Cycling in the City of Vancouver BC, Canada






Cycling in the City of Vancouver BC, Canada

This review will comment on cycling in the City of Vancouver, its cycling infrastructure, and first steps in moving toward European designs.

Vancouver is a city with 3.8% cycling mode share and an infrastructure that could accommodate much more than the 20,000 daily cyclists.

The City's Transportation Plan 2040

Writers’ Thoughts for the Next Transportation 2040 Plan

Comments on the transportation mode share split.

Comments on the Plan's strategies








Comments on Proposed Strategies for Transportation Plan 2040

2012-06-01 Version

© H-JEH (Jack) Becker, Third Wave Cycling Group Inc. 2007-2012., Velo.Urbanism 2012


The City of Vancouver’s draft Transportation Plan 2040 contains some interesting strategic directions which will further the use of Active Transportation modes of travel while decreasing the dependency on car use.  Now, if one steps away from the details of the plan and views the document from a macro point of view, then the plan feels like an incremental step forward from the past rather than a dramatic change in the way we travel in the next 30 years.  At this point in time, a dramatic change in travel is what we need, not crawling forward at past speeds.  Why is a dramatic change in the way we travel now needed?  Well, all the rational has well been debated from the desire of the residents of Vancouver for improved air and noise quality, personal health issues, growth of obesity and the contribution to that from modes of travel, health care cost, and so on.

The Draft Transportation Plan feels like a technical document, not a change agent paper.  There is a lack of a new vision in the document for transportation and for transportation’s role in creating a liveable, green, sustainable city community which has vitality and spirit that people can see, feel, buy into, and get inspired by.  There is a lack of connectivity of this draft document to the vision of the city and key strategies that will move towards realizing that vision.

Perusing the many strategic directions for the modes of transportation in the document, some thoughts for additional strategic directions come to mind that may be worth considering:

In addition to focusing on directions for growing each mode of transportation, some strategies should concentrate on people and persuading them to make modal shifts to active transportation options.  One could argue that a strategy focusing on people and inducing mode shift could be the key strategy for a transportation plan.

In this article, active transportation includes walking, cycling, transit, and other modes that travel at the speed of walking or cycling (wheelchairs, skateboarding, in-line skating, etc.).


Proposal for an Overriding Strategy for the Transportation Plan 2040


The Transportation Plan 2040 and its recommended infrastructure, toolkits, services, and programs shall be focused on social marketing of the preferred modes of transportation, be focused on reaching the plan’s target transportation mode shares, be contributing to reaching the stated city direction to be the greenest city in the world, meet the Kyoto commitment, and be a contributor to a green, sustainable, and vibrant city.   The implementation of the plan, including infrastructure, its design, and programs, shall focus on a target market and the customers of that market who need to be induced by alternate transportation modes to meet the city’s vision of a sustainable city and a world leader. 


For modal conversion to occur, motorists will need to have alternate forms of transportation available and to their liking for the Transportation Plan 2040 to be successful.  For developing suburbs and non-central core densification, it is highly desirable for active transportation options to be in place before decisions for home purchase are made.  Does one buy a car and a home or does one decide to use active transportation and have more money available for home purchase?  That is the choice for home purchasers when active transportation options are in place.  When not, what choice is there but to commute by car?

With a population expansion within any parts of a city, there is criticism of congestion.  The firs choice option for congestion relieve for cities is to put in more road capacity.  As we know, road capacity expansion will only provide short-term congestion relieve.  If the city wants to be truly a green city, then it make good sense to put active transportation measures in place, determine its impact on road congestion, and then decide if road expansion is really necessary.


Strategy - Mobility Management – Transportation Demand Management


Active Transportation alternatives will be implemented and in operation for a minimum two years in any corridor before any assessment is made for increasing capacity for cars and trucks, from simple improvements such as left or right turn lanes to additional lane capacity.


Save for lack of personal financial resources, people will not make modal changes unless the alternative makes sense to them, fits in their lifestyles, are socially acceptable, does not impose an unreasonable discomfort, and the facilities are to their personal liking.  So, it makes sense to choose and focus on a target market and its customers and design for them very specifically, rather than follow some design manuals.  Target marketing versus the shotgun marketing approach to design of infrastructure facilities and cycling network should result in significant cycling traffic growth.


Strategy - Infrastructure Design


Designs shall meet the needs of people from the young to the seniors (8-to-80 concept) and shall be specifically focused on the needs of the target market of customers (i.e. motorists that are open to change in transportation modes) that will need to be induced to use active transportation alternatives for the targets for transportation mode shares to be achieved.


Real growth of active transportation will be enhanced through change-inducing statements from traditional practices, rather than incremental enhancements of past practices.  Bold, clear statements that signal rapid change will result in creative solutions that residents of the city will see as explicit signals that modal change needs to happen and that they need to play an active part in making it happen.

