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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Just as there is growing interest in slow cooking with meals made from scratch, is there a return to thinking about doing other things in a more 20th century and long hand way?

Gayle Macdonald in the Globe and Mail talks about the “convenience-driven quandary” and asks: “What if we become so accustomed to computers and other AI-driven technologies doing everything for us that we forget the joy of doing things slowly, meticulously and with our own two hands?”

Take a look at the data. Online purchases have increased to 2.9 trillion dollars in 2018, from 2.4 trillion in 2017. And Canadians, who have been late to the online purchasing party have now  doubled their expenditures online from sales reported in 2016 to a  a cool 39 Billion dollars in United States funds.

That sum is more than what the current American president was going to spend on the southern border wall (that clocked in at 25 Billion dollars).  And here’s a story of what 25 Billion dollars will buy. 

Something else happens when goods and services are ordered online and delivered to your door. That is the isolating experience when you don’t have to walk or bike  or even go to a store, or have any interactions with people on the street or in shops.

As Macdonald observes ” loneliness – a close cousin of isolation – seems to be on the rise, with the U.S. Surgeon-General recently warning it’s an “epidemic” in United States and Britain appointing its first “minister of loneliness.”

While online shopping speaks to comfort and convenience, anthropologist Grant McCracken is wary of the ease of it, stating: “The industrial revolution declared war on space and time … and right through the second half of the 20th century, this war had no skeptics. Convenience was king. But in the last few decades we have seen a counter revolution. We saw the arrival of slow food, meditation, mindfulness, artisanal economies and a more measured approach to life by many people. All of which is better for humans and better for the planet.”

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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 »

Image: FT.com

Even The Economist is weighing in  on the fact that Vancouver is the special child, the one big city in North America that still does not have the common ride-hailing  services like Uber and Lyft.  There is the Kater service which uses taxi licences and is part of the local taxi association, which take a share of profits. Prices are similar to taxis, but there are a few Kater cars that are Karaoke cars. (We can’t make this stuff up.)

As The Economist observes British Columbia’s requirement of Class Four commercial licences may be deterring licensing  part time drivers for ride hailing. But the Province’s cautious approach to ride-hailing is also being lauded:

The regulators have reason to proceed cautiously. In many cities where ride-hailing has taken off, congestion has worsened and use of public transport has dropped. In San Francisco, congestion, as measured by extra time required to complete a journey, increased by 60% from 2010 to 2016, according to Greg Erhardt, a professor at the University of Kentucky. More than half of the rise was caused by the growth of ride-hailing. Population and employment growth accounted for the rest. Ride-hailing led to a 12% drop in ridership on public transport in the city. San Francisco’s experience is a “cautionary tale for Vancouver”, says Joe Castiglione, who analyses data for its transport authority.

Without providing data, the Economist article calls Vancouver “one of  North America’s most traffic-jammed cities, in part because its downtown is small.” 

The article rightly notes that ride-hailing can worsen congestion, but also observes that Vancouver is one of the few places in North America with public transit use increasing.

TransLink’s head of policy Andrew Curran states that high gas price, population and employment growth has helped boost transit use as well as car sharing, where people book vehicles that they drive themselves. Andrew notes that deferring Uber and Lyft in the province has helped transit and car share. Vancouver has 3,000 vehicles in car share, which is double the number of similar vehicles in San Francisco.

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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 »

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:

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And on Allenby Street, a major avenue through downtown.

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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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Quick, when you think of the entrance to Stanley Park, is this what comes to mind?

For many, this is their first impression: a parking lot.  But others are not noticing the asphalt – instead trying to navigate through one of the most congested points in the park:

For those renting bikes at Denman and Georgia, it’s even worse:

And only the sidewalks seem like a reasonable option:

In an ideal world, some of the parking lot would be assigned for bike rental, accompanying restrooms and services, with proper separation and sufficient gathering space.  But this is the domain of the Park Board.  And we should know by now, when it comes to cycling, the Board really doesn’t give a damn.

 

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Kevin Quinlan, who was working in the mayor’s office at the time of the Burrard-bike-lane blow-up, apparently saved files of the coverage, perhaps with the intent of doing what he does here – a delicious reiteration of how over-the-top most of the assumptions and criticism was at the time.  Here are excerpts from his Twitter thread.

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@KQ_VanCity

Guess who is 10! Happy birthday, Burrard bridge bike lane: today marks 10 years since the Burrard Bridge bike lane opened. Let’s take a casual bike ride back through time and look at the calm, nuanced media commentary that greeted the plucky bike lane in 2009.

Quick refresher: 6 car lanes on the Burrard bridge went down to five, to enable separated bike lanes to keep people from falling into traffic. Months of media hysteria that it would be a complete disaster. it would fail within days!

Political opponents tried to get ‘Gregor’s gridlock’ to become a catchy slogan (lasted about as long as ‘who let the dogs out’.) Radio pundits predicted Mayor and Vision would be trounced in next election. Nobody bikes! It rains! Social engineering! Radical green agenda! . On first day, morning commute had news choppers flying overhead. CKNW set up a live booth on Burrard at Drake to talk live to all those angry commuters stuck in traffic. ARE YOU MAD CALL IN NOW AND GIVE US A PIECE OF YOUR MIND NOW HERE’S A RADIO AD FOR ALARM FORCE. . The Burrard Bridge bike lane media commentary has aged really well. Vancouver Sun: BURRARD BRIDGE BIKE LANES DOOMED TO FAILURE. Not just won’t work: DOOMED TO FAIL. Like a curse. .

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