Bike fight.

barierSMI rode on part of the Dunsmuir buffered bike lane today on my way to work – it’s still blocked off with City of Vancouver barricades and signs, but there are some place where you can get through now and it’s a heck of a lot safer than driving alongside the cars who now only have two lanes and are acting a bit resentful for it. I suspect it will take a few months for everyone to calm down about the new lane and the new viaduct lane as well, but I’m hopeful that the more cycling infrastructure goes in, the more it’s accepted as just a regular part of road infrastructure in the city.

Since the city announcement a couple of weeks ago ($10 million dedicated to cycling infrastructure), the commentary sections of local news sites have been boiling with driver rage aimed at pretty much everyone – transit users, pedestrians and cyclists alike. Part of this seems to stem from a misconception that ICBC insurance money and licence fees have something to do with road upgrades and since cyclists (and pedestrians) aren’t licensed or insured we shouldn’t get any additional roads infrastructure like separated lanes or traffic calming. If only that were so! But the reality is, insurance is simply insurance and vehicle licensing only pays for itself (as a way to ensure driver’s have got the mandatory training and testing). It’s property taxes that pay for this stuff people! And every single resident in Vancouver pays either directly or indirectly into the property-tax pot (except for those unfortunate homeless).

Oh! But the angry drivers say. Not that many people are using the new Dunsmuir Viaduct lane now (three months after its opening) so there’s the proof it isn’t warranted. Not to mention the fact only 4% of all trips are done by cycle currently in the city – clearly no one wants to cycle so why put in infrastructure? Correct, it is a sad fact that only 4% of trips are done by cycle and the viaduct lane is not extensively used as it could be (owing the fact that it doesn’t connect up eastbound with anything which will be corrected with the new buffered lane)…. but those folks would have it so that we only design the city for how we currently use it, and *never* use design to encourage different uses. Which would be news to pretty much any urban planner out there. That’s part of the visioning process that happens before plans are laid down on paper: What are the values and goals of this project? And since Vancouver has committed itself to “greener” and Canada has committed itself to lowerng greenhouse gas emissions… Well, there is a point at which you have to start designing your streets to live up to your promises.

It’s weird too, this opposition to buffered lanes, because as a driver I also prefer clearly delineated bike lanes and bike boxes at the intersections which make cyclists more visible to me. I’m not sure why drivers would prefer to keep the current set up of cyclists crammed over the the right, or darting out to make a left turn unless they really enjoy that heart attack feeling of having almost hit someone because they didn’t see them until right at the last minute. It hasn’t happened to me for many years (because I am uber vigilant) but I certainly note times when a cyclist has come up beside my vehicle and is a bit of a surprise I might have missed if a little less cautious.

I’ve heard also, that there are also some cyclists out there who oppose these lanes because they feel that buffered lanes will simply increase driver anger at cyclists and lead to more confrontation. Those folks argue that the best way to decrease the danger of cycling is by educating drivers better on sharing the road with cyclists. Which of course I agree with! We should definitely educate everyone better on the rules of the road. However, it won’t work to decrease the frustration that one group feels with another – and that includes pedestrians.

Sad as I am to say this, I was reading recently about a psychological state (which I can not remember the name of) revolving around mode of transport and sense of entitlement. So if I am a pedestrian, that is the mode I am identifying with at the time I am a pedestrian and I will feel entitled to more privileges than drivers or riders. Same if I am a rider or a driver. My mode of transport actually defines my psychological relationship to others during the time I am traveling, and it would require some real repatterning of human thought in order to defy what seems to come very naturally to us – which is this identification of mode of transport. Add to that the very real life/death encounters that can happen in the course of travel and you’ve got a lot of adrenaline pumping by the time you’re actually face to face with someone (out of their car/off your bike)…. it’s not likely that anyone is going to come away from that sympathizing with the other.

So we’ve got this buit-in barrier to understanding, even as people who might switch modes of transport because our identification is largely in the present….

Whatever the arguments I know this is true for me: 1) I want to live in a city with less cars, particularly in the downtown peninsula, 2) I want to be treated with respect, particularly when I am the more vulnerable player in an exchange, 3) I pay a lot of property taxes and feel entitled to road services that I can use on a daily basis (as a transit user and cyclist primarily), 4) I am way, way more likely to cycle when I feel like the route is safe – and buffered lanes make me feel a lot safer in the downtown core.

So I’m supportive, and I wish the city would do just a little more to educate people about how these upgrade are paid for, the fact that people who cycle for a living (couriers) do have to be licensed already and that the cost of running an licensing/insurance program for daily riders would hardly ever be worth it since most damage is inflicted by vehicles, not the other way around. I also wish that every driver had to spend an afternoon riding a bike in traffic before they were allowed to pass their driving test. However, at the moment I’ll settle for the buffered bike lane – it’s almost finished and I can hardly wait!

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