Cycling in Vancouver: More than just an alternative mode of transportation

Cycling in Vancouver: More than just an alternative mode of transportation

By Maria Oliveira

June 21, 2011

Cyclists are now a common sight on the streets of Vancouver. On May 31st, in honour of Bike to work week, Carbon Talks hosted the City of Vancouver’s Director of Transportation, Jerry Dobrovolny, for a dialogue on the city’s plans to accommodate the growing number of cycling enthusiasts. Members of the community, representatives of senior organizations, academics and cyclists all showed up for a lively discussion.

For the fifth year in a row Vancouver has been ranked as the number one “world’s most livable city” by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Unlike most major cities in North America, Vancouver does not have any highways directly entering the downtown core. Nor are there ring-roads dispatching heavy traffic into the city centre.

Decreasing car traffic into downtown Vancouver

In addition to being the world’s most liveable city, Mayor Gregor Robertson wants the City of Vancouver to become the greenest city in the world by 2020.  A key strategy in reaching this goal is the promotion of alternative transportation such as cycling.  According to Jerry Dobrovolny, by 2020 trips by foot, bicycle, or transit will account for over 50% of all trips in Vancouver. The City certainly seems to be on the right track. While jobs, people and trips within the downtown core have increased, the number of cars entering the downtown area has decreased.

Surprising?  Perhaps, but dramatic increases in cycling, walking and transit demonstrate that Vancouverites are keen to adopt alternative methods of transportation.

Is it realistic to expect people to bike to work?

The 2010 Olympics offered the City a unique opportunity to experiment with multi-modal transportation. The results were astounding with a 44% increase in the use of transit – indicating Vancouverites capacity to forgo cars for other means of transportation.

Growth in cycling in Vancouver

But biking to work remains difficult for many.  According to Dobrovolny, Vancouverites can be categorized into three major groups with respect to their attitudes to biking.  There are the hard core ‘strong and fearless’ cyclists, the ‘interested but concerned’, and the no way no how group that will never take up cycling as a serious means of transportation . The City’s new transportation plan will target the middle group and focus on finding the means to address their issues of accessibility and safety.

Is biking safe?

Studies of this middle group have shown that “interested and concerned’ cyclists feel safer if the paths and lanes they use are separate from car traffic – hence the Dunsmuir and the Hornby separated bike lanes. Vancouverites are quite familiar with the controversy met by the project, but these two bike lanes are more than just a facility for cyclists. It allows cyclist to commute to and from different areas of the city through a network of safe bikeways.

The promise of bike lanes


Oh and by the way, did you know that cycling half an hour a day can increase your life expectancy by one or two years? Well, there’s a good reason to stop blaming the rain for not biking to work!

Yes, but…

Well it looks like Vancouver is embracing the cycling trend, but as several participants pointed out, there is still a long way to go to make the city truly a leader in alternatives modes of transportation. European cities like Copenhagen or other North-American cities like Portland have a much more developed network of bike lanes. Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians all need to be more educated on the safe sharing of the road space. But cycling also needs to be made more fun and more attractive. One participant profiled initiatives like Velopalooza and Car Free Day and encouraged people to look at cycling not only as a mode of transportation to get to work but also as a means to discover the city and engage with their community.

(Icon photo courtesy of

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