Biking Vancouver Part 1: A Model for LA

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Traveling to Vancouver was supposed to be a pleasant reprieve in this busy year of mine, but my experience came out the opposite.

It has been six years since I had visited Vancouver and much has changed.

This visit with my wife was about catching up with relatives at a family wedding, but I also took an opportunity to rent a bike in the AM hours when Mrs. CV tends to sleep in.



One of the biggest differences between trips is that I wasn’t into cycling as much then and my eye for how a city should function skewed a different way.

From a Vancouver perspective, the city wasn’t as far along as it is now with it’s cycling infrastructure when I was on that trip.

For this visit, I kept my expectations down partially because the bar is so low in LA and in the advocacy world, it’s almost you’re either Copenhagen or you’re not.

In the end, Vancouver left me depressed.

Not because I was disappointed in what I saw, but that Los Angeles has far to go to reach this level of functionality.

 

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To save a few bucks, the wife and I flew into Seattle and made the three hour drive up to the Great White North.

As we approached Vancouver’s outskirts, I could see clues that there was care towards cyclists.

Many signs referenced bicycles whether there was infrastructure or not, like how a bike should cross a train track.

 

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Bikes go here.

 

Even if you didn’t see a cyclist, you were definitely put into a position to be aware of their presence.

We made our way towards downtown on one of the city’s few major north / south arteries.

What’s unique about Vancouver is that there are no freeways that lead into its urban core.

The Trans-Canada Highway loops around, but even cyclists are welcome on most portions of it.

The street we were on shifted from three lanes to two as we got closer to downtown, but they felt different than the roads I was used to.

It was almost like I was in another country!

While there were no bike lanes on this street and traffic was moving fast enough that cycling may feel uncomfortable, you can’t miss the number of street signs on cross streets with bicycles on them.

 

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Be ready for bikes.

 

I didn’t have to guess hard, but these signified bike boulevards that acted as throughways on what were mostly residential streets.

This is a concept that I thought wouldn’t work here, but my view was changed by seeing it executed firsthand.

If you take the side streets in LA, you’re faced with a lot of stop signs and traffic signals that take ages to change.



In Vancouver, most of these routes you could travel unencumbered, sometimes even aided with street architecture aimed at slowing down vehicles, but not bikes.

On a couple of these streets, I noticed they added raised bikes lanes which were basically extensions of the previous curb line.

I imagine the space these lanes previously occupied were reserved for cars, so if something like this was tried in LA, people’s heads would explode!

 

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Angelenos: Let me introduce you to a raised bike lane!

 

When we drove past these intersections, many of the traffic signals blinked green.

I had a hard time having any of my relatives explain this properly, but this meant to “go”, but be prepared for the signal to switch to yellow at any moment.

Any pedestrian or cyclist that pressed the crossing button would get an almost instantaneous reaction for the signal to change.

 

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Notice the placement of the crossing button for bikes.

 

Compare this to the Orange Line Bike Path where not only does it take a long time to get a walk signal after pressing the “beg button”, but BRT buses have to wait their turn as well.

Furthermore, there was a second button placed on the near poll meant to accommodate cyclists instead of having to ride up onto the sidewalk like we do in LA.

Already impressed, I was more taken back as we entered downtown.

Coming up the Dunsmuir Viaduct, we were flanked on our right by two-way protected bike lanes which were obviously not part of the original plan.

 

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The protected bike lanes on Dunsmuir used to be for cars.

 

This separated piece of infrastructure had a number of cyclists riding in and out of town from hardcore roadies to business attire commuters.

As we approached the end of this incline, there was a perfectly placed bike share station with people checking out and returning bikes.

I’m in Vancouver for only 15 minutes and there’s so much bike activity, I start to think that someone hired extras like the Truman Show.

It didn’t stop there.

 

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From the look of things, bikes get respect.

 

Where the protected lane ended, there was paint.

Not just a little, but a lot of that lovely green paint helping place cyclists ahead of turns and delineating the roadway which we’re so often denied in Los Angeles.

The funny thing about Vancouver is that there is quite a bit of filming going on there too, but you don’t hear them complain about bike lanes.

 

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Right behind this film shoot was a green bike lane.

 

Before heading to our hotel, I had the wife drop me off at Reckless Bike Shop on Davie St. to pick up the road bike I rented for the weekend.

While they had a number of employees, the place was really buzzing with customers and it took me awhile to get tended to.

There were just a lot of people renting bikes which was the norm at any bike shop I went by in the downtown area.

 

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Reckless Bike Shop with a reckless amount of customers.

I wasn’t sure which day I’d return the bike, so when I asked the clerk if they were closed any days, his response was, “and turn away any of this business?”

My wife drove the car to the hotel leaving me go find it by bike.

