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Concrete, not paint

June 15, 2010

Today marked a new stage in cycling in Vancouver.

UPDATE: See a cyclist-eye view of the new lane, thanks to a helmet-cam, here.

UPDATE: Sun columnist Miro Cernetig writes about the next next stage – Bixi-style bike sharing.

From the late 80s, with the opening of the Seaside route, to the 90s, with the development of the bikeway network, Vancouver has been steadily increasing the number of kilometres designed to encourage cycling.   But with the success of the Burrard Bridge lane, fully separated from passing traffic, Council gained the confidence to move forward, quickly and decisively, to introduce ‘cycle tracks’ into downtown.

Now it is possible to cycle on Dunsmuir Street from Main Street to Hornby on a two-way track, separated from sidewalks and vehicle lanes, in comfort and safety.

The Mayor led a hundred or so cyclists on an inaugural parade this morning, heavily covered by media – a reflection that ‘alternative transportation’ is now not a sideshow, that Vancouver is changing into something more akin to a northern European metropolis.   We’re Copenhagenizing.

It happened fast.  The Engineering department moved in and transformed Dunsmuir with surprising speed – and not just by laying in a row of Jersey barriers.  They’re experimenting with several types of separation, including planters and paint and concrete dividers.

But the truth is more likely found in a classic saying credited to Robert Moses, the construction coordinator of New York City: “Once you’ve poured the concrete, they’ll never make you tear it up.”

There are trade-offs.  Some congestion, especially when a truck blocks one of the remaining two lanes for deliveries.  Or a hotel loses a drop-off.  Or right-hand turns are prohibited on some streets.  The media, of course, asked about the loss of a business on Hornby Street.  But the gain is in safety and eventual transformation of the city, to a place where, as more people choose other modes of transportation, more space is available for those who actually need to drive.  It’s happening, but it’s incremental, and hard for the sceptics to grasp, especially when they see the change more in terms of a culture war, an implied criticism of their way of life, if not an actual threat, where territory is gained and lost.

As interesting will be the change in cycling strategies.  For me, a West Ender, the east-bound use of Dunsmuir is constrained by the lack of connection to Pender Street and parts west.   But for west-bound use, particularly for those coming from the Adanac Bikeway, one of the most heavily-used routes in the city, it’s brilliant – particularly since whether by design or coincidence, the signals seemed to be synched for bike speed, allowing the cyclist to get from the viaduct to about Seymour Street without stopping.  Sweet.

And because the track is two-way, it won’t have the problem of ‘bike salmon’ – those who cycle upstream against the traffic on the one-way tracks that characterize New York’s avenues.  (For more on that, see Price Tags 108.)

So congratulations to all who made this possible: the politicians, the city staff, the activists and the citizens – some of who are pictured after the break.

Richard Campbell, looking back while cycling forward.

Amy Walker, from Momentum.

City Greenways Engineer Scott Edwards (in blue).

Assistant City Manager Sadhu Johnston.

City Engineer Lacey Hirtle, in charge of the project construction, looking rightfully pleased.

Mayor Gregor Robertson paying close attention to City Transportation Engineer Jerry Dobrovolny.

More pics welcome.  Send to

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2010 1:38 pm

    This is a great and momentous event for our city. I’ve spent time in cycling havens such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Japan, and can only hope that we continue to go the Euro-style route. Japan was a congested mess of pedestrians and bicycles. What made it work was the overwhelming number of bikes. Amsterdam, on the other hand, treated the bike with respect and granted it a separate lane. I’m sure that as more of these lanes go in and a forced reduction on car dependency is put in place we will see a happier, more well connected community.

    You simply notice more of your surroundings when you’re not behind a windshield.

  2. Ron C permalink
    June 15, 2010 1:43 pm

    The planters look pretty good.

    BTW – the painted median in the second pic is probably to allow sufficient turning radius for tractor trailers exiting The Bay loading docks which are in the alley to the right.
    Of course Sears and Pacific Centre don’t have that problem because of the grade-separated loading docks in the Howe Street tunnel.

  3. June 15, 2010 2:05 pm

    Definitely love the planters. Can’t wait to get a peek at the lane myself. Thanks for the visuals Gord.

