Vancouver in cycle of support

Kent Acott Vancouver

For some of the bike riders of Vancouver, motorists are society's new smokers - social pariahs who should be restricted to specific, ever-shrinking parts of the city.

And this conquer-at-all-costs attitude comes from a position of strength.

Vancouver's city leaders have committed the city to a major expansion of its bike network.

Within 40 years, they want more city journeys to be on foot or on a bike than in a car.

It is an objective that has already prompted drastic action. Lanes of the Burrard Bridge, a key river crossing in the city's south, have been converted to bike lanes.

And separated bike lanes have been introduced on busy inner-city streets.

Former city councillor and bike-riding advocate Gordon Price said both initiatives had prompted opposition from motorists and local businesses who were concerned at the loss of parking spaces outside their shops.

But, in both cases, the concerns have proved unfounded.

"A follow-up study has shown that traffic times are virtually the same, cycle trips are way up, collisions have dropped 18 per cent and businesses have suffered very little," Mr Price said.

Similar concerns have also been expressed by motorists and businesses in Perth.

As recently as last month, scuffles broke out at a City of Vincent council meeting amid concerns that a new bike plan would lead to fewer carparking bays in Oxford Street.

"What these businesses don't realise is that pedestrians and bike riders are more likely to stop and spend money," Mr Price said. "And if you can create an environment that encourages pedestrians and bike riders to spend some time in a particular area, the economic benefits are even greater."

Vancouver cycling advocacy group HUB executive director Erin O'Melinn said cycling on Burrard Bridge and the city had increased up to 36 per cent since the changes.

She said there was clearly a demand for safe cycling routes in and around the city. "Changing the thinking of communities about bike riding is not easy but it certainly brings rewards," she said. "The benefits can be enormous."

Vancouver cycling advocates gathered at Simon Fraser University's inner-city campus this month to discuss what more needed to be done to increase cycling participation.

One of the key issues to emerge was Vancouver's compulsory helmet laws. Just like in Perth, it is an issue that polarises the community.

Ms O'Melinn said the laws were a big stumbling block to the introduction of a bike-sharing scheme, though a "helmet vending machine" had been developed and would be trialled on Vancouver streets later this year.

Former Vancouver city planner Brent Toderian told the meeting that helmet laws and a high rate of bicycle thefts were huge impediments to getting more people on a bike.

"There is no doubt that the safest thing for cyclists is more cyclists," he said.

Blogger Chris Bruntlett told the meeting that helmets did not play a part in his campaign to make bike riding "cool".

He is one of several friends who have created the Vancouver Cycle Chic website to document the city's stylish people on bikes.

"We want to create a city where stylish people on bikes is commonplace - a city where people are free to express their personal style on a bike," he said.

Mr Bruntlett has prepared a series of "chic" video clips that have been put on YouTube and he will be travelling to Auckland in October to make a series of advertisements to promote bike riding.

Bike riders are more likely to stop and spend money." Gordon Price