Via Kent Lundberg:

Complete Street on Commercial Drive? Preliminary Report


In an effort to support a complete street on Commercial Drive, we spent September and October conducting activity observations. To gauge the impact of a separated cycling lane on Commercial Drive, we looked to Union Street as a precedent due to its similar mix of commercial and residential activity.
Our main finding is that people experience most of their time on Commercial Drive as a pedestrian, including people that drive and park. When compared with Commercial Drive, Union Street moves four times the number of people cycling but maintains the same proportion (%) of people shopping and staying. Union Street is also able to support its businesses with one-fifth of Commercial Drive’s vehicular traffic.
We also documented some of this activity through simple timelapse videos.


Union and Main – Time-lapse #1


Commercial Drive and 3rd


Our preliminary findings and data have been published in a short four-page report:
 Slow Streets – Commercial Drive Preliminary Report


  1. I lean heavily to the side of pro-bike and separated lanes. However in this instance I am quite skeptical. I would like to see a cross-section of the alignment that you are proposing, and how it fits into overall traffic patterns, to help me understand.
    I don’t know if Union is an appropriate comparable. It is a much shorter stretch, essentially a single-loaded, single block adjacent to Main Street and Chinatown in a newly-developing high-density area and is single-loaded. Matter of fact I’m positive it’s not an appropriate comparable. The day Commercial Drive is surrounded by midrise towers is the day that a bike lane wouldn’t have a negative effect on the viability of the retail space (and yes, I’d love to see Commercial Drive surrounded by midrise towers, at least at certain nodes).
    Rather than a tight street like Commercial, why don’t we try it first on a street that has more room, like Kingsway? Now there’s a street that needs some thoughtful design.
    Integrating a bike lane into a high street without negatively impacting the value of the streetfront retail is a huge challenge that has to be handled very delicately from a design standpoint. The devil is in the details, as always. I remain very skeptical.

    1. Why would bike lanes negatively impact streetfront retail? People are people, regardless of how many wheels they’re on.
      And there are examples all around the world showing how bike lanes can improve business for retailers.

    2. Very valid points, Richard. I agree about the somewhat poor choice of precedent. Most people wouldn’t think of that one block of Union as a useful reference for most shopping streets in the city.
      An 80 foot wide right of way can achieve some kind of (marginally adequate?) bike facility plus transit plus parking on both sides. Main Street south of 18th Avenue is the closest local 80′ example I can think of. And I understand that bikers aren’t too happy with it. But it has an incredible level of transit and range of shops, shoppers and visitors who enjoy it. A 66′ wide street – as is Commercial Drive north of 1st Avenue – can’t possibly achieve all these uses without serious compromise of the transit and moving traffic function. And that the one section that most people like as it already is.
      As to Augustin’s “why not” point, most merchants I have worked with – including the Commercial Drive BIA, BTW – would rather lose a limb than a parking spot. None ever suggest losing their parking. They may be right, they may not. But leaving them and their concerns out of the equation will certainly not help achieve the intended goals.

      1. Frank, not too long ago, most bar owners would rather have lost a limb than prohibit smoking in their establishments. What do they think now?
        I don’t understand your attitude that we should do whatever the business owners want, regardless of whether they are right. Why is their opinion more valid than others’?
        Also, you need to understand that disagreeing with someone, or even doing something they don’t agree with, doesn’t mean their concerns are being left out of the equation. It just means they’re not getting their way.
        By the way, I have talked to business owners (in Calgary, not in progressive Vancouver, mind you) that would rather have a bike lane than car parking in front of their businesses.

        1. I said most merchants, and they have to be included as key stakeholders in the process. Also don’t try to paint me into a corner, please. (I’ve never smoked, if that makes any difference in the present discussion!)

        2. I don’t understand this response. It seems like a complete non-sequitur to me. I know you said most merchants, I don’t understand what you mean by painting you into a corner, and I don’t see how it could make any difference to the discussion whether you’ve ever smoked.
          Can you try again?

    3. Union is not a perfect comparison, but probably the best available. It makes less sense to compare Commercial to a downtown street. There aren’t any other separated bike lanes on shopping streets in Vancouver.

    4. I remember the City announcing three routes which were Point Grey/Cornwall, Kingsway and Commercial Drive to be AAA routes.
      One of these has been done (and is very popular) and now there’s the other two. It doesn’t matter to me which is first. Kingsway is so long that it would take awhile to do it all but it’s so wide that it might not even be noticed by most driving down it that anything was added to it.
      It’s nice to see that people in The Drive community are getting together to work out all the details and get all voices heard and included before the city even gets to this. By the time that happens they will know a lot about what they want and don’t want.

      1. Problem with Kingsway is its a Provincial highway so I doubt the Liberals would allow cycle lanes to “disturb” the flow of traffic. Main Street has plenty of room for a road diet and cycle lanes, challenge is north of Kingsway it is a Provincial Highway so again the challenge of dealing with the Province.

