If Vancouver builds a bike lane and nobody seems to care, can it still be an election issue?

Another year, and another proposal for a separated bike lane passes at Vancouver city council. But this isn't just any year: it's an election year, which means that routine matters that barely attract any attention can now prompt a political call to arms.

NPA Coun. George Affleck says opposition to bike lanes is about opposition to Vision and need for due process

Separated bike lanes are plentiful in Vancouver, a city with one of the highest number of cyclists in North America. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Another year, and another proposal for a separated bike lane passes at Vancouver city council.

But this isn't just any year: it's an election year, which means that routine matters that barely attract any attention in council chambers can now prompt a political call to arms. 

On Wednesday night, the majority of councillors voted to approve a pilot project for a separated bike lane on the Cambie Bridge.

The votes clearly were drawn along party lines, with Vision and the city's lone Green councillor approving it, and the three opposing NPA councillors opposing it. 

NPA Coun. George Affleck says it was the $600,000 price tag of the project that compelled him to vote against the bike lane, which will cause car commuters to lose a southbound lane of traffic to make way for cyclists. 

Two-wheeled travellers already have access to a large sidewalk that they share with pedestrians on the east side of the bridge. But a staff report said the space had become too crowded and is causing increased injuries.

"We could have simply painted a line down a very large sidewalk that already exists and solve the safety issue by next week," Affleck said. 

Rather than build the temporary bike lane, Affleck would have preferred to see other options that wouldn't restrict car traffic — such as a cantilevered bridge similar to the one that crosses into Richmond. 

But his motion was shot down, he says. 

"It's not about the bike lane," Affleck said of his vote. "It's about arrogance and the way Vision manages the city and rules in a way that I think is against what is democratic."

 

But Vision Coun. Heather Deal says separated bike lanes just aren't the wedge issue they once were. 

"The NPA seems to be absolutely bent on making this as political as possible," Deal said. "The NPA is simply stuck in time and is finding reasons to support that."

'They've given up'

When the city built the separated bike lane on Hornby Street in downtown Vancouver in 2010, dozens of people appeared at council to express their horror at the prospect. At open-house discussions, tempers flared. 

One of the most vocal groups comprised local merchants, who argued their patrons would no longer visit their establishments if they couldn't take advantage of the street parking.

And in 2013, many residents voiced their opposition to the Point Grey bike lane.

A new separated bike lane in Vancouver in 2010 caused quite a stir. 1:51

But this week only three people showed up to address council about the Cambie Bridge bike lane proposal: the chair of the city's active transportation council and two members of cycling advocacy organization HUB. 

NPA Coun. Melissa DeGenova posted a tweet earlier in the day to encourage those opposed to speak out. 

Her tweet garnered 202 responses at the time of writing this article — most of them supporting the bike lane. 

By comparison, earlier this week 72 people signed up to speak out against the rezoning application for a social housing project at 58 West Hastings. 

Affleck says citizens have become cynical about the political process. 

"[Voters] have given up. They don't trust Vision Vancouver and they don't trust how they govern," he said.

'The debate's over'

Former NPA councillor Peter Ladner agrees that bike lanes no longer cause the same friction.

"I think the debate's over," he said. "There were very irrational fears and I think a lot of those have been put to rest."

Ladner points to the fact that the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association now has fully embraced cycling and separated bike lanes.

Still, he doesn't doubt that there are still many people who are against bike lanes. 

"For some people any bike lane anywhere is a personal insult to their rights as a motorist. And to those people it will always be an issue," he said.

What remains to be seen is how many people will vote with that in mind this October. 

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.