Vancouver’s Dedicated Bicycle Lane Debate

Photograph © Dan Toulgoet, Vancouver Courier.

My name is Mark, and I’m a cyclist. I can almost hear the requisite AA meeting greeting in response, from like-minded bicycling types: “Hello Mark. Welcome.” But, let me point out that I am also a motorist, and holder of a professional driver’s licence.

As I listen to the debate on separated bicycle lanes here in Vancouver I come away with the feeling that the arguments presented often seem to represent the findings, or perhaps more accurately, the interpretation of the findings from two often divergent groups – those who want more cycling infrastructure, and those that, for whatever reason, want to delay it, if not prevent it outright.

Sure, the issue often brought forward is a lack of transparency and consultation, and, or money. A case can be made that for some people there hasn’t been enough consultation, and time spent exploring alternatives. As far as money goes, there is always an issue to be raised when the question involves where to spend taxpayer dollars, and so it should be.

The City of Vancouver maintains that they have gone through an exhaustive process, and they are ready to move forward. Business associations are quick to provide stats showing a predicted loss of income, and cycling advocates are always more than willing to support the “essence” of initiatives that make cycling more viable, and bring out a list retailers who support bicycling infrastructure in order to refute assertions to the contrary. In my humble opinion, the truth is always somewhere in the middle.

This is a great opportunity for proponents of healthier lifestyles – however you define the term “healthier.” I don’t want to be dragged into the debate on whether Mayor Gregor Robertson’s City Hall rules too autocratically, or if dedicated bike lanes automatically mean lost business to the local retailers. I want to promote compromise by suggesting something cyclists, myself included, can do to prove we are responsible, and deserve the new initiatives that will benefit us, and hopefully convince those who recognize the environmental, time, and health benefits of cycling, but have reservations.

The cycling community needs to take away the major complaint that many seemingly productive discussions often devolve into within the public forum. Simply stated, cyclists need to police themselves. They need to obey the rules of the road. They need to be more aware, more visible, more predictable, and yes, even willing to call each other out on bone-head moves that cause motorists no end of grief, and can cause pedestrians a whole lot more. They don’t need to be as good as motorists when it comes to traffic laws and pedestrian interaction. They need to be better. The patience and courtesy they want when seeking recognition as a legitimate form of transportation, as well as their own personal safety, depends on it.

A friend of mine suggested that we humans often need to be forced to change our adverse behavior; we have to be shamed into it like the kid with the coloured ring around them in the swimming pool. That may be the statistical truth. But short of spraying offending, law breaking, discourteous cyclists with a semi-permanent paint that washes off after a few days, or posting photos of the offending minority on the Internet, an idea that has some merit in my mind, there are a few things that I suggest be done initially. By the way, to my knowledge, there is at least one local resident already posting video on YouTube of Vancouver cyclists skirting the law.

First, the City needs to take away all the subjectivity at intersections – the source of many interpretations of the law by well-meaning, but often ill-informed cyclists and motorists. For instance, at intersections that have a pedestrian signal and a stop sign, a traffic light should replace the stop sign. How many times have motorists and cyclists blown through these stop signs when they see that cross traffic has stopped for the pedestrian signal? My experience says the majority of the time. Go sit in a coffee shop at either 10th , or 14th Avenue and Main Street, and you’ll see what I mean. At the very least, this should be done along all the existing, and future bikeways. If this is too costly, then maybe the actual rules of the road need to be somewhat amended for cyclists at these intersections, like they already are in certain countries. This would mean changing a required full stop to slowing down, and proceeding with caution.

Then, there needs to be more effort given to promoting the shared use of our roadways. Everyone is seemingly in a hurry these days. But that shouldn’t be at the expense of the rules of the road, and common courtesy. The use of public roadways is a privilege, and a benefit, not a right. Billboard campaigns, public service announcements courtesy of ICBC, and regular reminders on local media may ultimately land on many deaf ears. But, isn’t it worth pursuing if the end result can be equated to the way drinking and driving campaigns have wound themselves into our collective social conscience?

Just as importantly, and in my view even more so, the cycling community, led by advocacy groups and with the support of local government, needs to prove that they can responsibly manage themselves. As a group, we need to recognize and call out the actions of the few that do us all a disservice, and serve to undo all the great work that is being done on our behalf. This is an absolute necessity if we want to be taken seriously. There is a great opportunity here in Vancouver. Some equate it to a watershed moment, a chance to enact a paradigm shift in our thinking about viable transportation options.

So, to all cyclists, make the commitment to take an active role in maintaining cycling’s position as a responsible lifestyle choice, included in the same list as walking, public transportation, and yes, even driving a car. Do it politely. Do it from a position of respect. But do it. Ride responsibly and be prepared to call out your fellow cyclists.

To read this piece, as published in the Vancouver Courier, please click on the following link:

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