Can Vancouver Become North America's Cycling Capital?

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Vancouver Cycling Chic

In a recent press release issued by the European Cyclists’ Federation (EFC) it was stated that Vancouver could become North America’s cycling capital. With all the recent infrastructure put in place and more talk about additional bike lanes in Kits and possibly other neighbourhood things are definitely looking up for cycling in this city. Furthermore, the pending Vancouver Bike Share (VIXI) announcement will only add to the city’s cycling clout.

Currently over 60,000 trips everyday are done by bicycle. The city has seen a surge in cyclists and with the  pro-cycling policies coming down from council chambers this momentum won’t slow down anytime soon.

Some may argue that the idea of cycling has clouded the judgment of council. For instance the city is tossing around the idea of tearing down the viaducts, a popular downtown east-west connector route for cars. The viaduct conceptual plans have little regard for motor vehicles (and fiscal prudence), however, the removal will benefit the pedestrians and cyclists in the city. If the viaducts are removed it’s just another subliminal jab to those that use cars as their primary mode of transportation that they should consider transit or cycling.

“If Vancouver keeps up this positive momentum towards cycling, I’m almost certain that it could be the Copenhagen or Amsterdam of North America,” says Bernhard Ensink, Secretary General of ECF, which groups together half a million cyclists across Europe.

Cycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation in Vancouver with bicycle trips nearly doubling in the past decade. Some neighbourhoods (Kitsilano, Commercial Drive, Mount Pleasant) see over 10% of all trips made by bicycle. That figure puts us on par with many European cities.

“I really think Europeans will be impressed by Vancouver when it hosts the world’s biggest cycling policy conference at the end of the month. Velo-city is going to create a huge push in the number of cyclists,” says Ensink, “but they [Vancouver] will have to continue spending on quality infrastructure.”

At the end of June, the city will host 1000 cycling experts at the world’s biggest cycle planning conference, ‘Velo-city Global’. Traffic planners, cycling advocates, architects, educators, politicians and others from around the world will provide their expertise on everything cycling related. Countries that have hosted the prestigious conference have generally seen an explosion in cyclist numbers. In the run up to Velo-city in 2009, Brussels (Belgium) managed to double cyclists. Seville (Spain), who hosted the conference in 2011, saw bicycle traffic increase ten-fold.  Vancouver is experiencing the same.

Compared to Toronto and Montreal, Vancouver takes the lead. It has a higher share of women cycling (37%), and has the highest number of people commuting to work by bicycle (3.7%), with Montreal trailing behind (2.4%) and Toronto seeing 1.7% of commutes by bike (2006 figures). Both Toronto and Montreal have public bike share progams and no mandatory helmet law. If those two elements were introduced in Vancouver, you’ll see a further surge in cycling. Currently Portland is North America’s cycling capital with 6% commuting to work by bicycle.

To become a cycling capital, Colville-Andersen says: “All it requires is a definitive cutting of ties with 80 years of failed traffic engineering and the archaic school of thought that so many traffic engineers desperately cling on to. We need instead the very simple concept of designing cities and we need to design bicycle infrastructure and pedestrian-friendly streets and use common sense and human observation to do so.”

Copenhagen currently sees 10 times (600,000) as many trips done by bicycle than Vancouver however Mayor Gregor Robertson wants to bridge this gap. He has just signed onto ECF’s Cities for Cyclists’ Network, which groups together high-profile cities such as Copenhagen, Brussels, Vienna and Munich who share best practices in cycling.

In Copenhagen, there are just as many cyclists as there are cars and most don’t wear helmets, just check out this video:

Photo: Vancouver Cycle Chic

Source: ECF

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