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The politics of cycling in Melbourne and Vancouver: Why the difference?

November 23, 2012

Our Melbourne correspondent wonders …

I was reading this article this morning and noticed the stark similarity between the (Melbourne) Herald Sun and the (Vancouver) Province… and then the completely opposite responses each would get by running a story like this.

 “Like every policy slammed down the throats of Vancouver residents, the green-activist-dominated 2040 Transportation plan is entirely an attack on the car. It’s another example of Vision’s holier-than-thou attitude that they should dictate how the rest of us live. Many residents are sick of it.”

Then read the language in the poll question… “Do you support Vision Vancouver’s anti-car ideology?”  – and a look at the results: Yes.  83.48%

And here’s a sample of the comments (that show real names and their facebook identity/university/employer/occupation)

  • “Hmmm.      I get that this is an editorial but I’m so sick of the rhetoric. “Anit-car ideology” and “War on the Car”. Seriously, get over it. Fact is, traffic in this city is horrendous and we need to start looking at better options.”
  • “The bridge that has more capacity than lanes that feed in to it.”
  • “Vancouver’s transportation plan clearly says that pedestrians, cyclists and buses have priority over cars. This plan was adopted by an NPA majority council before the Vision party even existed.”
  • “According to the poll, residents are “not sick of it,” and in fact support a cleaner, greener, healthier, and more active Vancouver. Nice try.”


Here’s a recent Herald Sun article with comments for comparison for Vancouver readers:

  • What a JOKE. Why don’t we just re-introduce the horse and buggy and be done with it. More revenue raising, more inconvenience for drivers… one more reason to go to Chadstone or Doncaster or wherever… and clowns like Mr. Doyle say they want to encourage people to come into the City – Way to go, dude.
  • Why not fix the actual problem and stop making it the car drivers problem all the time. Enforce fines on the cyclists that ride dangerously and focus on the many pedestrians that I have seen crossing the road inside the city well away from pedestrian crossings and who also walk down tram lines wearing their MP3’s and playing with their phones. The poor motorists are getting slugged everywhere yet the more vulnarable keep putting their own lives in danger and just expect motorists to see them and stop in time. Time to focus on the problem itself for a change.
  • Can we just ban cars in the CBD and be done with it? I am so glad I live in the beautifully under regulated bayside suburbs and not the CBD!!
  • Stop it please. Just leave everything alone.


Does anyone have any hypothesis?

I’m asking this because of the impact it has on the implementation of our policies and strategies.  We have seen several cycling /transport projects abandoned or delayed here in the past few years.  This ocurred after media reactions like the one above triggered a ministerial intervention.  (St. Kilda Rd bike lanes, 40 kph speed limits).  Other projects have tempered council’s enthusiasm for further implementation after media backlash (Albert Street bike lanes)

Do educated Vancouverites spend more time making constructive posts on newspaper websites than their Melbourne counterparts?

Does requiring internet users to post under their real identities make people think twice before posting reactionaly inflammatory comments? (Or does perceived anonymity bring out the inner troll in all of us?)

Was there a larger or smarter community engagement campaign around the transport agenda in Vancouver than for Melbourne?

Is this a result of differences in government planning instruments in Melbourne compared to the City of Vancouver.

Is this just reflective of the level of entrenched car culture in Vancouver and Melbourne?  (Melbourne has quite a few freeways, and still plans for more)

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Ken Ohrn permalink*
    November 23, 2012 11:25 am

    You may recall that many comments, particularly in the Province newspaper, around the run-ups to Burrard, Dunsmuir and Hornby bike lanes were vicious in tone. Just to be clear — these comments included death threats against cyclists, in the form of promises by commenters to run down cyclists with cars and pickup trucks.

    The remainder were rebuttals and expressions of support from other people, and some were the usual silly nonsense.

    All in all, the appropriate description for the Province’s comment sections was first introduced by journalist Christie Blatchford on another newspaper: “the purview of the ill-tempered, the illiterate and the cruel”.

