Opinion Column

Pushing to revamp B.C. Motor Vehicle Act a good idea

By Steve Burgess

Women cycle around the Seawall along False Creek in Vancouver on June 9, 2013. (Carmine Marinelli/Postmedia Network/Files)

Women cycle around the Seawall along False Creek in Vancouver on June 9, 2013. (Carmine Marinelli/Postmedia Network/Files)

I hate fighting traffic. It's not usually a problem in January — in the winter I sometimes have the bike path to myself. These days though, you almost need a passing lane on the English Bay seawall.

I know, I know — cry me a river, motorists say. There is a strongly-held belief among local owners of internal combustion engines that the current Vancouver civic administration favours the cycling minority over the motoring majority. All these bike lanes, they complain, just for a few fanatics and fair-weather cyclists while the rest of us sit backed up on Burrard Bridge with climate-change-inducing smoke coming out of our ears. And it is true that Vancouver is following the mantra of the late W.P. Kinsella: if you build the bike lanes, they will ride.

Whether bikes will ever rival motor vehicles as a means of commuting is a matter for debate. But in the meantime a coalition calling itself the Road Safety Law Reform Group is pushing for a revamp of the 60-year-old B.C. Motor Vehicle Act. For one thing, they point out, the name of the act tells you a lot — it needs to be about more than just things that go vroom.

For instance, did you know it is not currently legal for bikes to pass cars on the right? Motorists often complain (justifiably) that cyclists don't obey the laws. But just imagine if cyclists started obeying that one — every bike along the centre line, passing slow-moving vehicle traffic. There would be bloodshed.

It's a difficult truth, but in some ways bikes and cars are fundamentally incompatible. We can't behave the same way. It's why bike lanes are a good idea. But it also means that sometimes things proceed more smoothly when cyclists break the law, if only to get out of the way. Reckless sidewalk cycling can be a problem, but in some places riding on the sidewalk makes things better for everybody. And there are times when I will run a red light because if I wait for the green I will hold up the vehicle traffic that is waiting to turn left. If I get out of the way first, everything moves more quickly.

Meanwhile the best thing we can do is dial down the rage on both sides. It's true that cyclists are in greater danger from motorists than vice versa, but I see a lot of self-righteous anger from cyclists that helps no one. Not every driver who makes a mistake deserves to be screamed at. We're all just trying to get somewhere.