Vancouver, BC –Takes a North American Spin From Europe in Cycling

Poised on one pedal at Granville Market. Vancouver, BC 2011. Photo by J. Chong

Poised on one pedal at Granville Market. Vancouver, BC 2011. Photo by J. Chong

 By Amanda Winter.
Any article containing “North America,” “Europe” and “cycling” will largely conclude in a comparison to show Europe’s utopian cycling atmosphere versus North America’s lack thereof. This article will not propose this, mainly because 1. Each city has its own recipe; there is not one common urban planning rule book or cookie cutter approach for all. 2. As the environment does not function around national borders; we are all in this global green fight together, the time is now to cooperate and learn  from each other

Maybe we should think of Europe and North America differently, like North America is Europe’s little sister, younger, more careless, the kind that steals your favorite clothes and eats the last cookie without offering it to you. They like taking the easy way out and 

Along Seaside bike-pedestrian path beside Convention Centre with green roof.

Along downtown Seaside bike-pedestrian path beside Convention Centre with green roof. Raindrop sculpture ahead overlooking Coal Harbour with mountains in North Vancouver 2011. Photo by J. Chong

changing their behavior is extremely difficult, unless ‘all the cool kids are doing it.’ Let’s be that annoyingly functional family and inspire each other. Let’s have a family meal and share our recipes. Velo-city Global takes inspirational people at an international level, creating a global family not only to help you reach your goals, but to set new ones and step out of your box, try something on the menu you never tried before.

Goals, Big Goals.
At first I thought, wow, now that’s ambition: Vancouver wants to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. Then, I read that North Vancouver has an impressive 100 year sustainability plan. As the greenest city in North America, Vancouver could not be more ready to host an event like Velo-city Global 2012. Cycling in Vancouver is improving; the city boasts over 400 km of bike lanes, and a 4-10% modal share (depending on neighborhood). The success of Velo-city Seville shows the depths of such a conference, participants learned about bikes in Zambia and witnessed the establishment of an important policy document, the Charter of Seville.

Aboriginal sculpture along walkway from Vancouver International Airport to Canada Line light rail station 2011. Photo by J. Chong

Aboriginal sculpture along walkway from Vancouver International Airport to Canada Line light rail station 2011. Photo by J. Chong. Transit train will take you directly to downtown Vancouver.

Worried that a conference in North America about cycling would be a lost cause?

  • In a recent poll, 52% of Americans said they want to bike more than they do now. 
  • “I want the recipe” professed urban mobility extraordinaire Mikael Colville-Andersen about another Canadian city, Montreal.
  • The Rails to Trails Conservancy has 1,683 open rail-trails for a total of 19,872 miles, with over 700 active projects for an additional 9,000 miles. Just one of their projects, The Great Alleghany passage (runs from PA to MD) sees over $40 million in direct spending from users of the trail.

Americans are rethinking maps (not based on distance, but based on carbon footprint and time required for travel) and documenting the emerging cycling cities.  

Getting Personal.
I was asked to write this article utilizing my American perspective. Here are the stories that statistics don’t show you, the inside scoop:

Busy farmers' market only 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Apr. 2011. Photo by J. Chong

Busy Saturday farmers' market only 20 minute bike ride from downtown Vancouver. Apr. 2011. Photo by J. Chong

 My uncle, a life time resident of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, commutes by bicycle every day to work. He “simply enjoys it and the cost, health and environmental benefits are a great bonus” and thinks that people would cycle more if they were exposed to it. I expect that is not astonishing to you, but picture a poorly planned, run down city where the term alternative transportation sparks images of horses and buggies. This is a good sign.

My younger cousin, a Nebraska native, whom several years ago, was making demands to her father regarding her dream car for the day she turned 16. Recently I asked her about her transport plans as her 16th birthday is approaching. My faith was restored in humanity in her answer: “I don’t really want a car; they are too expensive and seem like a pain. I plan to take public transport but I wish it was easier to bike around.” This is a good sign.

And finally my aunt, a true citizen of the world and for a few years a cycle chic Copenhagener, told me she “cycled to work every day, regardless of weather, because that’s just what you do in Copenhagen.” It really took me awhile to grasp the concept, as I spent the last few years living in Boston, where drivers are known for their complete disregard and cyclists are thought to be suicidal. That is until you become one, or it becomes you… That’s me, who is not only celebrating my third year anniversary of freedom (car free) but also just convinced you to attend Velo-city Vancouver 2012.

 Vancouver has various traffic calming circles on primarily residential streets. Often community gardens are planted in them 2011. Photo by J. Chong

Vancouver has various traffic calming circles on primarily residential streets. Often community gardens are planted in them 2011. Photo by J. Chong

Go there, meet inspirational people who will give you enough hope to last until the next Velo-city conference and inspire others with your inside scoop. It’s time for the oddballs of the family to be the car drivers.

This entry was posted in cycling infrastructure, Vancouver, Velo-city Global 2012 Cycling Conference. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Vancouver, BC –Takes a North American Spin From Europe in Cycling

  1. Ryan says:

    Calculating mode shares in Canada tends to always yield different numbers.

    I read not long ago that a couple of neighbourhoods in Toronto have a mode share in the 20% range HOWEVER the city as a whole is 1.7%.

    Montréal is somewhere around 3.3% and is constantly ranked as Canada’s (and even North America’s) best bicycle city.
    According to Copenhagenize’s most recent “bicycle friendly cities of 2011″, Montréal ranks 8th worldwide and 1st in North America.

    One website says Vancouver is around 2%, which is a far cry from the goal of reaching 10% by 2010. Of course like Toronto, different neighbourhoods have higher rates.
    Not to get into a debate about it, but until BC removes the dated helmet law, I don’t see Vancouver progressing as fast as it could.

    • adminvelo2012 says:

      From the City of Vancouver:
      Mar. 2011 Fact Sheet on statistical summary. Overall for city, it is 4% with some neighbourhoods at 10%.
      http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/cycling/documents/cyclinginvancouvermarch2011.pdf

      Increased volume of 3 different separated bike lanes:
      http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/cycling/documents/cyclinginvancouvermarch2011.pdf

      Montreal works at inspiring cyclists from several different ways –they were lst to have separated bike lanes in Canada. Velo Quebec has done impressive work in cycling advocacy and of course their travel bike tours arm of the organization is an envy of other cycling advocacy organizations.

      Have you visited Vancouver? If not, hope you do one day and experience it. On the Seaside Path in summer, it is thronging with cyclists. We should know..we live at the foot of it.

      As for Toronto, I used to live and cycle nearly daily from Scaborough into downtown for work, shopping, etc. for over a decade. I still visit there nearly annually since my family is all over the city and live near bike routes. :) People might appreciate knowing your data source –City of Toronto would provide best, current data in addition to (older) Statistics Canada data before the federal census agency was scaled back in statistical collection depth for all geographic areas.

      I was in Toronto just less a month ago for a wk. It’s just like Vancouver, many wear helmets but some do not.

      It is unclear why B.C. is the focus of attention about its helmet law..when Ontario has it also.

      Both cities also have large highly diverse linguistic groups that are non-English. It is too simplistic to say it’s just the helmet law that is preventing people from cycling. Both cities through their local cycling advocacy groups, have tried to reach the non-English speaking, recent immigrant population through various means. It continues to be an effort, because the car does hold a status to become more “North American”.

      Then there is ongoing need to improve local cycling infrastructure so that cyclists or people wanting to cycling, are safer.

      Hope all is well, cycling-wise in St. Catherines, Ontario.

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