Canadian Bikin’: Lessons From Vancouver


Vancouver is often listed in the top ten as one of the most livable cities in the world. Prior to arriving in Vancouver, I hadn’t done much pre-trip research about what to see and do or the environment for bicycling. To say that I was “pleasantly surprised” would be a drastic understatement. Upon returning to Utah, I mentioned to a friend, “it’s the closest you can get to having a European bicycle riding experience in North America.”

Of all the things bicycle-related that I saw and experienced in Vancouver, I have distilled them down into three major themes:

Make it Safe

Vancouver has truly created a low-stress bicycle network that anyone from 8 years old to 80 years old can take advantage of. The vast majority of their infrastructure is made up of protected bicycle lanes, bicycle boulevards, and multi-use pathways. In addition to separating cars and bicycles, Vancouver has also made every effort to separate people on bicycle from pedestrians. Most of the multiuse pathways have dedicated lanes for both users, which helps to improve flow and increases safety.

Make it Easy

Creating a bicycle network that is easy can refer to two things. First, it should allow anyone to get from Point A to Point B without having to look at a map or ask directions and without unintentionally getting off of their desired route. Second, making an easy network means that bicycling is the easiest and fastest way to get around. Again, Vancouver has both of these areas covered. Wayfinding throughout the city is top notch and on virtually every street and path. Even the street signs have a symbol indicating if that particular street contains bicycle infrastructure. In terms of making it the easiest and fastest way to get around, Vancouver has employed vehicle diverters on many streets. However, at these junctions, people on bicycle are still able to pass through the intersection. These diverters have multiple positive impacts: slower vehicle speeds; lower traffic volumes; and it makes the bicycle more competitive when it comes to travel time.

Make it Quantifiable

I can easily say that, in two days of riding, I crossed more bicycle counters in Vancouver than I have over the course of the rest of my life combined. Every path and bike lane seemed to have counters installed at half-mile to one-mile intervals. Most of the counters were loops installed into the pavement; a few had displays that showed how many bicyclists had crossed that location during the day; and many of them also had a secondary tube counter to verify that the loops were getting accurate counts.

The counts are great to have in their own right to show the widespread use of their infrastructure. However, the true benefit of having such a widespread system is that it allows the jurisdiction that oversees the bicycle infrastructure to determine the impact of changes and how bicycle infrastructure can maximize usage. Similar concepts have been applied to motor vehicles for decades and it necessary to start utilizing data-driven decision making as it applies to bicycle infrastructure.

Is it Working?

One of the sessions I attended at the conference was by a staff member from the Vancouver City Planning Office. Through their Greenest City Action Plan, Vancouver set a goal of over 50% of trips by bicycling, walking, and public transit by 2020. As of April 2015 they had already attained this goal and were on their way to the next goal of 2/3 of their trips by 2040. All in all, Vancouver is setting the standard for what it means to be a bicycle friendly city.

Phil Sarnoff