When separated bike lanes were introduced in the City of Vancouver, they were greeted with mixed reactions. Cycling enthusiasts rejoiced at the possibility of having a safer way to get to work or school, or simply a new opportunity to be active. Drivers, particularly those coming to the downtown core from the suburbs, expressed dismay at the fact that they could not make right turns at specific intersections, and questioned the effect the initiative would have on small businesses.
More than two years have passed since the separated bike lanes first came to be, and a new Insights West poll shows that a majority of Metro Vancouver residents are content with the initiative. Across the
Lower Mainland, 61 per cent of residents support the bike lanes, while only 33 per cent oppose them. Among City of Vancouver residents, satisfaction reaches 64 per cent.
In 2011, right before the election that gave Gregor Robertson a second term as mayor, most Vancouverites were satisfied with the work done by the city to create designated bike lanes. The issue was not top of mind during the campaign – with people more interested in having good sanitation services, protecting the environment and ensuring public safety. It was also not controversial enough to provoke a dramatic shift. Vancouver is not Toronto, and the concept of a “war on cars” was not politically astute.
Now, a year and a half before Robertson seeks a new term in office, the highest level of animosity toward the bike lanes comes from residents over the age of 55. Still, a majority of these prospective voters have no problem with the initiative.
The main drawback observed by Metro Vancouverites – even those who support having bike lanes – is the notion that parking has become more difficult (70 per cent agree with this statement), while a majority (55 per cent) believe local businesses have been negatively affected. In Hornby and Dunsmuir, finding a parking spot in 2009 was already complicated. Uninspired drivers seem to be responding qualitatively when it comes to the effect bike lanes have on their desired spots.
Still, despite these two negative perceptions, three-in-four Metro Vancouverites are keenly aware of some of the benefits of the separated bike lanes: increased comfort for cyclists, safety for cyclists and motorists, and more opportunities for people to be physically active. These views are shared by people who travel to school or work on a bike, in a car or using public transit.
While only 20 per cent of residents believe the separated bike lanes have increased tourism, seven-in-10 are in favour of implementing a bicycle share system – similar to ones currently in place in cities such as London, Paris and Montreal. One of the key challenges with this initiative will be finding a way to enforce existing laws related to helmet use.
The other issue, of course, is money. A corporate sponsor is certainly a good way to both ensure capital and appease citizens who continue to question
the rationale behind using taxpayer money for something that may not benefit them, particularly if they simply dislike cycling. New York’s bike share system, with a tab of $40 million, was subsidized by Citibank. London’s “Cycle Hire,” which will celebrate its third anniversary later this month, is backed by Barclay’s to the tune of £25 million ($40 million) over five years.
As time goes by, Vancouverites have become accustomed to separated bike lanes, much in the same way drivers got used to wearing seat belts when they became mandatory across British Columbia in 1977. While there continues to be a discernible group that definitely dislikes the concept, a sizable proportion of younger and middle-aged respondents are supportive – and many of them drive cars to get to school or work.
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