September 1, 2008

Dan Burden – the Johnny Appleseed of livable communities – passed through Vancouver this weekend, along with 40 acolytes from around North America and the world.  Here they are on the downed catalapa tree in Stanley Park, a suitable reminder of the windstorm of 2006 that, I’ve argued, provoked the provincial climate-change initiatives that followed.

After a cycling tour of Stanley Park, downtown and False Creek North, we all ended up at the Olympic Village seawall at Southeast False Creek – a beautiful piece of work by the City.  But to top it off, as we were discussing the nuances of sustainable development, some bleating horns and huzzahs from a group of cyclists captured our attention.  And no wonder:

If you wanted to capture the sensibility of Vancouver at this moment in time, you couldn’t have planned it better.  Congrats to the happy couple.  Long may you cycle together.

Actually, it’s not too hard to capture the character of this city almost anywhere you look – like here at the marina on Granville Island, where a decktop party is in progress.

Looks like a beer ad by Bennetton. Read more »
Summer Streets in NYC

From the New York Times:

On a path that extended from the Brooklyn Bridge north to Park Avenue and the Upper East Side, thousands of people filled the streets, taking part in activities like street-side tai chi or salsa dancing. Others simply enjoyed the chance to stroll in normally car-clogged streets. In a city where walkers, cyclists and motorists must share limited space, having a major thoroughfare through Manhattan free of cars created a giddy sort of excitement.

In Vancouver, we now have Car-Free Streets on Commercial, Denman and Main for a day each year.  Next step: joining them up with a network of bike-only routes.

UPDATE: Streetfilms, the New York-based videographers, just released their recording of Summer Streets here.

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A few items on cycling during Bike-to-Work week.

First up, if you missed John Pucher’s great talk – Cycling for Everyone: Lessons for Vancouver from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany – then check it out here

Said the “Copenhagenize” blog:

I can only say that it is absolutely brilliant. It’s an hour-long filmed seminar with legendary John Pucher at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.   See the film now.  Quickly.  It’s wonderful.

John wasn’t at the Car-Free Cities Conference in Portland last week (“Live Free or Drive”) – but he would have loved it.  Best part was hearing about what’s happening in places like New York, San Francisco and Amsterdam.  The panelists were educational and entertaining – and confirmed that Vancouver is way behind when it comes to new initiatives.

And what issues are they working on in, say, Amsterdam?  Well, this:

Actually, this is in Portland – but it’s indicative of what’s coming.  Namely, bike trailers and attachments of all kinds that make the bicycle more useful for real life – and that take up more road space.  Typically, these pedal people are moving more slowly with wider loads, and start to back up the cyclists behind them on narrow paths.  Amsterdam is recognizing they have to provide passing lanes for faster cyclists if they’re to avoid bike rage.

Yup, it’s come to that.

It’s not new, but more cities are adopting Bogota’s Ciclovia – the temporary or permanent closure of a major street (or streets) to motorized vehicles so that people are free to use the roadway without concern for their safety.  Portland had a Sunday Parkway event at the end of the conference.  Gil Penalosa (brother of former Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa, and now executive director of Walk and Bike For Life in Ontario) gave a great presentation – and here’s his interview with BikePortland.

In Vancouver, we have Critical Mass, of course, and the Vancouver Cruisers.  I confess I was unaware of this group, which hold rides periodically around the city on their classic cruisers, until they showed up at Leg-in-Boot Square on the South Shore of False Creek last weekend.

You’ll notice that no one is wearing a helmet, and they’re all dressed in street clothes.  No Lycra to be seen.  I think this a deliberate attempt to ‘Europeanize’ cycling in Vancouver, to make it accessible to everyone, a normal activity integrated into daily life. 

Loek Hesemans nailed it in Price Tags 99: Cycling has been a subculture in our cities – a way to express identity: “to create a sense of togetherness, of companions in adversity finding support with each other.”  It may be a necessary phase, but as John Pucher stresses, cycling must be for everyone if it’s to truly effect change on the scale we need.

The time is right: major issues are coalescing – climate change and peak oil, obesity and public health, traffic congestion and livable cities.  Decision-makers are more open to ideas that previously would have seemed too fringy to be comfortably embraced.  Budgets – the sincerest form of rhetoric – will follow.

And speaking of dollars, what I am I doing with my Campbell Cash?  The Tyee’s helpful campaign to direct the hundred-dollar dividends to organizations that can make better use of the money than most of us gives you some choices, and mine is the High School Bike Crews – another grass-roots campaign by Arthur Orsini.

Giving away money for cycling is the next best thing to actually doing it.


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Yet another starchiect – Zaha Hadid – doing yet another pedestrian bridge (or passerelle, as the French call them), this one across the Ebro River in Zaragoza, Spain.

More here in the Independent on the 270-metre bridge which also houses a pavillion for the 2008 Expo being held there.

More than ever, it’s apparent to me that we have to seriously examine the possibility for a ped-bike bridge across False Creek, rather than a widening of the Burrard Bridge.  The obvious location is under the bridge itself, using the cuts that were made through the columns to accommodate an anticipated streetcar line extension.

Yes, there’s a problem accommodating high-masted boats at high tide.  But this should be considered an oppportunity for innovation rather than an intractable problem.  Perhaps a separate structure should be considered – a commission to the world’s best architects and engineers – so that Vancouver gets something practical, beautiful and iconic: a statement that, really, honestly, we do take sustainable transportation seriously.

There are some fascinating politics involved with the bridge widening: Ladner cannot support the use of existing lanes for bike routes, while Robertson must.  Ladner will be able to use the threat of congestion to solidify his west-side base, while Robertson will use Ladner’s position to peel off support from the cycling and heritage communities.

Maybe a serious examination of a separate low-level structure would be something they could both support.

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In Price Tags 101 – on the Paris bike-sharing system known as Velib’ – I wondered what patterns would emerge, given that the system collects real-time data every time a bike is used.

Well, here’s the answer:

This is an animation of the Velib’ system for a full day (February 10th) based on the number of bikes available at each station.  More here.

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Next up: London

We’ve already seen the massive success of urban bike sharing in Paris, but now the super-smart Velib Bike program is taking to the streets of London! 15,000 bikes, 1,000 stations and more than 7.5 million miles of combined biking later have already been implemented in London, and the new scheme will contribute £75 million and 6,000 shared bikes to the mass biking scheme. Spearheaded by London Mayor Ken Livingstone, the new ‘granny bike’ sharing scheme will reduce traffic congestion and help clear up the air of England’s sprawling capital city.

More here.

In Vancouver, we’re waiting for (1) the report out by TransLink on recommendations of the task force set up to examine bike-sharing for this region.  And (2) support by those running for office in the upcoming election.

How about we ask them.


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