  2. It is important to note that Union has businesses on just one side. For bike lanes to work, they must be on both sides of commercial drive, similar to the lanes on Richards.
    In a sense, the street would become more like Homer street: a 2 way street with parking and a bike lane on both sides.

  3. Voony had an excellent post on the costs to transit of the proposal. Quick summary, it will probably increase the cost of transit on Commercial by 1 million dollars per year as well as hurt ridership. He also has an alternative proposal that seems to make a lot of sense to me.

    1. The Vooney post is very detailed, but I don’t see how the complete street configuration would slow bus traffic. Quite the opposite. A complete street on Commercial will be good for everyone.

      1. First I would argue that Voony’s proposal is a complete street proposal…..more of a complete street proposal because it does not penalize transit (and still has a bike lane, only the loss on 1 side of parking). Voony has an earlier post describing how the current complete street proposal slows transit. And he does it better than I could, but the take away is transit it slowed by the proposed configuration because it does not account for vehicles turning and transit would be delayed behind these vehicles when they turn.

        1. Rico: this doesn’t make sense to me.
          The bus already navigates a street just like the one proposed, except minus a bike lane, north of 1st avenue. It can usually go around left-turning vehicles, as cars aren’t allows to park that close to the intersection to prevent that. I don’t see how this would be different, but if it is, banning left turns could help. Either way, I just don’t buy Voony’s argument.
          Although I am also reminded of Vancouver’s official transportation priority ranking, which puts cycling ahead of transit.

      2. Rico, if there are protruding bus stops, then I would think that the cars are behind the bus when the bus starts up. They waited, and proceed at the same speed as the bus. How do they get in front of the bus to cause these delays when turning? Wouldn’t the bus have a clear run to the next stop?

      3. Jeff,
        as I have replied to Arno here
        if you believe that, then bus bulgse should dramatically increase the bus speed on Robson: I suggest you actively advocate for them here first: the result of experiment will ve very valuable.
        Any idea, why no one has thought of it before?

        1. I actually think bus bulges would increase transit speed on Robson and should be done. The bus will still get stuck behind vehicles turning (like it does now) but won’t have to merge with traffic at the stops. That is different from Commercial where they currently are not stuck behind turning vehicles. So the current proposal adds the delay behind turning vehicles even though it removes the delay of merging into traffic.

  4. In the Union Street video, I counted 25 people on bikes and 27 automobiles travelling on the street. With separated bike lanes on Commercial, there will be way more potential customers for the businesses.If I were a business owner on Commercial, I would certainly back the concept of a complete street for Commercial Drive.

  5. I’m not technically versed enough to say exactly what sort of reconfiguration for Commercial would work best, but man if that street isn’t just begging to be redone. So much potential!
    With such a great variety of shops and very lively street life, it just feels so constrained by the standard size sidewalks.
    Sidewalk sizes should be doubled where possible. Get more patios and street furniture out there. Let people move more comfortably. Talk to each other without raising voices over traffic.
    It’s already a great street and it can only get better by reducing private vehicle volumes.
    As an aside, I don’t know why anyone would want to drive on Commercial as a through route anyway. Clark is a million times faster and much less stressful. Victoria as well. Leave Commercial for the people!

  6. In connection to this post, I want to point out there is a grassroots organization, streetsforeveryone (, that has been talking to the businesses and residents for some time now about community led vision for changing The Drive for everyone. Yesterday evening (as Gordon posted) they held a community forum (co-hosted by GWAC) presenting their campaign to the community. It was refreshing to listen to both Dr. Kay Teschke from the School of Population and Public Health and the organization’s coordinator go painstakingly through evidence that backs complete streets for busy commercial strips. In the end, it became clear that the opposition are basing their ‘facts’ on opinion and the proponents are basing their facts on research and observation.
    A surprising observation (maybe not to some of you) was the dissent among businesses. The BIA has done an “opinion survey” and has repeated the claim that all their members were against any separated bike lane facility. I am not painting the dissenting business as the wrong because their concerns are legitimate. However, it became clear that some business owners felt safer or more able to speak at the public forum than at their own AGM to express their support for the proposal. It was a small glimpse into the power structure of the BIA. I found it fascinating even revealing. It was also made clear that their were others that are supportive but wish to remain anonymous.
    The meeting was recorded so I hope it will be available for those who couldn’t make but wanted to. Also, some of the questions/comments here about transit and other concerns were answered or addressed.

    1. I should add a caveat that the proposal is just that. If it ends up in the community plan, which is the goal, it will still have to go through the city engineers and planners before anything is finalized.

  7. My main concern is that making Commercial Drive into a complete street would raise the property values too high for some of the funkier interesting stores to afford to be there anymore. The major appeal of The Drive is the mix of shopping that is mostly locally owned and not a chain store. There are products we can’t get anywhere else. People who are definitely not yuppies strutting down the street in way groovy outfits. I would hate to see that be lost.
    We have plenty of other places for shopping at chain stores.
    Would there be any way to have a better pedestrian experience and AAA cycling infrastructure introduced but not have those things also cause the value of it to go up?

