July 7, 2016

Bike Lanes and Commercial Drive-Cyclegeddon?

That title is sure to conjure up all kinds of images. As part of the City of Vancouver’s cycling network upgrades for years 2016-2020, the City is proposing a dedicated buffered bike lane on Commercial Drive. Some people think that championing Vancouver’s Commercial Drive as a biking and walking street will reinforce the friendly, neighbourly vibe The Drive is so well-known for. Others, like The Drive’s Business Society fear the death of retailing by cyclegeddon.
The executive director of the Commercial Drive Business Society  has written  a compelling statement clearly stating that in the society’s view, bike lanes on Commercial are not financially sound for their businesses.

Recently, businesses along The Drive have been working with the City of Vancouver to update the area’s transportation infrastructure. The dynamics of the city are changing and with that, the way we get around must adapt. Recently, however, the City has been aggressively pushing a strategy that we cannot support – the installation of permanent bicycle lanes on Commercial Drive itself.

For the record, businesses on The Drive support enhanced infrastructure for cyclists in Vancouver. Many of our business owners are cyclists themselves, as are our customers and our employees. We recognize that thanks to organizations like HUB and Mobi, cycling is on the rise…

What we cannot support, however, are permanent and blocked off lanes on an already narrow high street, with limited parking and no room for our vendors to make deliveries as is.”

So there you have it. The issue is access to parking (and a lack of dedicated parking facilities)  for people arriving by car, and deliveries servicing the businesses. As the Business Society summarizes “After all it is called The Drive for a reason”.


Commercial Drive merchants have not yet felt the tipping point  where walkers, bikers and transit riders visit more often and spend more per month than people arriving by car. But that has been the experience of the City of Toronto and the City of New York when walking and biking facilities are expanded in commercial areas and car facilities minimized.

Price Tags editor Ken Ohrn examined the changing attitudes to biking and commercial areas in this June post, and also referred to the  thorough Stantec Business Impact Study of downtown bike lanes from 2011. Let’s hope the Commercial Drive’s Business Society gives it a read.

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  1. This is exactly the same situation and reaction that the Dunsmuir bike lanes had. Just like downtown, I never drive to shops on Commercial Drive because it’s virtually impossible to find convenient parking. I can’t imagine that I’m alone in this. Because of that, and because the nearest bike route on Lakewood isn’t terribly handy and is up a substantial hill, I pretty much never get to the shops there.
    By contrast, I visit shops on Broadway, also a difficult place to get parking, quite a bit more because the 10th Avenue bike route makes it pretty easy to get there by bike.
    If you look at how busy the pedestrian traffic on Commercial Drive is it’s pretty obvious that most of them got there by other means than cars. A bike lane would connect those shops to the rest of the bike network, especially the very popular and convenient Central Valley Greenway, and give people such as myself an incentive to patronize them.

    1. +1 … I don’t drive there because even though in a car2go its annoying to find parking … and I don’t bike there because its shit to bike there. I’ll bike or walk to other places instead, and (unfortunately) I don’t actually ever really enjoy anyplace on Commercial Drive.

  2. I am struck that in the op-ed the Commercial Drive Business Society presents literally no data to support the claim their customers come by car. Or where they come from.
    I have no data either, but I suspect the overwhelming majority of those who patronize Commercial Drive shops are local residents who live within a 4-6 block radius and likely don’t drive. And those that come from out of the neighbourhood arrive by Skytrain.
    And unless they are proposing building multi-story parkades, I don’t see how they are going to expand their customer base by maintaining the current street parking arrangements.

    1. My son and his family lived near Commercial Drive/15th for many years. You’re spot on! We always walked. And walking down Commercial Dr is invigorating, even exciting. What the Drive really needs is wider sidewalks.

  3. Riding along the Drive is not a pleasant experience when it’s heavy with MV traffic, but often there is little and removing a car lane or two south of 1st would barely be noticed most of the time. (North of 1st will be a trickier balancing act.)
    I will only spend money in the establishments that support the bike lanes. This is not my hood but it’s close enough by bike that I end up there from time to time. By asking owners and staff if they support bike lanes I raise awareness that people do come by bike and that more would come if they welcomed us.
    Vote with your wallet. But explain why when you get a chance.

    1. I agree. South of 1st has the road space to eliminate a lane or even two, making it more, um, pedestrian (first) and hanging out friendly.
      North of 1st, not so much.

      1. … so basically, anywhere you’d want to go on Commercial could fit a bike path, and everywhere you don’t really want to, it doesn’t. That seems to work fine then.