    It’ll be interesting to see which street is chosen for the north-south connection to the Burrard Bridge and if that route is built as fast as Dunsmuir was.

  4. Alexis permalink
    June 15, 2010 2:42 pm

    How is right-turning being handled on this cycletrack? You mentioned some prohibited right-turns; are there also separate cycle signals, or is right-turning just not allowed anywhere?

  5. June 15, 2010 2:56 pm

    Great photos and article Gord. I was at an interception on Dunmuir last evening and there were 10 cyclists lined up a light. It is kinda like Copenhagen with helmets.

  6. Jot permalink
    June 15, 2010 3:39 pm

    Go Vancouver ! Will definitely help non-experienced riders get on their bikes, number one complaint I hear is fear of riding right beside traffic.

  7. Jim permalink
    June 15, 2010 3:57 pm

    Hi Gordon,

    Great post! Love it and love the new bike lane. A great area for cycle watching often is on and around Cambie from city hall down to the bridge there always cyclist zipping around there. I am really loving this new bike lane and hope like you more will appear soon.

  8. Dominic Brown permalink
    June 15, 2010 7:26 pm

    Excellent news, and an excellent post. One little typo. Where the post now reads:

    But for east-bound use, particularly for those coming from the Adanac Bikeway,

    I think you actually mean ‘west-bound use’.

    Keep up the good work.

  9. June 16, 2010 12:09 am

    Thanks for the update on what is happening in Vancouver. Have spent time working on in Australia. We are trying to make inroads (or cycle paths!) on something similar for Canberra.

  10. Ron C permalink
    June 16, 2010 2:48 am

    Towards the eastern end of the lane (Cambie, Hamilton & Homer?) there are rigt turn lanes for cars, but where the RoW narrows to the west, right turns are prohibited from Dunsmuir (at Seymour and maybe at Hornby).

    Hornby makes the most sense for a two-way protected bike lane linking to Burrard Bridge. It could be on the west side of the street and left turns from Hornby could be prohibited at places. Since the majority of traffic on Hornby comes from Burrard Bridge, traffic wanting to head west of Hornby would simply stay on Burrard. The wide sidewalk on the north side of Pacific between Burrard and Hornby could be easily pared back to link to the Burrard Bridge bike lane southbound and the existing bike lane northbound from the bridge would lead right into the new lane at Kettle of Fish.

    If it goes on Burrard itself, you raise lots of issues of having the northbound and southbound lanes together or separate and there would be a bigger impact on turns from Burrrad (i.e. both left and right turns if the lanes are separated on each side of the street). In addition, there are a lot more alleys that intersect with Burrard (on the west side of the street), since the street grid changes orientation at Burrard.

    With Hornby, alleys are all parallel to Hornby, so they do not intersect with Hornby, meaning less potential conflicts.

  11. Tessa permalink
    June 16, 2010 8:52 am

    Love the planters – they look so beautiful. Also, I agree with Ron C. Hornby would be a great place and could be well integrated. Something separated going into the west end would also be nice, but may not be as high priority as separated lanes into other inner-suburb neighbourhoods.

  12. Brian Hutchinson permalink
    June 16, 2010 9:20 am

    I’ve used the new track a few times, traveling both directions, and have really enjoyed it. Especially the eastbound down-slope glide over the viaduct and into Chinatown.
    Thrilled with the planters, and I appreciate the signals for eastbound travel (except I don’t seem to have luck with the sync. I’m usually stopped at every second intersection.)
    I’m also surprised and pleased to see people making use of the bike racks installed alongside the new track.

  13. Tessa permalink
    June 16, 2010 10:55 am

    Also: wow. 14 comments. This is clearly something that matters to people, and it seems city hall is getting that message.

  14. some guy permalink
    June 16, 2010 11:22 am

    I was on Dunsmuir Saturday night at the Railway Club, and even at 2 in the morning there was a steady procession of cyclists using the bike lane. I’ve really been impressed with how quickly and enthusiastically the lane has been adopted. Clearly the need is there.

