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The Vancouver Greenways Plan approved by City Council in 1995 envisioned greenways crisscrossing the city in all directions and linking major parks, public facilities, and neighborhood hubs.Vancouver sees greenways as a two-fer: They provide urban open space and give everyone from toddlers to ultra runners to retirees a comfortable transportation option.The city is currently focusing on making bikeways work as intended.
Kay Teschke, a University of British Columbia professor who has researched what types of bike facilities encourage people to ride, set up a survey of Metro Vancouver frequent, infrequent, and occasional cyclists.
She found that all types of cyclists preferred off-street paths, traffic-calmed streets when sharing the road, and facilities that separate bikes from cars on busier streets.
While the traffic-calmed bikeways strive to provide a safe and convenient cycling option, the city builds greenways to appeal to an even broader set of riders who may be less confident or riding purely for recreation.
As city of Vancouver Sustainability Group Assistant Director Doug Smith explains: Greenways are like linear parks on streets that are designed to encourage pedestrians and cyclists to commute to their destinations by not only providing infrastructure to make the route safe like traffic calming, adequate space, and safe crossings of busy arterials but also elements like trees, flowers, gardens, public art, fountains, and rest stops that encourage people to walk and bike just to enjoy the experience even if they don’t have a destination.
While it follows pleasant neighborhood streets with few cars for most of its route, it merges with a busy freight route near downtown that carries about 5,000 vehicles a day.
During the summer months, about 4,000 cyclists a day use the Union street section.They’re supposed to be located on streets that don’t have a lot of cars to begin with, and where cars travel slowly enough that sharing the road feels comfortable and safe for cyclists.Bikeways have traffic calming features that prioritize bicyclists and pedestrians.Some local street bikeways carried too many cars, making it uncomfortable for cyclists to share the road.Just adding bike lanes and sharrows to busier streets wasn’t helping attract as many riders as the city expected, so Vancouver opted for a new approach.When reducing numbers of cars isn’t possible, the city has taken portions of bikeway routes and added separated facilities for cyclists to get them out of car and truck traffic.For example, along Ontario Street, the bikeway has a bicycle-activated traffic signal where it crosses a busy street. It was the city’s first local street bikeway, and it carries large numbers of commuters into downtown from east Vancouver.That growth correlates with the installation of the Dunsmuir separated bicycle lanes.Overall, the number of Vancouverites riding bicycles to work increased from 3.7% in 2006 to 4.4% in 2011, compared to 6.3% in Portland and 3.45% in Seattle in 2011.Teschke then studied what facilities are actually safest for cyclists and found they were largely the same.Through its Transportation 2040 Plan update, the city of Vancouver started reducing car traffic on bikeways, filling critical gaps in the cycle network, adding more greenways, and creating separated cycle lanes where motor vehicle volumes were too high to safely mix bikes and cars.