VANCOUVER — I’m lucky enough to have a decent bike to ride for the duration of my stay here on the west coast. I ride almost daily in Toronto but the experience of riding daily in Vancouver is much different — it’s not just the hilly terrain, but there seems to be an understanding from both city officials and drivers that cycling is a viable transportation alternative to the car. Riding through Vancouver produced not only aching leg muscles, but a self-diagnosed case of serious cyclist envy.
Vancouver does a number of smart and simple things to prioritize cycling that politicians and civil servants in Toronto should examine in detail. One of the first things I noticed: the cyclist symbol was included on the button to trigger an intersection stop light to change (photo above). Vancouver uses a pedestrian- and cyclist-controlled traffic light system throughout much of the city. In Toronto, you rarely ever see the fruits of your labour when you press the signal change button, but in Vancouver it is almost immediate (the longest I had to wait was about 10 seconds).
Cycling advocates like to use the phrase, “we are traffic!” when drivers accuse them of blocking their flow of traffic. To validate cyclists’ assertion that they are indeed part of the traffic club, Vancouver uses a bike waiting area at a few major intersections (photo above). It’s reminiscent of what happens at intersections in major Asian cities where scooters make their way to the front of the traffic queue. This type of waiting area is not used widely across the city and seems to be one of the improvements being made as part of the nearby (and massive) bikeway project called the Central Valley Greenway (I’m going to include the CVG in another post tomorrow).
The other easily noticeable difference between our two cities is how bike lanes/routes are labelled: Vancouver uses a variety of indicators, most notably large signs with appropriate names (photo above), while in Toronto bike lane signs are tiny and have numeric names. Giving a route a numeric name works fine for highways, but for cycling routes it seems ridiculous to have the Davenport bike lanes called #18 and St. George Street bike lanes #35 — just call them the street name (or street names if they join up with other routes).
The other sign that cycling is a respected form of transit in Vancouver is how many of the street signs also include a bike symbol. Vancouver has roughly the same amount of dedicated bike lanes as Toronto, but it also designates many of it’s side streets as shared streets (which triples the size of its bike network compared to Toronto). The main streets are almost all devoid of bike lanes, but usually a street just one block away is a shared street that has traffic calming features that make cycling safe and quick. Vancouver is lucky to have a decent amount of continuous east-west and north-south streets that don’t deviate from the grid, making the shared lanes quite effective. As you can see, the street signs at smaller intersection (first photo below) indicate it’s shared street status while even the larger signs at main intersections (second photo below) alert drivers of their reduced status.
I also have a keen interest in bike racks: Vancouver offers up a variety of posts to lock your bike up to. A variety of racks is important so you don’t end up with a city-wide bike rack SNAFU like Toronto experienced last year (and is sadly still experiencing). And like the transit shelters and garbage bins across the city, the racks adhere to a local colour scheme.
Tomorrow, I’ll share photos and observations on some of the traffic calming techniques Vancouver has recently put in place.
all photos by Matthew Blackett