Efforts to reduce traffic, encourage alternative transportation and improve safety on the roads should be rooted in reality.
Instead, the Vancouver City Council has pushed ahead with a plan for Columbia Street that is based on ideology and inaccurately weighs the benefits and drawbacks. Council members agreed last week to replace street parking with bike lanes along Columbia from Mill Plain Boulevard to Northwest 45th Street. The vote was 6-1, with Bart Hansen in opposition.
The change will remove about 400 on-street parking spots through neighborhoods where garages and driveways are infrequent. Many residents have opposed the plan during previous discussions, arguing that they will have to park around the corner on a side street and walk to their homes. Business owners also have expressed concern, saying the proposal will limit customer access.
Of course, any meaningful government proposal is going to generate differing opinions. Elected officials often have to make difficult decisions that are bound to create pushback. But in approving the repaving plan for Columbia Street, council members have miscalculated.
Last year, in support of the proposal, Councilor Ty Stober said, “Ultimately, sacrifice is required. Very tangible losses for few in exchange for very dispersed gains for many. It’s a very hard pill to swallow.”
This overestimates the number of residents who will benefit from bike lanes, and it echoes a passage from the city’s 2016 Westside Mobility Project report: “There are many westside residents that would ride more often if there was more convenient and safe access to Vancouver’s low-stress bike facilities. … These people — known as the ‘interested, but concerned’ cohort in research on bicycling behavior — represent 60 percent of the average urban population.”
Three surveys from August and September 2018 counted an average of 62 bicyclists at Columbia and 39th streets from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; any suggestion that 60 percent of residents would ride bikes to work or the grocery store or for recreation is devoid from reality. As The Columbian wrote editorially in 2019: “Think about the people in your office; how many of them would ever commute to work on a bike? Now add in your neighbors and your Aunt Mable and Uncle Roy. Can you picture them using a bike to get to the grocery store or the weekly bridge game?”
In February 2020, councilors had decided to move forward with the plan, citing high vehicle-pedestrian and vehicle-cyclist collision rates in the city. Months later the proposal was tabled, after the coronavirus pandemic and a voter-approved initiative restricting car tab fees (since overturned by the courts) cut into the city’s transportation budget.
The proposal was recently revived, with councilors approving the bike lanes in April and awarding a paving contract last week.
The goals are admirable. Access for alternative transportation is important for a thriving city, helping to reduce carbon emissions and improving safety for both bicyclists and motorists. And Vancouver’s Westside Mobility Project is an ambitious proposal with many benefits to help move the city toward the future.
Those ambitions should not be painted as cars vs. bicycles. There is room for all means of transportation, and it is the job of the city council to strike a balance that makes the city more livable for all residents.
But a clear-eyed analysis of the bike-lane proposal for Columbia Street indicates that keeping on-street parking will provide the most benefits.