Protected bike lane on Commercial Drive would improve Vancouver’s bike network

September 19, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Vancouver has a pretty impressive bike network, by North American standards. As I rode around the downtown/False Creek areas yesterday I remarked on the (previously-noted) protected bike lanes downtown. They are some of the widest lanes I’ve seen in North America and take up a third (or more?) of the street width.

It’s a bit of anomaly, but even the short protected lane leading from Kent Ave in Marpole up Cambie St to the Marine Drive Canada Line station is wide.

That said, Vancouver’s “AAA” bike network (“All Ages and Abilities”) is limited to the downtown and the Seaside greenway leading to Spanish Banks along English Bay. AAA bike infrastructure is not all in the form of barrier-separated lanes, but may also be on traffic-calmed streets, and is thoroughly connected – there are few broken links.

There is plenty of room for improvement and expansion to other neighbourhoods. Currently, most of Vancouver’s bike network relies on “Local Street Bikeways,” traffic-calmed streets that are well-signed and discourage thru traffic through the use of traffic diverters. However, they still have car traffic and are therefore not AAA.

45th St Local Street Bikeway.

45th St Local Street Bikeway – nothing spectacular, except traffic-calmed and well-signed.

How I feel about Local Street Bikeways is a subject for an entire post, or perhaps even further study. In a nutshell, they provide safety and refuge from pollution, but by pushing the pedal-powered to side streets, out of sight and mind to many, and away from neighbourhood attractions, businesses, and events. The trade-offs still bother me; on one hand, being away from pollution and noise is nice. On the other hand, the great part of riding a bike is discovering new places – you’re going slower but still able to cover long distances, it’s easier to stop if you see an event to check out or a store to patronize, etc. Mostly, we’re human, and we like watching other humans and being seen by them, too. By excluding bikes from most commercial streets throughout Vancouver, we’re at a bit of a disadvantage.

So I was quite happy to see this tweet this morning:

Commercial Drive is a neighbourhood in East Vancouver; it is bordered on all sides by Local Street Bikeways but none of them pass through the quirky principal street. There is plenty of bike parking and quite a few bicyclists out on street regardless of the lack of bike infrastructure. Chicago readers would find the area similar to Andersonville.

Commercial Drive (near the centre of the map) is surrounded by local street bikeways.

Commercial Drive (near the centre of the map) is surrounded by local street bikeways.

Streets for Everyone proposes a “complete street” down the Drive, complete with protected bike lanes and Dutch-style intersections that make it easier to turn, as well as additions such as covered bike parking and more outdoor seating.

Busy sidewalks are a sign of a healthy, walkable community, but there is always room for improvement. Image: Streets for Everyone.

The renderings (not perfectly to scale) show what could be done with the street:

One issue I foresee is right turns. In the above rendering, cars’ right turns would either have to be banned or subjected to their own signal cycle – which is difficult, because there is only one thru lane for car traffic.

With AAA upgrades to Grandview Highway, Great Northern Way, and Ontario St, the bike lanes could also link to False Creek, downtown, and Gastown, filling in a gap in the bicycle network.

The existing AAA network (yellow highlight) could be expanded (red outline) to Commercial Drive (solid red).

The existing AAA network (yellow highlight) could be expanded (red outline) to Commercial Drive (solid red).

It would be nice to see the proposal realized. It would expand bicycle options into East Vancouver, make it easier for people on foot and bike to frequent Commercial Drive businesses while retaining access for transit and driving, and put Vancouver closer to its transportation and “greenest city” goals. Equally important, it would also increase the visibility of people on bicycles and allow them to experience the neighbourhood just as everyone else is.