Opinion Column

When it comes to bike culture, we can learn from Europe

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver

A cyclist using the designated bicycle lane which is separated from vehicle traffic in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Getty Images)

A cyclist using the designated bicycle lane which is separated from vehicle traffic in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Getty Images)

I’m currently spending a few weeks in Europe and have been struck by how different the bicycle culture is here from that in Vancouver.

If you ride in Vancouver’s street-side bike lanes, you’ll see how similar the cyclists look to each other. Most are Spandex-clad young professionals and strong advocates of cycling as a way of life.

They are part of what you might call a sub-culture. In Europe, by contrast, bicyclists are both young and old, dressed diversely and you get the sense that many of them cycle simply because it’s the fastest and most convenient way to get where they need to go.

The City of Portland examined this phenomenon and commissioned a study through which Robert Geller identified something that he called the spectrum of cyclists. Geller found 0.5 per cent of Portland cyclists fell into the “strong and fearless” category and would cycle through poor weather and busy traffic conditions because they felt that cycling was a part of their identity.

Seven per cent fell into the “enthused and confident” category meaning they cycle often but stick to side streets or cycling infrastructure. Sixty per cent – the largest group - fell into the “interested but concerned” category.

This group is interested in cycling but stopped by barriers such as safety and access to convenient bike routes. The remaining group, 33 per cent, is the “no way no how” group, who are opposed to riding a bike as a form of transportation and say that nothing will change their minds.

I would guess Vancouverites would fall into quite similar categories, but the bike lane debate so far has been painted as a conflict between the small groups on both extreme ends of the spectrum.

In Europe, many bike lanes are separated from major roadways and run parks or alongside sidewalks. This makes it much easier and safer for families to travel by bike and also making the whole experience more pleasant for cyclists.

However, to date, the City of Vancouver has been fixated on building bike lanes roadside, where they mostly appeal to that very small group of “strong and fearless” cyclists. City staff even agrees.

According to the Transportation 2040 plan, “ In the past, we have mostly built facilities that appeal to people who are already comfortable riding in traffic. To reach more people, efforts must be made to make cycling appeal to a wider audience. This includes building routes that are comfortable for everyone, including children, the elderly, and novice cyclists.”

This needs to change for us to be able to justify the tax dollars spent on cycling infrastructure. Instead of building bike lanes for the 0.5 per cent, let’s talk to the 60.