Concepts that should be included in this plan:


Strategic Direction for Walking – Direction should include a statement that the walking infrastructure and its support facilities (audible signals, signage, wayfinding, etc.) shall meet the needs of both the young and the seniors, who may have visual, balance, navigational, motor skills or other limitations.


Strategic Direction for Cycling – Market segmentation shall identify the characteristics of potential cycling customers.  Infrastructure design and social marketing programs shall focus on the needs of the target market segments and induce them to use cycling as part of their transportation options.


Strategic Direction for Transit – Work towards an effective transit system with service levels that will attract people from using their cars.  Work towards a city being served by a full complement of transit layers, including streetcars / trams, maximizing the appeal of transit.  Work towards maximizing the transit ridership growth opportunity through combined mobility strategies, infrastructure, and social marketing programs (transit and cycling).  Improve the quality of the air in the city and control of noise pollution with a 100% electric-powered bus system.


Strategic Direction for Motor Vehicles – The city shall remove itself from a non-essential city service of providing on-road and off-road car parking and reduce its road maintenance costs in the process, considering that there is private sector capability to provide such services from land owners, developers, residential complexes, private home owners and potential new entrants such as car parking condos for neighbourhoods.  City shall separate the sale of parking spaces in residential and commercial buildings from the sale of home and office units.  The city shall support such a separation by invoicing municipal taxes separately for homes, offices, and car parking spaces.  City shall implement bylaws, which allows unused car parking spaces in buildings to be rented out for short-term parking and potentially long term parking if short term parking demand has been satisfied.


Strategic Direction for Land Use – Integrate transportation planning with land use, urban planning, urban form, and zoning bylaws through zoning densification levels in each neighbourhood along a corridor generating sufficient traffic for active transportation modes thus allowing active transportation facilities and services to be implemented on an economic case basis.


Strategic Direction for Streetscape – The Transportation Plan should include a vision and strategy for people streets where car and truck access is managed and controlled to time of day for delivery of goods, municipal and emergency street services, and transit.


Transportation Plan 2040 Section on Cycling


The opening statement should include “and support significant cycling traffic growth by inducing people not to drive and use cycling or combined mobility of cycling and transit instead”.


Key Strategic Directions for Cycling


Want significant cycling traffic and use growth? Want continued snail-pace, incremental growth for the future?

If significant growth of cycling traffic is desired, then bold statements and bold visions are needed.  Paving the way for this level of growth requires strategic direction statements for:


The first policy should address a rapid implementation (5 year) of a high quality cycling network, city-wide, to determine the amount of modal conversion from driving that can be achieved and to allow for wiser investment in road infrastructure for car traffic of the future.


The second policy should address the focus of infrastructure, network, infrastructure toolkit, network toolkit, and social marketing that would appeal to motorists to cycle instead, including combined mobility.


The third policy should call for quality, physical separation of cyclists and motorists (with barriers, not paint preventing cars and trucks from using cycling facilities) that would induce motorists to cycle instead.


The fourth policy should address the role of public bike share system in advancing cycling and cycling-transit usage.


The network policy should call for feeder networks from home to schools, transit facilities, shopping areas, and other destinations.  Give suburban neighbourhoods the feeling of cycling that one gets when cycling along a seaside bike trail or on abandoned or operational railway lines.  This policy should also include providing seaside path type of facilities on interior local roadways, separated cycling facilities along retail streets, and separated cycling facilities along any roads adjacent to rapid transit lines (existing and new).


In general, the policy statements in the Transportation Plan 2040 document are very lightweight, not exemplary of a pacesetter city, and more indicative of a follower city content to be positioned behind American cities with little cycling enthusiasm.

Each municipality needs to make a decision. If that decision is to move towards Active Transportation and away from cars as the primary forms of transportation, then bold, visionary, leadership statements and strategic directions are needed.  As they say - no pain, no gain.  If no gain, then pain as personal health care issues continue to climb quickly, along with the tax burden that each person carries for maintenance of the health care system.


Final Comments

Cycling is not an end goal in itself. It is part of delivering a liveable, energetic, sustainable, green community. It is part of each neighbourhood’s urban plan with transportation capacity and supportive land-use densification that can achieve target active transportation mode shares. It is part of a solution where densification is sufficient to create demand that will make transit profitable for the routes through the neighbourhood. It is part of a solution where local cycling traffic is created to justify high-quality cycling facilities through the neighbourhood. For separated cycling facilities densification should provide a minimum cycling traffic of at least 1,000 trips per day. It is part of a solution of feeding transit stations and frequent service bus stops from homes that create profitable routes and where secure parking is available. It is part of a solution of feeding customers to local retail stores. It is part of a solution of feeding students to their schools.

© H-JEH (Jack) Becker, Third Wave Cycling Group Inc. 2007-2012., Velo.Urbanism 2012










Unless stated otherwise, photographs are the property of the article author(s)
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013
©H-JEH Becker, Velo., 2013