I looked at the map enough to know generally where I was supposed to go, but I pushed for this inaccuracy on purpose to get lost a little bit.

While I’m normally a bit nervous adapting to the vibe biking in a new city, Vancouver made me feel like I could ride with few restrictions.

Riding on a network of protected bike lanes was fun, but sometimes intersections bottlenecked with cyclists which was far less stressful than being stuck in ones with a bunch of cars.

 

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Protected protection!

 

When I found my way onto streets with no bike infrastructure, drivers would give me space.

Being a bit lost, I kept backtracking and trying new streets, but even then, I passed my wife driving to the hotel.

 

I wandered onto Granville Street which is a major thoroughfare and also is one of the few streets that bridges over the water.

It was filled with a Anywhere Main Street type of vibe lined with stores and people shopping, but at a certain point, the roadway prohibited regular vehicular traffic with transit buses being the only exception.

 

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Granville St.: Main Street Anywhere without cars!

 

This was a convenient way for me to cut through the city, but the real winners were the bus riders who were making up serious time on other drivers trying to move through downtown.

Local note: I would bet a concept like this would be a real winner in DTLA if they applied this to Broadway and 7th Street.

You’ll be sad to hear that my wife beat me to our hotel, but looking at my Strava, I probably covered 3x the distance with all my extra exploring.

 

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Lions Gate Bridge. Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Don’l look down.

 

The next morning, I got out for a ride heading north (covered more in Part 2) meaning I had to cross the Lions Gate Bridge into North Van.

I could have preceded straight across this mile long span, but I thought I’d roll around Stanley Park to start.

On an early Satuday morning, it was all cyclists taking the road with a variety of riders keeping to their own pace.

 

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Stanley Park

 

The park isn’t just rich in coastline and tall, forested beauty, but also hosts a number of recreation and cultural amenities that could keep you occupied for days.

Of course, if you wanted the privilege to park your car here, it was costly to do so.

The bridge itself had protected lanes on both sides that you shared with pedestrians, which were few because of the span’s length.

It’s a little scary looking hundreds of feet below, but I didn’t fear falling over even when I rode over the few bumps you have to negotiate.

One thing I didn’t notice until the ride back was the series of bike triggered signals.

 

Bike signal trigger!!!!!

 

As I approached these crossings, my bike would set of a sensor about 100 feet away and the sign ahead would start blinking alerting drivers that I was coming.

Pretty neat.

On top of riding the mountains, I made sure to wander around and take in as much as I could on two wheels.

No matter where I rode, I didn’t feel the same trepidation I do about getting hit by a car like I do in new cities, let alone like some streets in LA.

 

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My take away from this trip is that there is a certain approach we should be replicating in LA.

There’s always talk about trying to become the next Copenhagen or Amsterdam, but to get to that level, something has to happen out of cycling advocacy’s control, like $50 a gallon gas.

Vancouver is a model Los Angeles should aim for, but I question how we would get there.

Like most other cities, there is always a fair amount of pushback when these types of improvements are added and LA might be on the extreme side of this type of hate.

 

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Ah. A piece of Los Angeles in Vancouver…

 

One thing I know is if you build a network of effective and connected biking and walking infrastructure, people will use it.

You can already see the benefits in Santa Monica which has embraced bike lanes, scramble intersections, bike share and connections to mass transit.

Still, the amount of anger we see from people here when you take away a lane of traffic even when the time difference is nominal is downright scary.

If you’re a person who’s walking, biking or even driving, you travel in constant fear of being harassed by another driver if you slow their progress in any form.

What other interaction is there in life that even matches this level of rage?

In Vancouver, I felt like my life was respected no matter what mode I was traveling by.

Part of attaining this narrative is prioritizing safety for everyone.

You cannot get the respect from drivers when streets are built to maximize speed.

The odd part we forget in LA is that we are all ultimately pedestrians and we should be working our way up.

I really hope that in another twenty years, we can get to where Vancouver is now, but how far ahead of us will they be by then?

  • Walt Arrrrr

    Fantastic post! I came away with the same depressive feelings after a bike-centric trip to Vancouver this past Spring. Los Angeles is a wasteland of auto-centricity when compared to what seems like every other major city on the west coast of North America. Our complacency with dumb and dangerous streets in Los Angeles is pathetic. Here we have to fight for the simplest lines on the street, while cities like YVR are leaving L.A. behind with considerations for non-drivers in every street project. My advice: If you want to love Los Angeles, don’t ever leave it. The perspective you gain may break your heart.

    • I was there at the beginning of the month, so some of my anger has worn off. Still, it gives me a different perspective on how we need more than just bike lanes to address this dilemma.

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  • All the improvements you saw in the city center are perported to have cost around $10M by reputable estimates.

    Meanwhile in Los Angeles County, the recently built ramp connecting SB I-605 to EB I-10 cost $66M