Bikes and Vancouver

Vancouver’s love-hate relationship with bicycles might be, to the outside observer, strange. We’re a people that pride ourselves on our healthiness and our green attitudes, whether it be backyard chicken coops or office composting. We have a great recycling system in most outlying cities in Metro Vancouver, not to mention the city itself. We have pretty decent air, beautiful water, majestic mountains — Vancouver’s natural beauty and it’s obsession with green makes a lot of sense, really.

But bikes really are where things come to a head. Vancouver has been adding more and more bike lanes at the expense of traffic. Often it means losing a lane or two in order to have bike lanes; these vary from a completely separated section on a road to just “another lane” which presents its own obvious safety problems. Motorists don’t like the addition of bike lanes because it makes Vancouver traffic even worse and, more importantly, cyclists are for the most part stuck-up entitled jerks.

The argument for bike lanes is predicated on several things, but it is mostly predicated on the safety of the cyclist. Cycling in Vancouver is a lifestyle and, more importantly, it’s a green lifestyle. Cyclists don’t pollute and don’t really contribute to congestion (bicycle congestion, that is — car congestion, yeah, totally). The argument is that were Vancouver just bike lanes for bikes and sidewalks for pedestrians, traffic wouldn’t be an issue, pollution would go down, people would be healthier, etcetera. A recent article, for example, points out that people with long commutes tend to be unhealthier than those with short commutes. To be more specific, people who drive for longer periods of time tend to exercise less than those who don’t. People who commute via bike, of course, are exempt from this and the point really is that biking to work is not just healthier, but promotes a healthier lifestyle all in all.

The problem with cyclists, as I mentioned, is that they’re jerks. An article which talks about adding bike lanes in an oft-travelled route in Vancouver elaborates:

Tazam Ismail, who runs Empire Drycleaning, says she’s seen numerous incidents involving cyclists using sidewalks or knocking mirrors off parked cars. Her daughter was recently knocked down by a bike courier who didn’t stop.

“So, bicyclists and I don’t see eye-to-eye very much, let’s put it that way,” she said.

“Where we are situated we are right outside a bus stop so people can’t park here anyway, but I’ve seen many a time guys riding a bike on the sidewalk where we have old women using walkers,” she said. “There is not enough parking in the area for the businesses anyway.”

While it’s all anecdotal and while all cyclists aren’t jerks, enough are that people automatically have problems with folks on bikes. One of the biggest problems that I have is their penchant for switching from roads to sidewalks: hang out near any busy intersection and watch bikes pull up to red lights and move over to the sidewalk, cross, then continue on their route. They decide to go from vehicles on the road to two-wheeled pedestrians which, in addition to being pretty rude, is also illegal. I’ve personally noticed that bikes usually don’t stop for red lights or stop signs; I know the argument is that it takes more energy to stop and start up constantly, but tough. It takes more gasoline for me to start and stop frequently but that’s the price you pay for obeying the rules of the road. W10 and Oak, near Vancouver General Hospital (fortunately, I guess) is particularly bad for this. I’ve had to go by there many times on foot and find myself having to run across at a four-way stop because bikes just cruise through. They usually don’t slow down like people in cars who want to halfass the stop procedure do, they just blast through. Add in the cyclists who don’t know their turn signals, rip around on sidewalks, and don’t wear helmets, and, well, you have a much-hated group of society who are doing good by the environment and, in theory, can ease congestion.

The obvious solution is licensing. In order to operate a bike on a road, you should be required to have a license on you. Make it separate from a driver’s license and drop the fee to something ridiculous (like $10). Make it renewable or a lifetime deal or whatever, but require that the applicant complete a test that requires an understanding of the rules of the road, four-way stop procedures, safety, everything. A problem police often have with pulling over cyclists is their lack of identification (why carry your driver’s license if you’re on a bike?) and this can help solve that. It makes ticketing possible which can help offset the costs of the program in the first place and can go to educational programs and awareness and all that crap. Revenue that comes in can help offset the costs of bike lanes and so on (which will still cost more than what is brought in and so the government is still subsidizing bike culture), so that’s a bonus, there. If someone grossly violates a bike law or whatever, suspend their license and impound their bike. Legalizing and bureaucratizing  bikes and can help ensure the accountability of bike riders and ultimately server to promote their safety. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, noted cyclist, was almost hit by a bus awhile back after running a red light; cyclists aren’t the most dangerous people on the road, but they’re the most fragile. Everytime a cyclist blasts through a red or a stop sign or I have to swerve to  avoid one, I don’t for a second worry for my safety, I worry for theirs… if only because whether it’s a bike hitting a car or a car hitting a bike, it’s usually the cyclist that suffers the worst. Bike lanes and other protective measures don’t mean a thing if cyclists aren’t taught to drive safely while on the road, same as motorists.


2 Comments on “Bikes and Vancouver”

  1. Paul L says:

    Even if the red light and stop sign running decreases by only 10%, it would be worth it. And I’m sure we’d get better results than that. Besides, for the price that many privileged Vancouverites are paying for their shiny new John Henry bikes, 10-20$ is a meager price to pay indeed. I’ve definitely had my fair share of a hate-on for bikers and their “I’m not polluting as much as drivers so that makes me flawless” attitude, but its for the reasons mentioned. Their frequent infractions not only put their own lives at risk (possible unnecessary strain on BC Health care, however minor), but they can also throw off drivers and pedestrians.

    • James says:

      Agreed. I think it’s a small price to pay, really, for increased safety on the road and a fee like $10-$20 is more symbolic than anything.

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