I have to admit, I miss my bike commute. (I bet you’ll rarely hear a driver say that about their car commute!) I cycled to work during the warmer months for about three years, which was, for the majority of that time, 21km each way. (Yes, it’s doable!) Sometimes on my morning ride, I took the False Creek sea wall and really enjoyed it. If you haven’t yet discovered the bliss of biking to work and your commute is under 25km, this week is a perfect one to start. Today is Bike Day in Canada and the start of the 10th annual Bike to Work Week spring edition, ending June 5. While I don’t get to enjoy the thrill and freshness of an early morning ride anymore, I can attest to how awesome biking to work is. Here’s my take.
I get around everywhere by bike, public transit and on foot. So when my mayor presented the Mayors’ Council plan during a HUB committee meeting, I was super excited. More SeaBus? B-Lines in my neighbourhood? Bike lanes? YES!
All this and more needs to be funded somehow. There’s a lot of fact-slinging, grumbling and even partying happening, so I thought I’d offer my own personal reasons for supporting the plan. And some info along with it.
Here’s why I’m voting YES:
1. Safe cycling paths are the best!
More safe cycling paths means cyclists like myself — and those usually less comfortable riding in the city — can get to their destinations more easily. 2700 more kilometres of bike paths will encourage more people to take up cycling as a convenient, fast, safe and fun way to get around. Check out my 6+ reasons why bikes are good for Vancouver.
I’m this excited. (Photo by Pia Massie)
2. 50% more SeaBus service, woo!
10-minute SeaBus service at peak times at 15-minute service otherwise will literally change my life. It’s so stressful to miss — or almost miss — one, especially when buses in my neighbourhood often fail to make this critical connection at rush hour. More frequent SeaBus means more freedom in our schedules. I’d hardly need to look at the time. Leave when you want, and you won’t have to wait long. I think this will be a huge draw for people who currently deal with backed-up bridge traffic. Speaking of which…
On Monday, a sunny day with a strong wind, I left a meeting with my new life coach close to five. I felt at once an obligation to head home — an internal guilt trip — and a desire to feed my bicycle-addicted brain. I was downtown already and compromising:
“You can’t go ride the seawall right now. You have things to do.”
“Like what? There’s nothing important to be done when I get home at 5:30.”
“I don’t know, you just need to go home. … Okay, you may take the short scenic route.”
“It’s a little farther but worth it.”
It took me awhile to relax and give myself permission to feel like I was free for the evening, that I didn’t need to go home and work.
I felt sad when I finished reading “Happy City” the other day. Vancouver author Charles Montgomery weaves together stories, interviews, culture and information in such a compelling way that I felt like a month-long conversation had ended. When I began reading it, I gushed about it on Facebook and with good reason. It has something for any city dweller — from the history and science of happiness and behaviour, to impacts of transportation on wellbeing, to dwelling types influencing social interaction. I returned it to the library reluctantly after my initial 14-day restricted loan period was up, and waited anxiously to get it back until another copy was returned six days late. (I guess the other person liked it even more than I did.) I felt its absence like a close friend.
Captivated by the forest at Helliwell on Hornby Island
Last year was full of journeys, both in terms of travel and emotions, and of firsts. Recovering from a rocky end to 2010, I found emotional balance as my body took its time to heal. I also began a new romantic relationship in the spring that has helped me better understand myself and discover what a loving partnership really ought to feel like (answer: fantastic). That discovery induced some much-needed catharsis and put my past into perspective. I travelled overseas for the first time in almost a decade — and boarded the plane unaccompanied for the first time ever — and made two trips within BC with my sweetheart.
Among other cities paving the way (literally) for higher bicycle ridership is London, England. They’re probably better known for congestion pricing for car traffic (one of the first, but not the first, cities to implement it) than cycling, but their current mayor wants to improve their performance with a new plan that includes a 12-route bicycle commuter network radiating from the city centre, a bike-sharing program launched last summer and a new bike police unit.
In place for a few months now, the two new, blue, bike superhighways are quite successful, increasing by a whopping 70% the number of cyclists on the streets compared to their pre-superhighway incarnation (comparing October 2009 to October 2010).
New figures show that the number of cyclists along the first two Barclays Cycle Superhighway routes, which run from Merton to the City and Barking to Tower Gateway, has risen by 70 per cent with increases of 100 per cent or more seen on some sections during peak hours. — Transport for London
It’s hard to argue with that. I hope to check them out first hand when I visit the city this spring. Have you been there and tried them out? What did you think?
While New York City still has problems in some areas that appear to conflict with their progressive plans in others, I’m still including it in this series. With the likes of architect Jan Gehl and DOT Commissioner Janet Sadik-Khan (who was here in 2009) in its arsenal, NYC has started changing the structure of its streets.
Sections of streets have been transformed, if only in trials, into space for cafes and public seating, dramatically changing the look and purpose, and allowing people to linger and rest. Car-free programs abound. They launched a car-sharing program with Zipcar and are looking at a high-tech bike share network. They’re also turning parking meters into bike racks.
Resident Ben Flanner is among others growing rooftop vegetables and I wrote recently about Brooklyn’s Habana Outpost. And finally, Give a Minute: a civic engagement website fielding the public’s ideas on how to green the city. (Sounds like Vancouver’s, eh?)
Where Vancouver has its Car Free Day festival annually in four neighbourhoods, Bogotà has embraced a weekly car-free day that stretches far beyond Vancouver’s space.
Every Sunday and holiday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Bogota, Colombia closes off — or, rather, opens up — more than 70 miles [100 km] of city streets. Closed, that is, to cars and open to bicyclists, skaters, walkers, and mass aerobics. When that happens, 1.5 million people come out to enjoy the safety, community, and exercise that a seemingly car-free city allows. According to many participants, the Ciclovi a has transformed life in the city all around for the better. People feel happier, healthier, and more united. — Streetswiki
Copenhagen is reknowned for its cycling culture, one which has developed over the last 100 years despite growing affluence and cheap energy. They lead by example with a 36% mode share for cyclists — in other words, 1 in 3 people choose a bicycle for their commute and other everyday activities, despite the long, cold winter. In contrast, the peak areas of Vancouver achieve only 10% mode share. After seeing bicycle use double in 15 years, the city also plans to increase that modeshare to 40% by 2012 and 50% by 2015. Holy smokes.
A combination of cycle paths and greenways offer Copenhagen’s cyclists a growing 400 km network. Some routes use a “green wave” concept that optimizes travel for cyclists moving at 20 km/h to consistently meet green traffic lights. Blue-painted pavement is used for visbility in intersections, a step past the common bike box used in cities like Vancouver. Bikes can also be brought on the S-train commuter network or you can choose to bikeshare.
I made the observation recently that each of us learns to walk, then virtually everyone learns how to bike, then we’re taught to drive. At that point, it’s like the first two are reduced to merely leisure activities or, to some people, hard work. Curious, isn’t it? Culturally, being able to drive and having a nice car is a measure of success. You know, because the bus is the “loser cruiser.” At the same time, being fit and skinny is attractive. They’re a bit at odds with each other, are they not? Sorry, can’t come over tonight — gotta drive to the gym. Whew, now you’ve got car payments, parking fees, insurance, AND a gym membership to keep tabs on. Better get some cheap take-out for dinner.
Whoa, hold up!
How did we get ourselves into this mess? Cities are designed for cars, not people.