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













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

This review will comment on cycling in Vancouver, Canada, its cycling infrastructure, first steps in moving toward European designs, the city, a friendlier place to live, and then some final comments.

Vancouverites are attracted to the natural beauty that surrounds them. Vancouverites are drawn to nature, no matter if it is hiking, cycling, skiing, mountain biking, walking the coast, or taking in local wildlife, sea creatures, or birds, among other adventures. Bears, cougars, coyotes, eagles, occasional whales, dolphins, and seals are some of the local neighbours from the wild. From the peaceful seas at their doorstep to the mountains rising up from the waters on the North Shore to the lush vegetation growth with its blooms benefiting from the abundance of rain, Vancouverites want to retain a natural environment in its city, free from air pollution.

So, it is not difficult to understand why cycling, transit, and urban form are all important to the city residents. Advocacy is a supported local industry.

1a Cycling in Vancouver

So, for the City of Vancouver on an average day there are 23,000 people cycling to work or for other trip purposes. With the infrastructure that is in place there should be many more people cycling daily, at least 60,000 or 90,000. “Why not?” may be the question. Is it the weather with a temperate winter climate and a few hot summer months that distracts people from cycling? Is it the cycling infrastructure in place, maybe just not appealing enough to motorists who could be the future cyclists? Is it the infrastructure or network design toolkits being used by the city? Is it the cycling network, maybe not extensive enough? Or, is it the role that cycling plays in the city’s urban form and urban land use, better referred to as densification?

Is there an appetite for more cycling within the city? .


1b The City of Vancouver with its 23,000 daily cyclists - Cycling traffic is growing but!

The City of Vancouver is a city where people live closer to their destinations. It is a city where car usage is declining with each year for almost the last two decades. It is a city where transit plays a dominant role and where bikes-on-transit is encouraged. It is a city where a new rapid transit line reaches its 3-year ridership forecast in 3 months. It is a city where single occupancy vehicles usage has dropped to 50% and to 30% in the downtown area. Transit usage across the city is at 17% and 30% in the downtown area. While the transit system has been expanding significantly, demand for transit continues to outstrip supply in peak periods. Cycling is a year round occurrence. The network is citywide where expansion will bring all residents within 500 metres or 5 blocks of a facility. The network consists of a backbone off-road seaside path and another path along a rail line. The paths are supplemented with an expansive network of neighbourhood cycling streets with very extensive traffic calming. Bike lanes are being expanded along with separated bike lanes. Increased cycling visibility at intersections is happening with coloured bike boxes that facilitate cycling turns. European cycling facility techniques are being introduced. With such measures applied to one of the four bridges leading to downtown, the cycling traffic has increased to 7,600 on peak days within 2 years of implementation. A basic off-road network designed for commuting, supplemented by a city-wide quiet, local cycling road network, expanding bike lanes using European techniques, targeted city densification direction, development bylaws requiring extensive indoor bike parking in residential buildings, and a viable cycling-friendly transit system facilitates the city to grow cycling.

Metro Vancouver is about 20 times larger than the city. Population is about 4 times larger. Densification is however less by 85%. Cycling in Metro is feasible supported by regional urban cores, rapid transit network, an extensive bus-transit system, and an expanding cycling network. However, cycling is happening at half the city's rate

So, what does a comparison to other cities lead to? Learning from the European cycling-active cities highlights physical separation, visibility of cyclists, intersection priority passage, wayfinding that overcomes navigation frustrations, trip time, transit integration, and cycling culture ingrained into cities’ daily lifestyle as key factors for cycling growth success. From comparing to other North American cities, separation of cyclists from motorists with a backbone network of off-road bike trails, an extensive cycling network, cycling integrated into land densification, and a service-extensive transit system that is cycling friendly are some of the key factors that lead to cycling growth. Marketing the images that driving is not the only way for a desirable lifestyle and that cycling and cycling-transit are socially acceptable alternatives also assists in cycling traffic growth.


1c Vancouver as a cycling city

As one tours cities with a bicycle in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australasia, one notices a variety of approaches towards providing cycling infrastructure to the locals. For some cities, cycling is an important option for travelling while in others the roads are not very conducive. However, each city makes a contribution towards an ideal cycling city. Each city has a layer of cycling infrastructure, network, or social marketing that should be in an ideal cycling city.

For Vancouver, the layers that stand out are:


• Density of cycling facilities within the core
• Extensiveness of cycling network
• Feeder network to transit stations
• Feeder network to schools (Needed)


• Network of bike trails along waterfront and a rail line
• Bike lanes on arterial streets
• Separated bike lanes on arterial streets and on bridges and viaducts
• Neighbourhood cycling streets with extensive application of traffic calming
• Intersection designs - identification of cyclists' presence, coloured bike boxes, European influence
• Cyclist-Activated traffic signals at intersection of local streets and arterial roads providing time efficient, safe crossing
• Extensive use of Traffic circles (small roundabouts) designs for reducing conflict and providing mini-parks, replacing 4-way and 2-way stop signs
• Combined Mobility of transit and cycling

City’s approach to cycling

• Active cycling advocacy providing social marketing
• Support for cycling education for children and adults
• Extensive bike parking requirements in apartment buildings, stipulated in bylaw




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