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Motorists Against Bicycle Infrastructure 11

Vancouver - Dunsmuir st bike lanes

Photo courtesy of Alastair Smith

After posting an article about the City of Vancouver passing a vote to build a two-way protected bicycle track across downtown I decided to search Twitter to see what people thought of these new bike lanes.

One particular tweet caught my eye (and no, it wasn’t because it was tweeted by a beautiful Vancouver actress/model) – it was the contents of the tweet that caught my attention.

This one tweet led to a several-day twitter showdown between a citizen bicycle advocate (me) and this disgruntled (actress/model) motorist.

“Vancouver is spending 3.2 million on yet ANOTHER bike lane downtown (on Hornby) are you KIDDING ME?! Is our city being run by monkeys? #WTF”

My first thoughts were that 3.2 million dollars is a drop in a bucket in comparison to the BILLIONS of dollars that are spent to build roadways for automobiles in Vancouver. After all, only 0.5% of Vancouver’s roadways are dedicated to bicycles (and don’t forget, bicyclists are taxpayers too).

I also felt that comparing city councillors with monkeys was a bit unfair (last I checked, George W. wasn’t the mayor of Vancouver). I mean, these “monkeys” just want to build better bicycle infrastructure to make it more comfortable, safer and convenient for tax-paying bicyclists to ride through the downtown core – with added benefits like reduced congestion, less pollution, healthier citizens and less stress.

Are drivers so selfish that they can’t spare a small amount of space for bicycles? I wanted to know.

So I asked her to enlighten me on why she thinks this bike lane is a bad thing for Vancouver. She responded:

“Worth 3.2 Million tax dollars?”

This led me to believe she is just a fair-minded taxpaying citizen who is concerned about the expenditures of the municipal government. Fair enough. Who isn’t concerned about municipal government waste these days?

But I just had to point out that the 3.2 million dollar capital cost is actually a really good deal. The equivalent cost for building an underground subway for 2.4km is about $600 million dollars plus operating costs. An above-ground LRT system would cost at least $360 million.

3.2 million to potentially move thousands of people in the future with minimal operating costs, while helping to reduce traffic congestion is a bargain.

This led to the following tweet:

“yes but we already don’t have enough room on the roads for the amount of cars- to take lanes AWAY for bikes is just stupid.”

This is the classic motorist argument. That there already isn’t enough room for the amount of cars, so giving up *any* space for bikes is “stupid”.

I countered that bikes take up only a fraction of the space that cars use, and I surmise that if the goal is to move more people, then it absolutely makes sense to invest in bicycle infrastructure. All you have to do is go to China and imagine that everyone on bicycles or scooters were driving automobiles – there wouldn’t be enough surface area to support it.

With our populations increasing, we need to provide people alternative options. Public transit is one option with high capacity for transporting people, but it’s extremely expensive, often unreliable – and depending on where you live – bicycling is often faster.

With induced demand theory, the feeling that our roads are running at full capacity will always be present whether we have 4 lanes of traffic or 14 lanes. Induced demand – with respect to transportation planning – states that an increase in roadway expansion will always increase traffic demand – traffic that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred but for the new capacity.

Of course, an increase in roadway capacity will help relieve congestion in the short term, but it will gradually catch up as more demand is “induced” to use up the excess capacity. Once this capacity is filled, most motorists believe the answer is to add more lanes – but all you need is a basic understanding of induced demand theory to know that this is not the solution (unless you truly want to have 25 lanes of traffic cutting through your city).

Using reverse induced demand theory, we can conclude that a slight reduction in roadways to make space for bicycle infrastructure will decrease demand on that roadway – while at the same time it will increase the capacity and safety of bicyclists riding through downtown Vancouver – one car lane is capable of creating two bicycle lanes.

I then argued that people on bikes are human too and asked whether she thinks people on bikes shouldn’t be given any space – despite the fact that motorists have been given thousands of kilometres of roadways.

This led to her conceding that she isn’t against bikes – however, her idea about how to make space for bicycles drastically differs from mine:

“I’m not against bikes- City should b trying 2 plan 4 more space 4 EVERYONE. Having 1 take fr the other seems redundant to me.”

Some motorists want to have their cake and eat it too. Cars are already taking most of the land’s surface area in our cities. Is it even possible to give a little bit of space for bicycles without sacrificing a small amount of space from cars?

Well, possibly. I suggested that perhaps we could take away on-street parking instead of sacrificing a lane of automobile traffic for bicycles. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. Vehicular flow can stay the same, bicycles can have safe infrastructure, and automobiles can park underground or on side streets.

The typical motorist response?

“Lol and park where?”

While traveling in Shanghai I noticed that most (if not all) arterial streets had no on-street parking. This kept automobile traffic flowing well, and also makes it easy to facilitate their great protected bicycle facilities.

