Chengdu Bike Lane Cycling
August 22, 2019

China: Bike Share, Electric Motorbikes and Pedestrians

In previous posts, I talked about subways and automobiles in China, but what really stood out in my recent visit to the country was China’s approach to other forms of transportation.

In Metro Vancouver’s North Shore municipalities, even low-hanging fruit like a new bike route or an express bus lane seem to face intractable obstacles. Despite declaring a “Climate Emergency,” local councils still default to private cars when designing their cities.

Our travels to China show just how much can be accomplished when government just steps up to the plate and makes changes.

Chengdu, population 10.5 million, is the capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan, which borders Tibet, and is known for pandas and spicy food. Once you drive past Chengdu’s first ring road, you can look in any direction and see dozens of fifteen- and twenty-storey apartment blocks stretching to the horizon.

This is the kind of population density that makes complaints about densification in our own region laughable; the density in China influences transit planning and construction by a government which understands that infrastructure investment is positive (and often necessary).

Admittedly, lots of things are easier in a one-party police state, but by the same token, that doesn’t necessarily make them bad ideas.

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Prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it was generally acknowledged that both the traffic and the pollution in the city was out of control; in 2010, a traffic jam on the China National Highway 110 slowed traffic for 100 kilometres, and lasted for most of two weeks.

The Chinese government is still building and maintaining an impressive network of multi-lane freeways, highways, and flyovers — with regular toll plazas — to move large volumes of automobiles relatively efficiently, but the Chinese government has also tried to move the country (or at least the major cities) away from internal combustion engines.

As well as making lots of safe space for transit users, bikes, electric motorbikes, and pedestrians, the Chinese have done one other thing to improve the traffic mix in Chengdu and Beijing: they’ve made it really hard to own a car. Much like the licences and charges in London and Singapore, rules in China pretty much limit car use in the city to the very wealthy.

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A new brewpub in the old Fish House has opened in Stanley Park, next to the main tennis courts:

Isn’t the bike on the logo, front and centre, a nice touch?  It’s what you’d expect for a destination away from any major road, in a park, for an active, outdoorsy culture.

So how do you cycle to Stanley Park Brewing?

Officially, you don’t.  Go to the website for the brewpub, and here’s what you find:

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From Dianna. who’s a Seaside Regular:

This is an especially scary time of the year to ride on the seawall. People have a few months of riding, have grown stronger and more confident, and now their enthusiasm and strength outweigh their skill. People ride faster but aren’t aware of increased pedestrian traffic, never mind other cyclists.

I’m happy to see other happy riders, but please pay attention to what you’re doing. Heads up, friends!

 

Not a new problem.  Here’s a CBC report from 2014:

Cyclists have to take care for each other, because there’s not much evidence that the Park Board does.

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Another counter-intuitive study that offsets a reasonable expectation that more electric bikes and scooters will mean less fit users – kind of like the idea that ‘riding hailing will result in less SOV use and vehicle congestion’.  (Turns out Uber et al increase congestion and reduce transit use.)  But there are qualifications.

From treehugger:

E-bikers use their bikes more, go longer distances, and often substitute it for driving or transit. …

A new study, with a mouthful of a title, “Physical activity of electric bicycle users compared to conventional bicycle users and non-cyclists: Insights based on health and transport data from an online survey in seven European cities,” finds that in fact it is true: e-bikers take longer trips and get pretty much the same physical activity gains as analog cyclists. …

But perhaps even more significant is the dramatic increase in exercise among people who switch from cars to e-bikes, a much easier transition than from cars to a-bikes.

It should be noted that this study looks at European pedelec e-bikes like my Gazelle, where people have to pedal a bit to get the 250 watt motor to kick in. Results probably don’t apply to overpowered throttle-controlled American e-bikes or scooters. Because, as the study authors note, with a pedelec, “using an e-bike requires moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, depending on topography.”

There is so much to unpack from this study. It also looks at how e-bikes are easier for older riders, keeping them fitter longer. It also reinforces my opinion that the Europeans got it right by limiting speed and power on e-bikes and mandating that they are all pedelecs rather than throttle operated; you don’t get much exercise on a motorcycle.

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Jeff Leigh, as always, provides some helpful background and perspective:

That path through Kits Beach park has been on the City inventory of bike paths for decades. Some Park Board commissioners have expressed on several occasions over the past few years that it isn’t actually a bike route now, since they didn’t vote for it and it is their jurisdiction, not the City’s. This is despite the fact that it is shown in the Vancouver City bylaw (with a drawn map) and in the City GIS database. That database is used to publish the City free bike maps. We pointed out to the Park Board commissioners and staff that they have in fact acknowledged it as their path in their Park Board meetings.

The oldest reference we were able to find that acknowledged it as a Park Board path was when Vancouver enacted the bicycle helmet bylaw, and wanted to include City facilities that were off-street. The City Council motion was in February 1998 (and was moved by councillor Gordon Price). Staff then made a list of all the paths, but City staff couldn’t make a bylaw for the city park paths since it was Park Board jurisdiction. Park Board staff prepared a report (April 1998) with a map of their paths, and Commissioners voted on it, in June 1998. It passed unanimously. That was in support of putting a helmet bylaw on Park paths per an attached staff report, not to declare some routes paths and some not, but it shows that at the time they considered it a formal bike path.

