A London Cyclist in Vancouver

Vancouver Skyline

The first spot on my tour of the Americas for a new project I’m working on, started off in Vancouver – and no I didn’t see any bears, I didn’t have to trample through snow and I didn’t have to avoid moose traps as some friends joked.

My trip started off with a typical Canadian friendly welcome, from my friend Jordan Gray. Of course when you are being greeted by a relationship coach, you’d expect nothing less. However, it’s not relationship advice I was here for. I was visiting to checkout the cycling culture in Vancouver.

Fortunately, Jordan is connected to Vancouver cycling advocate Steph Gray, by virtue of being his sister. Steph is the Bike Hub Education Program Manager and she is in charge of getting more kids to ride safely to school. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to quiz her on cycling culture in Vancouver.

Introducing compulsory helmets

British Columbia, the province within which the city of Vancouver resides, introduced a compulsory helmet law in 1995. Helmet use went up from around 40% in 1995 to around 55%-60% in 2010. It hasn’t reached higher levels than that in Vancouver as the law isn’t highly enforced.

According to statistics available on Cyclehelmets.org, the number of head injuries in collisions involving a motor vehicle, stayed at similar levels. In 1995 it was 12.8% and by 1999 it was 14.0%.

This was one of the questions I had for Steph Gray. She told me the law is detrimental, as it adds to the perception that cycling is a dangerous activity and it continues to dissuade new cyclists.

A cycle hire scheme “on the way”

Part of the efforts to provide people with an alternative way to move around the city involve a planned introduction of a cycle hire scheme. Unfortunately, this plan has been marred by delays. There currently isn’t a set frame for the introduction of the plan.

Dedicated cycling infrastructure

Dunsmuir Separated Bike Lanes 397

What has been pushed forward in Vancouver, is the separated cycling infrastructure. There are examples of it dotted around the city. Whilst it’s not always consistent, where it exists, it has been completed to a high standard. In particular, it’s good to see that once you reach a dangerous junction, the bike lane doesn’t just disappear.

This has often been at the expense of parking spaces in the city. Therefore, there continues to be strong opposition from local businesses. However, cycling organisations have been rallying to reframe the benefits to them and progress is being made.

The city has a “built it and they will come” attitude and it seems that with this mindset they will hit their target of 10% of journeys completed by bike.

Also helpful to cycling culture in Vancouver is that drivers are very courteous. This is noticeable as you ride round the city.

Ultimately, it’s clear that the local government recognises the benefits of cycling. In particular they are looking to reduce the levels of traffic. It will be interesting to observe Vancouver as it evolves.

See also: A London Cyclist in Portland

Images via Flickr: Markjms and Paul Krueger.

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

8 Responses to A London Cyclist in Vancouver

  1. Loving the Bike 27/02/2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Vancouver is a beautiful city, and it has a pretty nice cycling scene there as well. Glad that you could make it over. What kind of project are you working on while in North America?


    • Andreas 27/02/2013 at 7:13 pm #

      I’m hoping to put together a book on cycling in different cities around the world – to learn from the best and what others need to improve on. It’s one of the little projects I’ve got going on while I’m out here. Will keep readers in the loop!

      • Loving the Bike 27/02/2013 at 8:54 pm #

        Sounds like a great idea. Have fun in Vancouver and on the rest of your tour.


  2. Darcy McGee 27/02/2013 at 2:41 pm #

    > She told me the law is detrimental, as it adds to the perception that cycling is a dangerous
    > activity and it continues to dissuade new cyclists.

    I look forward to someone citing this with actual evidence. To date, I’ve only ever seen it get touted as fact with nothing to back it up.

    I’m not saying I completely disagree with helmets being optional. Copenhagen is the safest place in the world to ride a bike (not counting my living room as a “place in the world’) and no one wears helmets. Cycling safety is a complex issue.

    When I last hung around with the Hub crew they had surveys showing that safety was the number one reason people didn’t ride was they felt it was unsafe. Separated bike lanes, non-separated bike lanes, on bike lighting and helmets are all part of making it a safe mode of transportation.

    • Big Softy 27/02/2013 at 8:10 pm #

      You missed out the single most important factor in making cycling a safe mode of transport: Drivers.

      And you might find the evidence you mention if you actually had a look on the cyclehelmets.org link.

  3. canuck 27/02/2013 at 5:55 pm #

    “British Columbia, the state within which the city of Vancouver resides”

    We actually have provinces, not states.

    • Andreas 27/02/2013 at 7:12 pm #

      Thanks Canuck – will correct now!

  4. Paul Bunnell 01/03/2013 at 10:51 am #

    Welcome, Andreas, to my fair city. And please pardon the rain, we only trot it out for visitors. (Word to the curious … the entry lead illustration is not, unfortunately, February. It does show our wonderful seawall, a cycle/walk/skate path which almost encircles the city, which is built on a large peninsula.)

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