    But things have changed. And I think there are two reasons.

    The whole issue has settled down now. The world did not end — except perhaps in the editorial offices at the Province newspaper. Secondly, the new technology used by the Province has made it harder to remain anonymous. And this has driven away most of the trolls, shills and stooges who took the comments sections to be their private playground, and in some cases anti-Vision battleground.

  2. November 23, 2012 11:51 am

    One suggesting might be to toll the bike lanes….and all new bikes could sold with a BPF (bike path fee) however that should be made conditional on cars also paying a fee for using roads that bicycles, including couriers, would be banned from.

    • Tessa permalink
      November 24, 2012 5:25 am

      toll bike lanes and people will bike on the sidewalks or elsewhere. This is absolutely a non-starter, and would never be seriously considered in any city that takes transportation or fairness seriously, especially when more cyclists will in the long run save the city money.

      • November 24, 2012 11:45 am

        The question of tolls for both cars and bicycles needs to be on the table not just because it raises revenues but it legitimizes the call for single vehicle corridors and also puts the issue of ending the ‘free’ road subsidy for cars up for discussion in a manageable way. Already this debate is occurring with regard to new bridges and new highways etc. Perhaps it is time for this discussion to happen in our urban centers? One way for it to get on the table is for the cycling community to raise it on the condition that it be applied to cars as well.

        Transportation infrastructure needs rethinking. The popularity of bike lanes is evidence that a pathway free of cars and pedestrians is desirable and at least somewhat achievable. It encourages new riders while rewarding those who choose to ride today. If the objective is to provide safe and secure transportation arteries for both cars, bicycles and pedestrians then the question becomes how do you provide it.

        Preventing bikes being ridden on sidewalks or pedestrians jaywalking on roads is always going to be problematic, and to a huge degree that will depend on the sensibility of the person involved.

      • Tessa permalink
        November 24, 2012 12:13 pm

        reply to David McPhee:

        I can understand an argument for tolls for cars, in that there is a need to reduce congestion and car traffic causes serious damage to roads that needs repairing, and that frankly we want to get people out of cars, for geometry reasons (they take up too much space) as well as environmental. I can’t see the same argument applied to cycling, ever. It sure hasn’t caught on in much more mature cycling cities like Copenhagen or Muenster or Amsterdam. I mean, are we going to start tolling sidewalks? At what point do we have to pay just to leave our houses?

        The public commons is public for a reason. It’s accessible to all. When you start tolling people to use bike lanes, they just bike elsewhere – on roads, on sidewalks – or they don’t bike at all. How exactly is it a good thing for us to push people away from biking? I thought the city was trying to do the opposite of that. And how exactly is it a good thing to make the most accessible medium-distance transportation option available to all classes of people regardless of finances much more expensive?

        How would this even be implemented? What about kids on bikes? What about people who get off and walk their bike past the toll boundary only to get back on again afterwards?

        Tolling cycling is nonsense. It’s ridiculous and a red herring to the real arguments we need to be having right now.

  3. November 23, 2012 12:01 pm

    As Ken implies, the power of the good example is important. The world didn’t end with Burrard, Dunsmuir and Hornby so more people are willing to speak up against this drivel from the Province.

    But I also think your correspondent’s last point, about Melb having more freeways, is key. That simply means there will be more drivers, and so more people who have to justify to themselves their choice of owning a rapidly depreciating outmoded ‘asset’.

    I firmly believe ‘culture’ follows infrastructure: people act in response to their environment, and then post-hoc rationalise their behavior as free choice. They might say “I’m driving because I like to, because I choose to”, but in fact they’re really driving because their public servants spent their dollars rolling out six-lane car-first stroads everywhere. Melbourne tourists in Amsterdam don’t rent SUVs.

    Because they find themselves driving (natural response to the Melbourne environment) but they want to believe they chose freely, they defend that free choice even more vehemently. And any attempt to retrofit infrastructure becomes a personal affront.

