Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Burrard Street Bridge Bike Lane
Looking at all the bike lanes popping up in Vancouver and around the Lower Mainland, it’s hard to remember how controversial the first one, over the Burrard Street Bridge, was when it opened for testing 10 years ago.
But Kevin Quinlan, chief of staff for former mayor Gregor Robertson at the time, remembers.
“You opened the newspapers or turned on the radio and every day all you heard was it was going to be a failure, a disaster. It got a little ominous,” said Quinlan, now a climate change consultant.
“But not only did no disaster happen, bike lanes have become more successful than we hoped for at the time. ”
On July 13, 2009, a third attempt was made to put a bike lane on the Burrard Bridge, after two previous false starts. (A scheduled six-month trial in 1996 lasted one week and a proposed trial in 2006 never came to be after a new council was elected.)
As Quinlan recently tweeted, there seemed to be months of “media hysteria that it would be a complete disaster, it would fail. Political opponents tried to get ‘Gregor’s gridlock’ to become a catch slogan (lasted about as long as ‘Who let the dogs out’).”
Here are some newspaper headlines from the 10 years ago:
• “Burrard Bridge bike lanes doomed to failure”: Vancouver Sun
• “Chaos feared”: The Province
• “Business plunging because of bike lane, owner says”: Vancouver Sun
• “War on wheels”: The Province
“I’m getting nervous just re-reading these,” Quinlan tweeted. “THERE IS CHAOS COMING AND IT IS COMING FROM BIKES, ARE YOU SCARED YET?”
The times, as they say, have a-changed.
The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, for example, was initially against the loss of on-street parking and feared increased congestion, based on computerized models that turned out to be inaccurate.
“They were wrong and we were wrong and we don’t mind saying we were wrong, but nobody had a crystal ball back then,” said Charles Gauthier, executive director of the association.
Today’s expanded network of lanes has been embraced by association members, many of whom now provide end-of-trip facilities such as showers and secured bike lockers for employees, he added.
“Without the success of Burrard Bridge bike lane,” Quinlan sad, “there wouldn’t be safe cycling and pedestrian routes now on Cambie Bridge, Dunsmuir, Hornby, Union, Helmcken, Point Grey or West 10th, (and) definitely no public bike share.
“Remember that the next time you ride over it!”
As six-time Vancouver councillor and former director of the City Program at SFU, Gordon Price was there in 1996 when the first experiment with a Burrard Bridge bike lane flopped so miserably.
And he reminds Vancouverites that it wasn’t just bike lanes that were established. Two major intersections were altered and made more safe, he said, while the heritage bridge was renovated and suicide prevention barriers erected, all while the bridge kept operating.
“That was really quite an achievement,” he said.
Studies showed bridge traffic had been declining, and Price is still scratching his head over the howls of protest about bike lanes — mostly, he said, seemingly from older men.
“This pushed some sort of emotional button in them. It wasn’t that big a deal, just some bike lanes on a bridge. But it was like you were taking their territory away.”
More than one million riders use the Burrard Bridge bike lanes every year, making it the busiest bike lane in North America, according to city officials, and 52.8 per cent of Vancouverites report they cycle, take transit or walk to work, according to a study released this spring.
Cyclist fatalities, meanwhile, have been kept to about one person a year, according to Vancouver police data.
The City of Vancouver has paid for an annual transportation survey since 2013 to assess how many trips are taken by car, transit, bike and on foot.
Prepared by planning consultants McElhanney and pollster Mustel Group, the survey determined that cycling accounted for 7.3 per cent of all trips taken in Vancouver in 2018, compared to 4.4 per cent of trips in 2013. The share of bike trips by those commuting to work within the city nearly doubled from 6.6 per cent to 11.9 per cent over the same period.
The survey also recorded a decline in the share of all trips by either a vehicle driver or passenger to 47.2 per cent from 52.5 per cent between 2013 and 2018.
Kay Teschke, professor emeritus at UBC’s school of population and public health, said bike lanes are “Absolutely worth the (tax) dollars. The last I saw, we spend a much smaller proportion of transport dollars on cycling than the proportion of trips made by bike.
Teschke led an injury study that overlapped the period just before and after the Burrard lane opened. It found eight people injured on bikes on the bridge in the five months prior to the lane being installed — including five people knocked off the shared sidewalk onto the road deck.
“This type of crash could not and did not happen after the separated lanes were installed,” Teschke said in an email. “There is no question that Vancouver is seen as a model for change by other North American cities.
“Not to say there isn’t a long way to go …”
For more information please visit: Vancouver Sun