    1. I think your premise is wrong (that improving streets will lead to yuppification). Yuppies like complete streets, but that’s not the only thing they like.
      However, if you are indeed correct, then one solution is to make all streets complete streets. Then the yuppies won’t know where to go and where to avoid.
      Another solution is to make all streets crap.
      (PS: It’s hippies that wear groovy outfits, not yuppies.)

      1. I do hope I’m wrong too. Maybe these improvements can be plain and functional and not part of a redesign or rebranding. More of an incorporation into what is already there. It’s a genuine retail area. Many retail areas are not.
        And yes, if most other retail strips are also complete then it’ll just be normal and not an attraction for those who would make it not affordable.
        Oh, and I wrote “not yuppies… in way groovy outfits.” I just didn’t have a word for them. 30 years ago they would have been called punk rockers or something. In any case, the diversity of humanity that is discouraged in some shopping districts is allowed to shop and hang out on The Drive. I think this is great and want it to stay.

        1. Sorry Janda, I completely misread your point being about NOT yuppies!! My mistake!
          And it looks like we agree on the other stuff.

  8. Also worth to notice from the “Slow street report” linked in this post:
    “One lane of traffic can move 2,000 car per hour”
    That is the case if the lane is a 12 foot one on a freeway…but an Urban arterial lane move roughly twice less car…and a configuration like proposed by Street for Everyone (one lane per direction+curbside parking) will move not much more ~500 car/hr.
    That changes the conclusion: there is no extra capacity on be Clark or Victoria …honestly is Victoria an arterial street north of Broadway?
    That is eventually a major difference with Point Grey, where 4th was offering extra capacity
    On a side note:
    Victoria Drive north of Broadway, doesn’t carry much more than 1200 car/h in peak hr according to vanmap vs 1900 according to “Slow street”
    That said. lack of extra capacity on alternative road is not that much an issue, as long as alternative transportation, such as good Transit is provided, to remove car, but not people.

  9. Regarding bus bulge and bus operating speed.
    Ina nutshell:
    Bus bulge on one lane Street interrupt traffic: any traffic interruption reduces the road capacity (what increase congestion)
    If the street is not working at its capacity, a bus bulge could well improve the bus operating speed (but it is also a case where re-entering traffic is a non issue)…Most of the bus bulge benefits are elsewhere.
    The problem is that the street reaches its congestion point sooner with a bus bulge than without…and the gain of re-entering traffic is quickly ofsetted by that (since bus are still affected by general traffic condition)
    There are good reasons why most European cities, where one lane per direction streets are common (and bus stopping in the lane is the only option), elect more often than not to have bus only lane.
    A second problem is:
    Translink policy, is to have far side bus stop, this for good reasons (they forgot the transit priority signal reason): In that configuration, a stopped bus blocking incoming traffic of cross street prevent traffic to clear the intersection fast enough to avoid ripple negative effect.

    (e.g. A bus bulge on Robson # Burrad could incidentally have more negative effect on bus 2,22,44, than positive one on bus 5)

    Ruling out near side bus stop: bus stops could need to be moved away of intersection to enable buffering of incoming vehicle…but that makes the bus stop less accessible from other sides of the streets (if they are moved mid-block, a new pedestrian crossing is necessary, compounding negative effect of interrupting traffic)… and also reduce parking availability
    Regarding Commercial street configuration North of 1st:
    It is a 4 lane streets per design, and always is at intersections, so that effectively buses can avoid left turning vehicles by going into the curb side lane…where usually the bus stop is located (the presence of a bus bulge on the far side could make the maneuver to avoid left turning vehicles more complicated (again a source of inefficiency)
    Again, let’s install bus bulges on Robson, and let’s measure the impact of it.
    In the meantime, claims that the SfE configuration will not negatively impact transit (noticeably because of the bus bulges) can’t be substantiated. On the opposite, real life experience suggests that will reduce the #20 average bus speed by a good 20%, what has very significant implication for Translink as I have already explained

  10. Tessa mentions the Vancouver’s official transportation priority ranking, which puts cycling ahead of transit.
    …and it puts Transit ahead of car…
    The Vancouver Transportation plan also clearly states as a goal:
    Making the majority (over 50%) of trips on foot, bike, and transit by 2020
    And clearly state the mean to achieve it (emphasis mine):

    T 1.1.3. Collaborate with TransLink to provide fast, frequent, high-capacity, and fully accessible transit service on high-demand corridors including Broadway, Hastings, 41st/49th Avenue, Commercial/Victoria, and Main/Fraser.

    so yes Tessa, let’s be bind by this transportation plan: that starts by not installing bike lane at the expense of transit to preserve the car statu quo.
    How the below rendering fits with the Vancouver official Transportation plan?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *