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Spotlight on: Vancouver’s Separated Bike Lanes
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Spotlight on: Vancouver's Separated Bike Lanes
Lauren Ledbetter, Alta Planning + Design

(published in e-news, April 11, 2012)

Interview with Dale Bracewell, Manager, Active Transportation, City of Vancouver, B.C.
In July 2009, the City of Vancouver reallocated one vehicle travel lane on Burrard Bridge—the busiest connection in the bike network—to provide separated bicycle lanes into and out of downtown. Between March 2010 and December 2010, the city opened three more separated bicycle lanes in quick succession—on Dunsmuir Viaduct, Dunsmuir Street, and Hornby Street, all in downtown. (Note on terminology: Vancouver's separated bicycle lanes are designed as cycletracks.)

Why did the city decide to start using separated bike lanes?
The prime impetus for this project was our desire to attract people of all ages and abilities to cycle, and to encourage the interested but concerned residents to feel safer and more comfortable riding a bicycle downtown. Though Vancouver has one of the highest bicycling rates in North America, very low collision numbers, and an excellent network of painted bicycle lanes and traffic calmed bikeways, many people were still not riding. A study by the University of British Columbia found that safety concerns are the biggest barrier for Metro Vancouver's current and potential bicyclists, with respondents wanting either very traffic calmed local streets or totally separate facilities on major streets (see Increasing cycling is also part of our Greenest City 2020 Action Plan to make the majority of our trips by walking, cycling and public transit.

What has the response been from the public?
Interestingly, our post-project public opinion survey found that 75 to 80 percent of respondents across Metro Vancouver were neutral about the separated bike lanes and their impact on access. The remaining 20 to 25 percent of respondents were highly polarized, with those in favor citing improved safety and those opposed citing increased congestion and impacts to businesses. We heard most from the polarized minority. (Read staff's July 2011 status report here.) 

How do you define and measure success for these projects?
Two reports detailing the success and impacts of the separated bicycle lanes include the Downtown Separated Bicycle Lanes Status Report, Summer 2011 and the Vancouver Separated Bike Lane Business Impact Study.

Safety: We've seen the number of vehicle crashes (of all types) on Dunsmuir Street decrease by 18 percent for the first nine months following installation. We're currently developing a detailed safety analysis for both Hornby and Dunsmuir, which will likely be available in July 2012.

Ridership: Ridership has increased dramatically. Since opening the separated bicycle lanes on Dunsmuir Street, we've seen a 36 percent increase in bicycle trips when comparing July 2010 to December 2010 to same period in 2011.

Demographic shift: More women are using the facilities. When Hornby Street was painted with standard bicycle lanes, 28 percent of riders were women. With separated bicycle lanes, this has increased to 32 percent. We've also seen increases in the percentage of children riding on Hornby on weekdays.

What advice do you have for other cities who are interested in implementing similar separated facilities?
Consider including pedestrian improvements when designing separated bike lanes to make them active transportation corridors. We found many pedestrians enjoy the extra public realm landscaped buffer provided by the separated bike lanes, and we have seen an 80 percent reduction in the number of bicyclists riding on the sidewalk along Hornby Street.

Data, data, data! Before-and-after data can help you measure the success of a project, and can help all stakeholders better understand their concerns objectively and allow staff to more readily respond to impacts. Key data to measure include: parking vacancies, motor vehicle travel times, collisions, business impacts, bicyclist, pedestrian and motor vehicle counts, bicyclist demographics, bicyclist behavior.

Involve the business community early on in the process. It is very important to work with businesses to try to mitigate tangible business impacts and address important concerns to them during the planning, implementation, and post-project phases. Our first separated bicycle lanes were implemented in a very short time frame, providing a less than ideal opportunity for outreach during the planning and design phases. We continue to work closely with businesses on Dunsmuir and Hornby Streets to address a couple of intersections where access to certain businesses has been affected by the separated bicycle lanes. We're also working proactively with the Vancouver Board of Trade to understand business concerns, and determine how we can better support businesses and mitigate impacts when implementing these facilities after we complete Transportation 2040, the City's next long range transportation plan.


What are your plans for the future?
We're bringing public health groups into the conversation. With improved bicycle access to downtown, businesses may attract employees who want to bicycle—employees who are healthier, have fewer sick days, and are more energetic. Having the public health world communicate these benefits that also enable the economy of our city may further increase support for improved bicycle facilities.




Photos of Dunsmuir Street bike lanes courtesy of Paul Krueger.


Want to experience Vancouver's separated bicycle lanes first-hand? Vancouver will host Velo-City 2012 at the end of June. There will be numerous opportunities for touring the city's bicycle network, learning from international bicycling experts, and participating in technical tours and events. Details here: