Vancouver Makes Cycling Safer for People of all Ages and Abilities

The number of bike trips in Vancouver increased over 40% soon after the implementation of the City’s Separated Bicycle Lanes Program, resulting in fewer commutes made by vehicles and lowered traffic related GHG emissions.

Success Story Snapshot

Energy Savings / GHG Reductions: number of trips made on bicycles increased over 40% over three years; number of cyclists is expected to increase with Transportation 2040 goal.
Business case: Improved bicycle infrastructure can increase local business revenue and attract international markets; generally less costly to build and maintain cycling infrastructure than roads for motorized vehicles. 
Co-benefits: Reduced air pollution and GHG emissions, number of motor vehicle-bicycle collisions dropping (17%); increased physical activity resulting in mental and physical well-being can decrease burden on health care system.
Total project cost: The City invested $4.1 million for the construction of the separated bicycle lanes within the first two years of the project, including monitoring work done between 2009 and 2011.

Project Summary

The City of Vancouver launched a Separated Bicycle Lanes (SBL) Program in 2009 with construction of a major cycle track on a high-traffic city bridge — the Burrard Bridge cycle track.

The City opened three more separated bike tracks by the end of 2010. The three tracks (the Dunsmuir Viaduct, Dunsmuir Street and Hornby Street) together connecting the Vancouver’s west side through the downtown to east Vancouver. Since then, citywide cycling ridership has grown over 40% while collision rates between cyclists and vehicles have fallen.

Safety was indicated as one of the biggest barriers to cycling in Metro Vancouver, based on a UBC study. This barrier influenced the design decisions when designing the cycle tracks. The City implemented both one-way and two-way separated bike-lanes. Availability of space was a factor in whether one-way or two-way lanes were built with a strong preference for one-way facilities on streets with two-way motor vehicle traffic.

Before constructing the Dunsmuir Street track, the City analyzed and tested three different types of barriers between the track and traffic. The three barriers were a row of planters, a concrete median with bike parking, and a row of parked vehicles. They found the cost of bike lane construction was less for sections that were protected by parked cars. These sections also worked best with one-way bicycle traffic. Bike lanes separated from traffic with a physical barrier create safer cycling conditions and increase comfort level for people of all ages and abilities.

Other improvements to cycling infrastructure include:

  • highlighting potential conflict zones with paint and pavement markings;
  • designing safer intersections and crossings with improved visibility;
  • addressing potential conflicts through turn restrictions and signal priority;
  • using painted bike boxes to facilitate turn movements;
  • addressing ‘dooring’ concerns with a buffer space between parking cars and the bike lane; and
  • designing for safe, accessible transit stops with level treatments and space for lining up in the buffer space between the bike and motor vehicle lanes.

Encouraged by this initial success, the City expanded its efforts and defined new cycling goals in the Transportation 2040 Plan. The Plan also directly supports the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan. goal to have the majority of trips in Vancouver be by transit or active transportation modes.

Actions set in the new Transportation 2040 Plan (for example, to achieve the target of having two thirds of all trips be by alternative transportation) will greatly expand active transportation options in Vancouver. Expansion will provide healthier alternatives to commuting by vehicle and help reduce amount of air pollution.

The City is moving forward and will add a host of new or improved cycling facilities including upgrades to the busy Adanac Bikeway, a Canada Line bridge connection in South Vancouver, and improvements to the north end of the Cambie Bridge.   

An even more ambitious target was set in the Transportation 2040 Plan to have cycling, walking and transit account for two thirds of trips in Vancouver by 2040. 

Energy Savings/GHG Reductions

Cycling is estimated to be the fastest growing mode of transportation in Vancouver. Within three years of installing the first separated cycle lane in the city, the number of trips made on bicycles increased over 40%. Cycling ridership continues to increase city-wide and on individual corridors.

Vancouver’s overall cycling mode shares compare favourably across North America, typically ranking around the top three. Increase in the number of commutes by cycling contributes to lower GHG emissions due to fewer trips made by vehicles and shortened time it takes for vehicle travel.

Even more ambitious target was set in the Transportation 2040 Plan to have cycling, walking and transit account for two thirds of trips in Vancouver by 2040.  

Business Case

Since the program’s implementation the number of bike trips was on the rise while number of collisions started declining. Within less than a year of opening the Dunsmuir lane ICBC recorded a drop of 18% of all collisions. The Bicyclists' Injuries & the Cycling Environment, a study by the UBC Cycling in Cities research program suggests that cycle tracks result in a nearly 10-fold reduction in cycling collisions, compared to major streets without bicycle facilities. This reduces stress on emergency services and health care.

Co-Benefits

Lifestyle: By encouraging active transportation, the City supports healthier and more affordable lifestyles, improved mental health, decreased injury rate and obesity—which all contribute towards reduced long-term burden on health care system. Bicycle and pedestrian oriented development helps create cohesive, vibrant communities with improved social interaction. Studies related to these co-benefits can be found on the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Medicine website.

Safety: Pedestrians have more room to walk because of the bike lanes. The bike lanes act as a buffer between the sidewalk and car traffic helping to reduce incidences of people cycling on the sidewalk.  Since cycle track installation, number of cyclists using sidewalks on Hornby Street dropped by 80%. The bike lanes also create space for some street furniture (such as bike racks) to be relocated into the buffer space between the bike and motor vehicle lanes leaving more space on the sidewalk.

Economic: There are financial benefits for local business—surveys show that people who cycle often have more disposable income than drivers, are more likely to shop locally, and tend to spend more money over the course of more frequent shopping trips. In addition, the cost of building cycling infrastructure can be less than building infrastructure for automobiles.

Lessons Learned

A robust monitoring program is important. Many cycling infrastructure projects require road space reallocation of some kind, often from general traffic or parking lanes and may use traffic calming or diversion tactics to reduce motor vehicle traffic and speeds. With these changes, concerns may be raised about loss of parking, increased travel times for motor vehicle traffic, or more congestion.

Data collection and monitoring can provide real evidence to dispel some of these concerns, communicate tangible benefits, and even help improve performance after projects are built. The City regularly measures things like parking availability, collision rates, traffic volumes for all modes, and travel times. Thus far, the projects that have been built have increased cycling ridership and safety without significant congestion or travel time impacts.

Other Examples: 

Find links to several active transportation strategies and plans on the Transportation Choices for Reduced Emissions page under the “HOW” tab  — with several Community Examples including:

  • Terrace's Active Transportation strategy
  • Prince George's Active Transportation plan
  • Kimberley to Cranbrook Northstar Rails to Trails plan
  • North Cowichan Active Transportation Strategy
  • District of Saanich Active Transportation Infrastructure Program
  • Regional District of Nanaimo Active Transportation Plan
  • City of Vancouver Transportation 2040 Plan

Watch “Introducing the Dunsmuir Separated Bike Lane” to see examples of the three different bike lane barrier designs described in this Success Story as well as footage of Vancouver's right turn signage, bike boxes and bike lane bus shelter design .

Contact: 
Dale Bracewell, Manager, Active Transportation, City of Vancouver 604-871-6440 dale.bracewell[at]vancouver.ca