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ABC Vancouver-dominated council hits brakes on bike lanes for Broadway

OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle: "I'm angry and heartbroken about it."
The ABC Vancouver-dominated council voted 6-3 Thursday to wait until the Broadway subway opens in 2026 before considering separated bike lanes for a four-kilometre stretch of the busy street.

Separated bike lanes along a four-kilometre stretch of Broadway will not be built anytime soon.

That is the result of a city council vote Thursday, with the ABC Vancouver majority choosing to follow a staff recommendation to wait until the Broadway subway opens in 2026 before considering bike lanes along the stretch from Main to Arbutus streets.

“In a perfect world with unlimited resources, we would literally do everything,” said Mayor Ken Sim, who described himself as an avid cyclist and pro-bike infrastructure.

“Unfortunately, we do not live in La-la land where we have unlimited resources, and so we do have to prioritize.”

Council made the decision after hearing from Lon LaClaire, the city’s general manager of engineering services, and Paul Storer, the city’s director of transportation, who outlined three options for bike lanes along Broadway.

The first option, which council adopted, was to reallocate curb lanes to allow for wider sidewalks and public space — patios, parklets, seating, trees and green infrastructure — “and protect for future active transportation lanes.”

'It's not going to be any cheaper'

Green Party Coun. Pete Fry predicted the lanes will never get built.

“It's not going to be any cheaper, it's not going to be more practical to revisit this later,” said Fry, who joined councillors Adriane Carr and Christine Boyle in pushing for lanes to be added now while subway construction continues.

“In fact, there'll be more incumbrance because nobody's going to want to rip up Broadway again. I guarantee you that we'll never see this happen.”

Staff didn’t provide an estimated cost to implement the first option, but a staff report said it would be “minimal” while the two other options — known as option two and three in the report — could cost between $10 million and $20 million, or more.

LaClaire told council there is no dedicated budget for bike lanes along Broadway and implementing options two or three would require using money from other projects, or to seek separate funds.

He also cited the massive public feedback exercise that would have to occur to consult businesses and residents about adding the lanes, which would be protected from traffic and run approximately four kilometres.

“That's twice as long as the longest separated bike lane we've ever done,” LaClaire said. “It's active retail [stores] across its entire length, which is usually the most challenging parts when we're implementing separated bike lanes.”

Options two and three, which were heavily favoured by the majority of 42 citizens who registered to speak to council Wednesday, called for the reallocation of curb lanes for bike lanes before the subway opens in 2026.

But staff warned council about less opportunity for parking and loading, and the need to consult with the provincial government about incorporating bike lanes into the subway station blocks, as it would be a change to design.

One of the options — number three in the city report — would also require the reallocation of an additional travel lane in each direction to create significantly more room for sidewalks and public space opportunities as well as bike lanes.

“It would also further reduce motor vehicle capacity to a single lane in either direction, impacting transit, goods movement and emergency vehicles,” warned the report, adding that TransLink would need to approve the design to meet its operational requirements, as Broadway is part of the major road network.

'I'm angry and heartbroken'

Boyle, who unsuccessfully moved an amendment for council to adopt option two, echoed Fry’s comments about the lanes needing to be built now and that it wouldn’t be easier or cheaper to build after the subway opens.

“And so I will just say this is a major missed opportunity,” Boyle said. “I'm angry and heartbroken about it.”

Carr said she was “distraught around the fact that it is actually slowing down Vancouver on climate change and acting around public safety.”

She addressed concerns about the cost of adding bike lanes now, saying Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman wrote a letter of support and provided details on how to obtain money from the provincial government to add the lanes.

ABC Coun. Lenny Zhou cited a city survey where 60 per cent of respondents wanted Broadway to be improved for pedestrians and be more walkable. Zhou also pointed out the 10th Avenue bike route is only one block off Broadway; it does not include lanes protected or separated from vehicles, except in a few spots along the route.

“I think option one will be done in a way that allows a future bike lane once the timing, planning, traffic evaluation and funding are properly in place,” he said, adding that he would support a pilot project for a bike lane on Broadway.

Barber shop owner supports bike lanes

Jeff Leigh, board president of cycling advocacy organization HUB, gave council many reasons why bike lanes should be implemented sooner than later, including meeting council-directed goals to get more people out of cars and reduce pollution.

Like Fry and Boyle, Leigh said widening sidewalks and adding curbs now, and then having to rip them up after the subway is built, doesn’t make financial sense — and further harms businesses along the street that have suffered because of subway construction.

“With the involvement of TransLink and the B.C. government in the Broadway subway, it seems inconceivable that they would not support this important work,” said Leigh, noting the B.C. government announced $100 million for active transportation projects in the recent budget.

“Building a great city requires that we act and not that we simply defer action to some future point in time. That action to build a complete street on Broadway needs to start now.”

Rich Hope, owner of Belmont barber shop in the 100-block East Broadway, urged council to add bike lanes to the street, saying he wanted as many eyes on his business as possible.

“I absolutely support active transportation lanes on Broadway,” Hope said.

“I'm more than excited about the subway line, and I'm excited about some of the changes, but I really think we need to have a great street that includes everybody. I don't think we need a street that tells a certain demographic of people that they don't need to be there, or they should go somewhere else.”

In an informal poll of his customers, Hope said just under half come by car and the rest by foot or bicycle.

“Unlike some people, I don't picture a utopia where nobody drives — that's not even reasonable,” he said. “But I picture a city where everybody can get around.”

The City of Vancouver issued a news release following the vote, saying the city already has 333 kilometres of bike lanes, 31 per cent "considered all ages and abilities (mix of protected and some low traffic streets)."

The city also has three east-west bike routes near Broadway, including 5th and 7th avenues, 10th Avenue — as Zhou mentioned — and 14th Avenue.

ABC Vancouver councillors Sarah Kirby-Yung and Rebecca Bligh were on city business and absent for the vote.