    The solution for Melbourne, unfortunately, is just more good examples. Civic leadership with cajones for real infrastructure changes (difficult in a short-termist democracy, I know: vision helps, along with lots of colourful pictures of what will be, and interactive “design your own street/block” software) coupled with a lot of tactical urbanism by the time- and cash rich. I hear summers are good there, that’s where I’d focus.

  4. November 23, 2012 12:27 pm

    May be the Melbourne’s problem is much deeper that what you think:

    Notice that what you see is not your typical alcohol intoxicated hooligan… and the whole bus seems to approve…That is choking french for sure

    • Scot permalink
      November 23, 2012 1:55 pm

      I Don’t think that’s a fair representation at all. Would you like if people posted Vancouver riot videos and said maybe Vancouver’s problem is deeper than you think? I went to Melbourne last year for the first time and the people were super cool and friendly, and it is 100 times more multi-cultural than Vancouver is. That video could have easily been on a Saturday night in Abbotsford, Langley or Surrey.

    • Tessa permalink
      November 24, 2012 12:15 pm

      Really not a fair representation. Bigotry and discrimination exists to some degree all over the world, and it’s hardly a worthwhile thing to bring up in a discussion on transportation policy. It just lowers the content of the discussion and makes it difficult for those trying to find real solutions.

    • November 24, 2012 10:34 pm

      Why cycling is more popular in Oregon than in Alabama?

      May be Alabama doesn’t know the good examples Oregon knows, or may be the open house there are not enough, or worse may e the media in Alabama are too conservative. Obviously discussing of social and ethnographic difference just lower the discussion, and makes it difficult to understand the real issue of what is a Transportation problem:


      True the video is not a fair representation of Melbourne, it could happen anywhere, but Scot, curiously single out 3 suburbs, (guess which!) not well known for their pro-bike agenda. isn’it? Why not Vancouver as asks Nick?

      A trail of stabbing of eastern Indian student (leading to the death of one of them) could also happen anywhere ( Event severe enough to trigger a formal inquiry from New Delhi). The Cronulla riot also could have happen anywhere too…Every country has its dark side…and Canada of course is not exempt ( Vancouver riot was more a large scale student brawl, so I don’t think of that),..It is certain that all those unfortunate events poising Melbourne and Australia, doesn’t reflect them, but it is possible that they are tips reflecting a less confident society, than let say Oregon …and so less ready to embrace change…and what is discussed here is not a transportation problem, it is a change in the “Australian/Melbournite” way of life/identity

      • Scot permalink
        November 24, 2012 11:45 pm

        I really don’t know what your getting at, you post a racist incident on a bus and it sums up Transportation agendas in Melbourne?

  5. Matt permalink
    November 23, 2012 6:02 pm

    My perception (as an Australian who has lived in SF and travelled along the west coast) is that the 3 major cities in the pacific nw are much better at engaging their residents in a discussion of what sort of land use / transport future they want. I don’t know why this is the case – there are many similarities in our cities, governance and populace.

    A progressive but mainstream media may be one key component. The Age, the broadsheet competitor to the Herald Sun, along with its Sydney cousin the Sydney Morning Herald do hold campaigns to lobby for more enlightened discussion on urban planning issues. However they often still go for the cheap shot when governments do try to act, focusing on NIMBY concerns at the expense of the greater good.

    In Australia some have suggested that there has been a growing ‘sense of entitlement’ across the community which manifests itself in this context as being allowed to drive through the CBD at dangerous speeds, despite the fact that most people arrive by public transport, walking and cycling (about 75% in Sydney).

    Being identified as with your real name can’t hurt weeding out the trolls as well….(and yes I do appreciate the irony of posting this reply as without my name).

  6. Jack Kelly permalink
    November 24, 2012 6:07 am

    The “BackChat” in the Province doesn’t even bother to attibute comments to a fake name anymore. In 1979 that was called “Dirty Tricks” and a big deal… 10 google hits today.

    Fake Name
    Dunsmuir Street, Nanaimo

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