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Guest Post: Downtown Separated Bike Facilities: Vancouver

This is a Guest Post by Kent Lundberg, who is an Urban Planner at Isthmus where this blog post was first published. 

I’m sure one of the things that Peter M will encounter on his trip to Vancouver is the expansion of fully separated bike infastructure throughout the downtown. Of course Vancouver has had exceptional waterfront promenades and bikeways extending around the city centre and into Stanley Park for a while, but these cycle tracks have a distinct utility purpose linking the downtown to adjacent neighbourhoods and providing intra-downtown/crosstown links.

Vancouver is one of several North American cities engaging in an “arms race” of sorts by implementing state of the art bike facilities; other cities include Minneapolis, Long Beach, New York, and most famously Portland, Oregon.

The best thing about traveling is having your preconceptions challenged. I used to consider bicycle infrastructure in dense, vibrant cities as being too hard since the land is so valuable, and because there are so many competing users. These barriers can all be overcome I discovered after visiting Vancouver. Here is a quick look at some of the more interesting designs. Without getting too bogged down in the details, these images depict a variety of design techniques that would otherwise make the proposition of first class facilities in downtown difficult.

An example of how bike lanes are added on large, one-way streets. Two-way paths are added to avoid the tendency of cyclists to “salmon” against traffic.

Dunsmuir Street Cycle Track, Vancouver

Here is cycle track in a more surburban/park like setting that provides clear delineation between ped and cyclists without going crazy with colours or signage.

Carral Street Greenway, Vancouver

Here is an interesting way that delivery vans are accommodated. Delivery servicing has a critical “place” value along many downtown streets.

Carral Street Greenway near Chinatown, Vancouver

Here is how buses work along a cycle track. They are placed inside the cycle track and pedestrian/bike conflict areas are marked.

Dunsmuir Street Cycle track in Downtown Vancouver

Its worth recalling what Bruce Katz from the Brooking Insitution said during the movie Urbanized about how cities are increasingly competing amongst themselves for skilled immigrants or simply to retain younger residents. Many globally-relevant cities are clearly copying and further adapting the latest best practice design solutions. It’s about time that Auckland starts to look seriously at these new techniques or risk being left behind.

Over the last six months I have visited a few of these trend-setting “pattern cities” and will be documenting some more of their pedestrian and cycling improvements in subsequent blog posts.

22 comments to Guest Post: Downtown Separated Bike Facilities: Vancouver

  • Thanks Kent, especially for reminding us of the Bruce Katz quote. This is why the ‘Most Liveable City’ aim is not just a ‘nice to have’ but a really important tool in the box for Auckland’s economic success. And worth investing properly in. Remember also Rutherford’s ‘We’ve got no money so we have to think’ observation about NZ. Good design is not a flippant add-on but is the key to good value and better performance.

  • Pretty much all of the major cities (and many of the minor ones) that I have visited so far on my trip has some pretty extensive cycle infrastructure. As a pedestrian you certainly have to adjust your thinking when going to cross the road as you have to consider bikes coming too. As a pedestrian though it is sometimes not a good thing having so much cycle infrastructure, I have found that in some places, especially Amsterdam, cyclists have taken the attitude that motorists in Auckland have and can get quite agreesive to anyone that even thinks of crossing their path**. This isn’t to say cycling bad, we definitely need to improve our cycling infrastructure to at least get it up from a prehistoric level first and I think the key is to have more of a balance where there in not one dominant mode.

    ** goes to duck from cover from angry cyclists, it’s a good thing im staying in a castle tonight :-D

    • Max

      Hi Matt

      I get that issue a lot, in meetings with non-cyclists (“those dangerous, agressive cyclists”) – I wonder whether the shared paths we are building so many of now are limiting us in many ways down the track. They are a huge improvement over no “facility”, but even if the cyclists on them don’t go Northern Cycleway commuter speeds, it can end up in conflicts (usually of the unfriendly, rather than the physically harmful kind, but an issue nonetheless). So a fully separated facility is a lot better, because at least everyone who IS paying a little bit of attention knows what is happening, which isn’t always the case on shared paths.

      I will be doing a post on the matter on CAA’s blog in a while. And while I am already mentioning it, I recently did a CAA blog post on separated cycleways in Paris, and why they DON’T work there…

      http://caa.org.nz/general-news/european-cycling-paris/

      • Max I actually wonder if it is more to do with a might is right type mentality. As I said it was only in cities that cycling dominated that cyclists were agressive while in Auckland driving dominates so it is car drivers that are agressive.

        Separated facilities is obviously the ultimate solution but at the moment it is too politically difficult so it seems better to have something than nothing at all. The key is probably to get things to a standard that most people who want to, can cycle safely and easily and as you know there is still a long at to go on that yet.