  15. Sungsu permalink
    June 16, 2010 12:13 pm

    To add to Ron C’s comment, another complication on Burrard Street is that there are bus stops every couple of blocks on both sides of the street. No transit buses run on Hornby Street between Pacific and Dunsmuir.

  16. June 16, 2010 12:15 pm

    The timing of the lights isn’t perfect for bikes – in both directions I can only make it through 2 intersections before I get a red. That said, when I’m separated from traffic I’m in less of a rush to make lights, and more likely to enjoy my bike ride.

  17. Agustin permalink
    June 16, 2010 4:09 pm

    I tried out the lane yesterday too. It was great!

    Maybe I was lucky, or maybe it was because of the time of day (around 7pm) but the lights were almost all green for me.

    Here’s hoping for more lanes like this one!

    (I agree with the Hornby idea, FWIW.)

  18. Bob Ransford permalink
    June 16, 2010 11:31 pm

    Perceptive analysis of the “culture war”. As a non-cyclist, the rapid change is a little shock to the system but, frankly, any change that comes late in the game is like that. This is the right thing to do. We MUST change out attitudes and realize the car should play a much less dominant role in our lives. Will I cycle? Probably not. But these incremental changes which result in making automobile movements less convenient have me changing my personal transportation habits. I am using public transit more becuase driving a car downtown is now not that convenient.

  19. shmooth permalink
    June 17, 2010 12:06 am

    i think the two-way bike lane is interesting. i’m generally in favor of making all one-way streets back into two-way streets, and adding protected bike lanes at the same time, but at least this way, cyclists are not greatly disadvantaged as they are with typical one-way streets.

  20. Agustin permalink
    June 17, 2010 10:27 am

    shmooth – I’m interested in why you prefer the two-way streets. Personally, as a cyclist, I find it easier to navigate the one-way streets because I only need to watch out for cars going in one direction.

  21. June 17, 2010 11:12 am

    The photos of that cycletrack bring tears of envious joy to th eyes of this Portland bike-commuter. Literally. Tears. That’s a thing of beauty.

  22. mezzanine permalink
    June 18, 2010 11:34 pm

    tried the lane – it’s great! a few comments:

    -a lot of illegal right turns onto seymour by cars.

    -it’s a little more effort to go east bound, just because the lights are against you. westbound is a breeeze, though.

    -now, a protcted lane on hornby seems inevitable, perhaps in a few months, maybe? the bike box and painted lane on hornby northbound makes a lot of sense now, it seemed a little forelorn prior to the protected lane.

    -the provision for the bus stop at VCC is smooth and natural.

    I’ll be using it lots!:-)

  23. June 20, 2010 7:43 pm

    I thought that it was settled decades ago that facilities which force motorists to turn across through-traveling bicyclists increase the crash rate. That was the outcome of research in Davis in the 1970s, Berlin in the 1980s and Copenhagen just a couple of years ago. Two-way facilities are particualrly hazardous.

    Exceptions are when every intersection has signal controls to so the cyclists and turning motorists enter the intersections at different times -example, the 9th avneue bikeway in New York.

  24. June 23, 2010 9:38 pm

    I think cycling helps reduce the risk of global warming

  25. Graeme permalink
    June 27, 2010 12:24 pm

    Connectivity and safety are the two biggest requirements for bicycling to really increase in the City of Vancouver. These small projects need to continue to provide a full supported network from the communities to the core and the reverse.

    Those of us who use the cycle routes/paths know the difference from bicycle designated streets, to painted bicycle lanes, to right-of-way separation. Bicycling the Burrard street bridge and the Dunsmuir bicycle lane makes for a safer ride.

    The issue of cars turning should be addressed using the same approach the advance-right-turn lights and pedestrian accidents issue was approached. Clear signage on the posts and street. This may not be enough, but concrete, not paint will always make it safer.

  26. July 2, 2010 9:36 pm

    The possibility that water cars has spoken to practically invented since the invention of automobiles itself.Hydrogen cars are cool. Hydrogen cars are our future, baby! hydrogen cars are currently the state of technology have been few. fuel efficiency is related to the mileage per unit of fuel used.

  27. February 5, 2012 11:12 am

    what a cool place


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