In North America, some drivers aren’t willing to sacrifice a single lane of traffic for bikes, nor are they willing to give up their beloved on-street parking (heaven forbid they need to walk from a side-street to get to their destination).

In the end, this is not an uncommon debate for me to participate in. All I can do is respect motorists’ opinions and try to show them another perspective. After all, when I was growing up I was of a similar mindset – this is how most people in Canada were raised in the 80’s and 90’s.

Humans are inherently selfish, and any threat to our current way of life is strongly defended.

But when you look at the bigger picture, we can’t continue to drive automobiles as much as we do – especially as our population increases.

Automobiles pollute, take up vast amounts of space, and they breed many unhealthy and obese citizens. We need solutions that will make our cities better places to live and breed healthier, happier, stress-free citizens.

The bicycle can do just that.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at

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11 thoughts on “Motorists Against Bicycle Infrastructure

  1. paddyanne Oct 11,2010 2:12 pm

    As a Vancouverite I love the biking infrastructure the City is building, its not just talk but action! The motorists are very scared, and I think, with some exceptions, the local media hasn’t helped to present facts to them. I’m also sad to always find the articles and news based on motorist vs bikes instead of motorists vs increased public transport, in all of its various means.
    Thanks for the good read, enjoyed it!

  2. John Henry Oct 11,2010 2:49 pm

    Another great post James. Love the “and park where?!” response so many people often give. Have a great holiday.

  3. jamesmallon Oct 12,2010 4:26 am

    When these people are in a good mood, and comment that I am so healthy to ride in to work and what good shape I am in (middling in truth), I tell them that it takes me the same time as a car commute, saves me time and money from going to a gym, and relieves my work stress on the way home. In five years exactly one person has followed my lead. Well, I do work in the ‘burbs.

  4. Ryan Oct 13,2010 10:29 am

    I was thinking of moving to BC for quite some time. During that time I followed the news in BC closer than the local news in Ontario.

    One thing I found? As bike friendly as BC appears, it is equally bike-unfriendly.
    Whenever CBC has an article on bike lanes in Vancouver, just skim through the first five pages, and I guarantee at least 10 posts will have one of the following:

    1. License them
    2. Insure them
    3. Get’em off the road
    4. Time for the to pay their fair share (most popular)
    5. Ticket them for not wearing helmets.

  5. Martin P Oct 14,2010 12:00 pm

    You said:
    “All I can do is respect motorists’ opinions”

    As a pedantic, quasi-philosophical point, I don’t see any reason to *respect* everyone’s opinion, because most people’s opinions on most subjects are severely underinformed and poorly thought out. The opinions of this woman on twitter being a case in point. However …

    I *do* see a need to respect every *person* – from that springs the politeness and patience you so wonderfully show in your response to this woman. People are not identical with their opinions.

    (Naturally, if anyone reads my comment, I hope they will be polite and respect *me* even if they think my opinion-about-opinions is stupid!).

  6. James D. Schwartz Oct 18,2010 6:39 am

    @Ryan, the comments you read on CBC articles aren’t specific to any locale. Canada as a country is addicted to automobiles – BC very much included. So you will see those comments on any article, regardless of the city.

    @MartinP – Good point, I would also be more inclined to respect people rather than their opinions. However, the reason I specified “opinion” in this case is because I can see where they are coming from. I guess I meant to say I can respect (or relate to) where they are coming from with their opinions – which goes back to where you are coming from with your opinion-about -opinions, which I can respect 🙂

  7. Ryan Oct 20,2010 5:31 pm

    I defiantly see them in other cities. Toronto and Ottawa both equally have the same comments.

    I just found that when it came to Vancouver, people would actually write editorials more against bikes, compared to Toronto where the usual anti-bike BS comes from the comment box.

  8. She Rides a Bike Oct 24,2010 2:31 am

    When I hear similar opposition to spending monies on bike infrastructure, I remind the other person that we live in a tough economic times and that my decision to bike commute is a reflection of that. Moving from the inexpensive mid-west to the bone crushingly expensive southwest for my husbands job, we just couldn’t afford to be a two car family. And we both have good jobs. Plenty of tax-paying citizens struggle to make ends meet and use a combination of biking, public transit and walking to get from point A to point B. It’s called taking personal responsibility for finding a way around not having a lot of money. Many, many people cannot afford car ownership and anyone who has ever owned a car knows it can be a money pit. I think when you start talking about it in terms of pocket book issues it starts making more sense to the average person. At least in the US, most people don’t have a clue as to how much municipalities and states spend on road and highways or how hard they are to maintain.

  9. Richard Layman Dec 4,2010 2:04 pm

    the real question isn’t about “more space” for everyone, it’s about making significant, serious choices with regard to optimal mobility and throughput. On that comparison, the automobile will almost always lose.

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