Bicycle Streets Beyond Europe: Vancouver’s Local Street Bikeways

Bicycle Streets Beyond Europe is a weekly multi-part series exploring the “bicycle street”. The first post overviewed the Dutch implementation of the bicycle street (“fietsstratten”) and the next several are showcasing some of the best examples of bicycle streets in Canada and the US. Special thanks to Justin Jones for contributing to this post. Join the Beyond the Automobile mailing list to stay up to date with the series.

While Portland may have written the book on bicycle boulevards, Vancouver has scripted its latest edition.

The City of Vancouver is on an ambitious path to reduce its dependence on the car for transportation. By 2040, Vancouver expects two out of every three trips in the city to be made by walking, cycling, or public transit and already in 2019, more than 8% of trips in the city were being made by bike.

These gains are being achieved on many fronts, one of which is with the creation of its “All Ages and Abilities” (AAA) cycling network. Cycling facilities that are part of this network must meet strict criteria to ensure they are safe and comfortable enough for just about everyone to use. Specifically, this network is made of just three facility types: protected bike lanes, off-street pathways, and local street bikeways.

Vancouver’s AAA design guidelines, which informed the creation of the 2017 NACTO Designing for All Ages and Abilities Guide, make it clear that each of these infrastructure types has a role to play in building a complete network of cycling facilities that will work to attract new riders. With new local street bikeways being developed along more residential corridors, as well as new protected bike lanes being constructed on busier commercial corridors like Richards Street, Vancouver is demonstrating an understanding of the importance of a complete network of AAA facilities.

Only the most comfortable facility types form Vancouver’s All Ages and Abilities (AAA) network. Source: City of Vancouver

Consider, for example, Vancouver’s 10th Avenue cycling route, which is currently being upgraded to an AAA route in phases. While the street is currently designated as a local street bikeway, current motor vehicle volumes are over 2,000 per day in many segments along this corridor, well above its AAA target of just 500 vehicles per day. As part of the upgrade, major changes to vehicle movement along this street are being made, including full closures of some blocks and conversion to one-way for others. Where volumes cannot be reduced to the 500 vehicles per day target, protected bike lanes are added.

Two views of a unique traffic diverter installed at E 10th Avenue and Prince Edward Street as part of the route’s upgrade to a AAA facility. The route bends here, and vehicle volumes exceeded the maximum, so the decision was made to close a block of Prince Edward to vehicles. Source: Google Maps

The City’s desired outcome of a route that carries 500 vehicles per day or less drives many of its design decisions – and those designs have a significant influence on the behaviour of the people who choose to drive on those routes. With the installation of diverters, full and partial closures and the installation of one-way sections, local street bikeways become virtually impossible to use as a through route, meaning that the vast majority of the vehicular traffic encountered by bicyclists is local, and mostly accustomed to sharing the space with people on bikes. The result is a cycling experience that is truly low-stress – a descriptor that all communities should consider adopting when considering how to develop AAA infrastructure.

Is it a Bicycle Street?

  • Network: the local street bikeways seamlessly integrate with a city-wide network of All Ages and Abilities cycling routes as well as non-AAA routes that may be upgraded over time.
  • Volumes: the target for motor vehicle volumes is less than 500 per day (achieved with traffic calming and diversion), and less than 50 per peak hour. Streets with volumes up to 1,000 may be considered. There is no minimum target for cycling rates.
  • Speed: Posted speed is always 30 km/h. The target for average speed is less than 30 km/h and the target for 95th-percentile speed (the speed at which only 5% of drivers travel above) is 40 km/h. Speed humps, mini-roundabouts, and frequent traffic diversions are used to achieve slow speeds for motorists.
  • Design: Target street widths are 8m when one lane of on-street parking is provided and 10m when on-street parking is provided on both sides. This maintains a 5-6m bidirectional travelled portion that provides enough space for a cyclist to comfortably pass an oncoming car without entering the “door zone” of the parked cars.
  • Behaviour: With such low motor vehicle volumes and speeds, the frequency of cyclists even encountering motorists is quite low. When encounters do happen, motorists generally behave respectfully towards people riding bikes, and may not even attempt to pass because of the frequency of traffic diverters. Signage and pavement markings are used to reinforce this behaviour.

Due to the interventions that make through traffic nearly impossible, local street bikeways in Vancouver are characterized by low traffic volumes and interactions between people driving and people cycling that look and feel much more like the experience of cycling on a Bicycle Street in the Netherlands. The Local street Bikeways offer a space for cycling that is casual, relaxed and social, where speed is not the priority. For some people who prefer to cycle for sport or at higher speeds, the leisurely pace along these routes might make them feel like they are going too slowly, but for families, seniors and people who want to ride beside someone while having a conversation, these streets hit the mark.

W 10th Avenue entering the “Hospital Zone”. Traffic volumes beyond this intersection are too high for an AAA local street bikeway, so the route transitions to cycle tracks for a few blocks. Source: Google Maps

Vancouver demonstrates a clear understanding of the strategic role that bicycle streets can play in a broader network of high-quality cycling facilities. People riding bikes want a continuously comfortable experience, and Vancouver delivers on that need by seamlessly blending protected bike lanes, bicycle streets, and trails to form a cohesive network. Its 10th Street bikeway project is evidence that even a single street can feature multiple types of infrastructure; the project transitions people riding bikes between local street bikeways and protected bike lanes, adjusting to each local context it passes through.

Special thanks to Justin Jones for collaborating on this post. Justin is an active transportation and community engagement professional who works to create communities where transportation is a joy, not a chore. He works to expand access to public spaces for everyone, regardless of how they choose to get around. You can find him on Twitter.

Don’t forget to check out the other posts in the Bicycle Streets Beyond Europe series below.

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