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New Separated Bike Lane for Downtown Vancouver

Jul 28, 2010
New Separated Bike Lane for Downtown Vancouver

by Stephanie Doerksen, VIA Architecture

On June 15th, the City of Vancouver officially opened a new separated bike lane on Dunsmuir street, continuing the lane recently opened on the Dunsmuir viaduct, and connecting the popular Frances/Adanac bike route with the downtown core. Cyclists from all over greater Vancouver are calling this a huge success in terms of cycling infrastructure.

Without a doubt this separated lane will provide a much safer route into downtown and go a long way towards encouraging potential cyclists who are uncomfortable biking in city traffic. So far the lane runs to Hornby street and the City has plans to connect it to a future north – south lane, also separated from traffic, which would provide a connection with the Burrard street bridge. Currently, there are several options on the table for the location of the north-south lane, including Burrard, Hornby and Thurlow streets. The city plans to hold a round of public consultation on potential routes beginning this summer.

Although the majority of press surrounding the opening of the new bike lane had been positive, there has also been a certain amount of controversy. Most notably, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association has made some negative comments surrounding the lack of consultation prior to the installation of new bike-related traffic signaling and the implementation of the bike lane itself.

Similarly, some drivers are angry about several new right turn restrictions off of Dunsmuir, as well as the usual complaints that reducing the area of road surface given over to cars will cause irreparable traffic snarls and general mayhem. Although there may be validity to the DVBIA’s claims of inadequate community consultation, it is too early to tell what the effects of the new bike lane will be on traffic patterns.

However, plenty of far more significant examples have recently proven that motorists have a lot less to worry about than they often claim when it comes to traffic problems. The pre-emptive panic over the Burrard st Bridge lane closure, which came to nothing, is one of the more high profile examples. Similarly, it’s tough to claim that closing a single west-bound lane over the Dunsmuir viaduct will lead to traffic nightmares when the entire viaduct, both east and westbound, was closed for the duration of the Olympics with no visible effect on traffic entering the downtown.

The City did meet with both the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and the Downtown Vancouver Association prior to the construction of the separated bike lane on Dunsmuir and I’m happy to report that, based on my own observations (and I use the new lane regularly), all the concerns raised at these meetings were more than adequately addressed in the construction of the lane. In general, these concerns were:

  • That the bike lane and its physical separators be aesthetically pleasing. (As in, no the concrete jersey barriers like the ones used on the Burrard street bridge. Along Dunsmuir medians, bollards, and planters have been used to separate the lane and they appear well thought out and attractive.
  • That bike parking be provided for cyclists. It seems that more and more businesses are acknowledging that many of their patrons are cyclists and that you can fit a lot more bikes into the space that one car parking stall takes up. This is great news for cyclists as the lack of suitable bike parking has been a major issue in this city for years. There is bike parking provided along the new lane, and it has been well-thought out and placed so as to prevent conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians.
  • That potential conflict points between cyclists and pedestrians (ie. bus stops and cross-walks) be properly designed for and signed.

This last point has been achieved as well as can be expected, although it’s still quite common to see pedestrians wander into the bike lane without looking around. Hopefully, this is the type of thing that time and increased awareness will help to resolve.

Similarly, most of the complaints of drivers stem from a change to their habits and sooner or later these changes will, themselves, become habit. The bottom line is that the more cyclists there are on the roads, the more drivers and pedestrians will be aware of them and the more all modes of transportation will learn to co-exist. The Dunsmuir separated bike lane is definitely a big step towards creating a more cycling-friendly city and a more pleasant urban environment.

One Comment

  1. Great point about the fact that during the Olympics so many lanes were closed and that the dreaded traffic congestion never materialized. It just goes to show that closing down a lane on a street is never as bad as people think it’s going to be because we adapt.