of both road lanes to vehicular traffic.
At a meeting this past February, the Vancouver Park Board chose to remove the bike lane, which had the lowest price tag of the potential options. Even though it left the door open for a future dedicated bike lane, some cyclists were incensed.
On the first weekend of the new (old) configuration, I took a spin around the seawall to try it out. I was nervous about having to share the path with the speedy spandex element. But they mostly stuck to the road – which made me nervous for them. Now they were sharing that lane with cars – often driven by people who may be distracted by the scenery.
On my bike, I saw herons, honking Canada geese, an eagle circling overhead, as if in a scene narrated by David Attenborough. I get to experience that because I feel comfortable riding to Stanley Park from my home in East Vancouver – a route made up mostly of separated bike lanes, streets designated for bicycle priority, and the seawall.
I am a bit of a nervous rider and I am slow. When I bike to work, I’m always the last of my pack. I am passed by children and elderly people. I am self-conscious about my speed, but I always feel safe. And when I arrive at the office, boy do I feel good. I spend the entire day in a better mood. Sure this is anecdotal, but it’s my experience, every time.
I can do this because a forward-thinking municipal government made the decision to create safe conditions by installing separated bike lanes. Going backward should not be an option.