    • David

      I completely agree that some cyclists can act like assholes but the crucial difference between a cycling ass and a motoring ass is that the motorist is far more likely to kill or maim. Injuries in cycle/ped accidents are, on average, much less severe than those in car/ped accidents.

      • Max

        Yeah, but for some reasons, when I start down that argument track with some irate cyclist-slagging residents, I feel like I am defending burglary by saying it’s not nearly as bad as murder ;-)

        • David

          I don’t think many arguments hold sway with those irate cyclist-slagging residents… I’m happy with the burglary/murder analogy — I think it’d be a better world if murderers gave up their murdering and took up a bit of burglary instead.

      • NCD

        http://beta.ctc.org.uk/press-release/2012-05-15/iam-red-light-jumping-stats-for-cyclists-misleading-says-ctc
        4% of red-light jumping injuries caused by cyclists, 75% by cars, 13% by motorbikes.
        There was also a study of red-light jumping deaths over a 10 year period in London (can’t find the URL): deaths due to cyclists: zero. Deaths due to motorists: 50-odd.

        • Max

          Thanks for the stat, NCD, that will come in HUGELY handy for CAA the next time certain board members / politicians try to deflect the discussion. I will try and get the study itself.

          Max

          • NCD

            Be an even more useful stat if it was correct (sorry):
            “No pedestrian was killed in collision with a cyclist going through a red light between 1998-2007 and cyclists were involved in only a small percentage of injuries to them. Between1998-2007,12 pedestrians were killed by motorists jumping red lights” (and whole GB, not London)
            “on footways from 1998 to 2007 no pedestrian was killed in collision with a cyclist (23 were seriously injured); and 54 pedestrians were killed in collision with other vehicles (779 were seriously injured)”
            http://beta.ctc.org.uk/file/public/pedestriansbrf_1.pdf (for people viewing this link years down the track, maybe take out the “beta.”)

    • Bryce

      Hi Matt. I’ll take my chances with a cyclist over a car or truck any day :-). Yes, we may get more pedestrian vs cyclist accidents but the chances of them being fatal are, well, slim. That’s a risk I’m willing to take.

  • Nick R

    I think one key thing to consider when looking at these sorts of facilities overseas is the differences in street topography. In particular I can’t see a single driveway or side street on the above photos, presumably because Vancouver doesn’t allow direct access to it’s main arterials.

    Here in Auckland we have driveways directly onto every street, road or arterial (barring the odd exception). In that context I think cycle facilities should either be part of the road itself, or totally away from the road corridor.

    • And what is the most obvious exception: Queen St! No way to enter a building in a vehicle from the water to Mayoral Drive… why are there cars there again….?

      • Geoff Houtman

        Patrick- has there been any traction on this?

        It’s the single best project spend in the CBD,

        The CCM final is released soon, is it likely to be mentioned?

        • Patrick Reynolds

          Well Geoff even I’ve let it go for now because I figure we’ll need Queen for the Albert St buses while we dig half of it up to build the CRL… But then! Straight afterwards, getting the cars out of it is one of the pay offs for the CRL!

    • Good point. These wont work on many streets. I will map out how many interruptions (kerb cuts) there are along Wellesley St, Victoria St, for example. There are some remaining longer edges that are still in tact such as Victoria Park, and well … ok, there are some right? haha.

      • Bryce

        I have just watched a video on cycling in Amsterdam and there are plenty of driveways that cross segregated cycle lanes. Not every 20m but enough that it ‘could’ cause an issue. The cycle was moving quickly (the footage was sped up) but it looked like there are bollards at the driveway entrance to give drivers a narrow but visible entrance and give them notice to check for pedestrians and cyclists. I believe it can be done safely but there will need to be some serious education for drivers and first of all we need to stop finding reasons not do it.

        • Max

          Hi Bryce – we failed to get them (Copenhagen Lanes) on Dominion Road, but the issue there was more about cycling losing out to buses, cars, peds and parking, rather than due to safety concerns. Sigh.

          • Bryce

            Pox! Are there opportunities then with either Sandringham or Eden Roads?
            What else can us mere ratepayers do to assist Max?

    • Actually there are quite a reasonable number of driveways and side streets along the separated bikeways in downtown Vancouver. However they work pretty hard at highlighting the potential conflict, or in some cases ban the turning movement. Have a look at some of the pictures from my recent post about Vancouver’s bikeways:
      http://cyclingchristchurch.co.nz/general-a2b-by-bike/vancouver-separated-bikeways/

  • You can see a video of the Hornby cycle lane in this blog post:

    bikeroute.ca/2011/12/01/review-1-hornby-bike-lane/

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