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BY SARAH BERMAN, OPENFILE.CA

What began as an election campaign proposal has since snowballed into a heated online debate. In an October 24 editorial in the Georgia Straight, newly inaugurated Green Party councillor Adriane Carr first suggested “bike-free routes” on Vancouver’s main arteries like Broadway and Hastings.

“I realized in the beginning that I wasn’t specific enough,” says Carr, who is now advocating dedicated bus-only lanes on major roadways—a strategy Carr says was successful during the Olympics. “I’ve been talking to transit drivers who say it worked,” she continues. “The buses moved much more rapidly, and there were more buses on the routes.”

Last week, Globe columnist Frances Bula posed a more daring question: should cyclists be banned entirely from roads like Broadway?

“I can’t figure out why those cyclists do it,” reads part of the blog post. “The one I saw yesterday on Broadway was a 50-something woman (wearing a straw hat) pedaling between a B-line rapid bus and me—something I’ve always heard all but the most testosterone-laden cyclists try to avoid.

“And all she had to do was go one block over to 10th Avenue, where she could have been on [a] far quieter and safer street that is so dominated by cyclists that cars now avoid it.”

With more than a hundred comments weighing in from all sides, the issue points to a glaring rift between cyclists, motorists, policymakers and transit operators.

Many cyclists take issue with Bula’s proposal. “I’d feel really bad about that, actually,” says Mahla Shapiro, one of a handful of cyclists seen pedaling down Broadway during an overcast December lunch hour. “I know that we have 10th Ave and I appreciate that,” she said, “but sometimes Broadway or Granville is the only way to get there.”

Critics say finding shops and destinations along Broadway is a major draw. Cyclists who choose arterial roads also cite poor lighting, uncollected leaves (“creating conditions that are a lot like black ice”), drivers who don’t observe stop signs, and the threat of being “doored” on narrow routes like 10th.

Some riders prefer the higher speed of traffic. “If the city bans cars on 10th Avenue then we can talk about banning cyclists on Broadway,” reads one comment on Bula’s blog.

However, cyclist Neil Visser says he would readily support a bike ban on Broadway. “I choose my routes very carefully,” he said while stopped at an intersection on 10th Ave. “We have enough alternatives to the major arteries.”

Carr’s focus is on transit efficiency, not the convenience of motorists. By moving bikes out of bus lanes, she hopes to increase Broadway’s bus capacity: “I did go to the Vancouver Area Cycling [Coalition] and tested out the idea. The majority of people during the election and since were very much in favour of seeing transit improved.”

Translink driver Nash Dhaliwal says separating bikes and buses is an appealing proposition. “To pass we have to go to the second lane,” says Dhaliwal, who will spend the next four months driving up and down Broadway.

Dhaliwal says he encounters an average of 10 bikes on a Broadway route between Granville and Commercial, a delay which is sometimes compounded by an uncomfortable game of leap-frog: “When you’re stopping for passengers, that bike will pass and get in front of you,” he explains. “That can happen three or four times with the same cyclist.”

But Dhaliwal notes not all cyclists impede the Broadway bus routes. “Some will keep up and pass,” he says.

“I can keep up, but I may not be your typical cyclist” says Visser. “I’m an aggressive rider, so sharing lanes with buses doesn’t bother me.”

Translink officials say bikes do not noticeably slow down buses. “Our planners at Coast Mountain Bus Company have found cyclists have no impact on the running times of our buses,” says Translink media officer Drew Snider. “Scheduling is such that an operator drives his or her bus in a way that is safe for all those on the road.”

For cyclists who might be forced to share busy car lanes, Carr’s “bike-free transit” proposal doesn’t quite add up. “This, quite frankly, is rather dangerous and certainly won’t encourage people to cycle,” local bike advocate Richard Campbell said in a statement before the election. “It is simply not responsible to place speed and travel time even for buses above people’s safety.”

What seems to be clear, is that designated cycling routes need improvement to attract more of the city’s two-wheeled commuters. “I’m open to hearing what are the problems,” says Carr. “If 7th and 10th don’t work, why not? How can we make them work?”

Published December 8, 2011. Photo by ItzaFineDay (from Flickr).

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