That guy on the bike who I almost killed when I opened my car door? That girl with the purple hair pedalling so irritatingly slowly that I couldn’t pass her for two blocks? Or the couple riding side by side, talking to each other the whole time? Who the hell do they think they are?
That’s what I used to think. I used to be decidedly anti-bike. I’d look at the Birkenstock- and spandex-clad bikers with their fancy bicycle locks with disdain. When I saw them attaching their ratty bikes to beautiful café fences, I’d curse under my breath. But now, surprisingly, I’m part of the two-wheeled masses – and I’m discovering a new-found appreciation for this ancient mode of transportation.
It all started six weeks ago. Carey and I were having dinner at Tojo’s with our friends Bruno and Jane Wall. Bruno asked us to join them on a bike trip in France this fall. It’s been 10 years since I’ve had my own bike, but we agreed to go, and the following weekend I bought a Cannondale, a “city bike,” for our expedition. Since then I’ve been taking my bike out three to five times a week in preparation; as you’re reading this, the four of us will be traversing the Lohr Valley.
The “New Bob” – who, although he hasn’t given up the car, now occasionally rides his bike to dinner – got me thinking about how far the world has come with regard to bike attitudes. When Vancouver’s bike-lane trial started on the Burrard Street Bridge this past July, closing a lane of automotive traffic for bike use, there was a huge outcry; everyone said it would fail, as a similar experiment did over a decade ago. Yet this time around, the change has generated far less outrage than predicted. Drivers, it seems, are resigned to the new world order.
It’s all part of a trend, popularized in Europe and Asia and spreading to North America, to make it harder – not easier – to drive your car. Fewer car lanes and more bike lanes on major city thoroughfares, less downtown parking, more tolls on bridges and congestion charges for those driving into the downtown core. In fact, I can see a time, maybe only five years away, when Vancouver will introduce bar codes for our windshields, and each time a car passes a high-volume zone during peak times, you get charged. Bike lanes will seem quaint by then.
This all makes sense when you examine the various factors at play. The most obvious one is fuel: as prices continue to increase, more and more drivers will search for alternatives to the car. Then there’s the green factor: more bike lanes and fewer cars fits with our West Coast “enviro-friendly” image. Cities are also facing growing fiscal challenges, and user fees – such as toll bridges and congestion charges – make infinitely more political sense than increasing everybody’s taxes to cover deficits and pay for services. And, believe it or not, even the downtown real estate boom has helped speed the “de-autoization” of our cities. The cost of land has made it prohibitively expensive to build parking spaces downtown – over $45,000 for a stall on the lower levels of a new parkade – which is why you regularly see new multi-family projects going up without a full complement of parking. One project I worked on recently, the Capitol on Seymour Street in Vancouver, has 85 of its 334 condo units being delivered without stalls.
Yes, it’s true that wide-scale biking is only a real transportation solution for the dense urban environment. You need congestion and density to get you going green; nobody is talking about introducing bike lanes on agricultural land in the Fraser Valley. But with more than 80 per cent of Canada’s population now living in cities, and the percentage growing each year, we’re all going to have to get used to the idea of sharing our roads – and paying more for the “privilege” of doing so.