Park Board staff have more recently advised that they don’t consider the 1998 documentation to be significant in determining whether they consider that path to be a bike route or not. When stencils stating “No Cycling” were applied to the paved portion of the official path a few years back, and this was brought to their attention, Park Board staff removed the stencils. Now a few years later, they have applied them again.

All this matters in the push for improved walking and cycling facilities in Kits Beach Park because public perception can be different depending on where we are coming from, what our starting point is. Some claim that there is an effort to put a new path through the park, and remove green space. Others point out that there already is an official path, and the desire is actually to move the bike path farther away from the water, but still in the park, where it is less congested, and so return the waterfront path to people walking. By claiming that there is no path there now, Park Board staff effectively create more public pushback from special interest groups.

Just as the “To, Not Through” de facto policy for bikes routes in parks has never been officially voted on by the Park Board, so it seems is the very status of the AAA bike routes in parks like Kits, Vanier and Jericho.

So let’s ask them – and we’ll keep it simple: .
Should the AAA bike routes marked on the official City map above be removed?
. The fact that Parks and City may be studying them is not a sufficient answer; we want to know what each commissioner thinks their status is at the moment.   Do these AAA bike routes even ‘exist’? . PT will send an email to each commissioner, and we’ll report back here and find out where they stand. Read more »

If a work environment is reported to tolerate inappropriate and hostile interactions, in tone or vocabulary, it can be considered an unsafe space – and even debated in the national news.  But here it’s possible for an environment to be physically unsafe and, in the case of the Vancouver Park Board, be considered business as usual.

An example from Peter, an unaffiliated resident who cares about this kind of thing:

On May 30th of this year, Bikehub informed us that the Park Board had decided to implement a “quick fix” this summer to the Seaside Greenway that currently goes through the Kits Beach parking lot (an absolutely disgraceful and very dangerous section of what is otherwise fantastic bike infrastructure). Apparently, this is said “quick fix”: Read more »

They’re on their way, Vancouver is behind, it’s going to be messy, but it’s inevitable: electric scooters and, no doubt, a whole bunch of related technologies.

Thomas sends along a piece from The Economist that describes what’s happening in Europe.  (Unfortunately, the whole piece is behind a paywall, but here are the opening paragraphs):

Streets ahead

Europe is edging towards making post-car cities a reality

 Hurtling along a “cycle highway” by the River Scheldt in Antwerp recently, Charlemagne (the author) only noticed the electric scooter when it was too late. Spinning tyre met stationary scooter, British journalist separated from Belgian bike and Anglo-Saxon words were uttered. How irritating and obnoxious these twiggy little devices can seem with their silly names (“Lime”, “Poppy”, “Zero”) and their sudden invasion of the pavements of every large European city. Everywhere they seem to be in the way, abandoned precisely at those points where prams, pedestrians or speeding journalists need to pass.

And yet your columnist refuses to hold a grudge, because the rise of the electric scooter is part of a broader and welcome phenomenon: the gradual retreat of the car from the European city. Across the continent, apps and satellite-tracking have spawned bike- and scooter-rental schemes that allow city-dwellers to beat the traffic. Networks of cycle paths are growing and creeping outwards; that of Paris will by next year have grown by 50% in five years. Municipal governments are lowering speed limits, introducing car bans and car-free days, pedestrianising streets and replacing car parks with bike parks.

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During this time of good weather, late nights and less clothing, I search for an agreeable public space along a greenway, to stop for a while to nurse a coffee and watch the passing parade.  I look for one specific thing.

Electric bikes. And the occasional electric scooter.

Here’s the curious thing: there aren’t any.  Well, hardly any – at least nowhere as many as you’d reasonably expect in a city as cycle-friendly as Vancouver, particularly one with hills.  Especially, say, North Vancouver.

At the opening of the Shipyards this weekend, I looked for any bike that had a battery pouch.  None – not too surprising in a pedestrian-heavy area.  But Tony Valente, the CNV councillor, also confirmed that there aren’t as any many electric-assist bikes as you’d expect in a community whose main street, Lonsdale, is essentially a hill.  He thinks they’re on the way.

But why aren’t they already here, given how popular they are – along with a tidal wave of electric scooters – in other cities as near as Seattle?

Perhaps it’s our culture.  We think battery-assist bikes are somehow cheating.  If you ain’t sweating up that hill, you’re a lazy weak person.

And we’re law-abiding.  Since electric scooters are illegal everywhere but in parking lots and your backyard, we’ve held back the inevitable.

But if what I saw in Tel Aviv is indicative, along with other global cities, the electric scooter is on its way, proliferating in traffic in a mere two or three years to the point where they often seem to be the traffic.  Here’s a typical scene along the beach front in TLV:

IMG_2383(1)_HEVC

And on Allenby Street, a major avenue through downtown.

IMG_3047(1)_HEVC

I welcome your theories.  And an answer to the questions: where should electric-assist cycles and scooters be?  On bikeways, separated routes, side streets, in any traffic? Or anywhere unless very specifically prohibited, like sidewalks and seawalls?

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