A plan to create dedicated bike lanes along Columbia Street near the heart of Vancouver — and to remove parking spaces — is overly ambitious and should be reconsidered.
The Vancouver City Council is moving forward with a proposal to create protected lanes in both directions along Columbia from Eighth Street to 13th Street and from Mill Plain Boulevard to 45th Street. Between 13th Street and Mill Plain — a one-block stretch — there would be a protected northbound bike lane and a marked southbound lane shared by bicyclists and motorists.
The bike lanes would extend from Esther Short Park to essentially the end of Columbia Street, about 20 blocks north of Fourth Plain Boulevard.
While leaders here and elsewhere should be seeking ways to accommodate alternative modes of travel and to facilitate a reduction in vehicle use, problems persist with this proposal:
• The most common complaint involves the removal of nearly 400 parking spaces. Columbia Street north of Fourth Plain is a residential area, where single-family homes often are not equipped with a driveway or a garage. This requires on-street parking for local residents. To the south is a commercial district, where business owners have stressed the need for customers to have on-street parking. Until city officials devise a viable alternative to the removal of parking spaces, the plan should be tabled.
• The scope of the plan is too extensive. Instead of starting with a heavily traveled arterial, planners should begin with a less-disruptive proposal on a side street and gauge the impact to traffic flow and local residents and businesses. Instead of starting with a 2-mile stretch of road that covers nearly 40 blocks, they should begin with a shorter area.
• With Columbia being a heavily traveled street, at least south of Fourth Plain, innovative plans will be required to reduce turns to and from cross streets. Increased bicycle traffic through the area will increase the danger posed by vehicles merging onto Columbia.
Overall, the presentation of the proposal as a binary choice is shortsighted. During a lengthy public discussion Monday, City Councilor Erik Paulsen said, “This, to me, comes down to a choice between safety and parking. When it comes to that, safety is always going to win for me.” The two factors, however, are not mutually exclusive. Moving cyclists away from a heavily traveled street is the best way to enhance safety.
In a perfect world, if a city could be started from scratch, it would be unrecognizable to the modern eye. We would never put heavy industry along a waterfront near the heart of the city; we would start with development like The Waterfront Vancouver. And we would have streets exclusively for bikes and other alternative transportation rather than having that transportation mingle with cars, trucks and buses.
Alas, cities are not created that way. They are an amalgamation of ideas forged to meet the needs of a particular time in history.
That leaves city councilors in a difficult position. Councilor Ty Stober said, “Ultimately, sacrifice is required. Very tangible losses for few in exchange for very disbursed gains for many. It’s a very hard pill to swallow.”
Indeed. The difficulty is that dedicated bike lanes would amount to disbursed gains for few. As much as we would wish otherwise, a vast majority of residents are going to travel Columbia Street by car rather than by bike.
The city council should act with that in mind.