        1. I find the area north of 1st to be more attractive because the road is narrower. But that makes it tougher to get buy-in for a bike path and wider sidewalks. Parking would have to go – as it has on the narrower streets of Europe, bustling with shoppers and attracting people to linger.
          Providing nearby parking is a solvable challenge.

  4. I don’t think people within walking distance are enough to support the 100 or so restaurants on the drive. The other businesses may be more locally supported, but the drive is a food destination for much of the city.
    That being said, parking near the drive is still pretty easy, and despite living medium close, I usually drive there.

      1. Less than a block away from Commercial parking is free.
        The incremental cost of driving once you own a car is next to free.
        I have an EV and parking at Brittannia’s EV charge means I’m actually getting paid with free power to park there.

  5. “Charles Gauthier with the Downtown Vancouver Business Association says since the fight over the Hornby street lane, his membership has changed their thinking.
    “We’re less opposed to them than we were in the past, and we do see the value in terms of getting people to shift the way they come into downtown, and it’s been a growing segment of how people get into the downtown.”
    He says the one study that was done on the Hornby lane found it wasn’t the businesses-killer they thought it might be, and that the street seems to be thriving with a low vacancy rate.
    “A lot of our businesses on Hornby Street thought that everyone drove down… But when the bike study was done, the intercept survey showed that the people in the vicinity of that area had got there by bike, by transit, and by walking. There’s often a disconnect between how businesses think their customers get to their store and what the reality is.”
    From an article on NW98, Dec 9 2015. Link available.
    From the same article, from a restaurant owner:
    “We have such a unique area that we attract people from all over. From the Tri-cities, from everywhere, it’s not only the immediate residents. What, are people going to ride their bikes to restaurants, to buy shoes, to the delis here – on their bicycles?”
    In short, yes.

  6. I live in Cedar Cottage and would really like to do more shopping on the Drive, but don’t because I feel so unsafe riding along Commercial on my trike. If Commercial had a good separated bike lane, I’d be getting all my produce at Donald’s and rotating thru the coffee shops for my thesis writing.

  7. In the decades I’ve lived in the Commercial Drive neighbourhood, it’s been residents who walk or cycle who predominate in the shops and on the sidewalks. I think the Drive isn’t waiting for a tipping point, the behaviours you describe have been here all along. The problem is the BIA’s inability to recognize it. They are marketing this area as though it is a suburban mall, rather than an exemplar of the walkability that people are seeking across North America. The bike lanes would help to eliminate the high speeds cars use as they race past businesses on the stretch between 1st Avenue and Broadway, increasing business and making the Drive an even more pleasant and people-centred place to be. The streets will still be filled every weekend with the suburbanites they crave , attracted by the very things the BIA seeks to reject.

  8. I don’t think his opinion piece is compelling at all. It’s so full of holes that it’s not even worth worrying about much. I doubt if anyone will blindly just eat it up. But you never know.
    Currently many of the deliveries happen on the side streets so there would be no change there. If he was part of the process instead of just opposing it he could make sure there will be even more spots for deliveries than now.
    The general travel lanes south of Gravely are super wide. They can be narrowed to standard widths giving so much surplus room that a parking lane can still be provided in addition to bike lanes on each side.
    He uses the term “bicycle highway” which implies that people will be cycling through the area and not stopping there. His “alternative solution” of parallel streets being upgraded shows that he still doesn’t understand what the purpose of cycle lanes on The Drive are. He needs to learn that people want to continue shopping by bike on The Drive and spending money on The Drive. If someone is only cycling through the area and not stopping then they already are using the parallel routes.
    It’s also hilarious that the image chosen in the article shows a super wide street with only a few cars moving on it and lots of empty room.
    I think he should not look a gift horse in the mouth. The 200 block of Union Street, which also was initially wary of the cycle lane now loves it. I would even speculate that some of those businesses would have gone under by now if it weren’t for the steady stream of customers cycling by all day who are able to easily stop and buy stuff.
    All over the world we have seen the same pattern. A cycle route is proposed, some businesses are worried, the route is put in, business is improved and they then love it. It even happened in The Netherlands in the ’70s. In fact businesses over there complain when an existing cycle route is planned to be rerouted away from their businesses.
    People have been shopping by bike on The Drive for decades. Why hasn’t he noticed that?
    Why is a business association against business?

    1. Those bike saddle bags can hold a lotta stuff. Throw in a small gel freezer pack and you can even pick up some ice cream.

      1. You just do your ice cream shopping last and then go straight home. If you live close by it doesn’t melt at all.

  9. If the CDBS is correct, then Commercial Driver must be a magical street where all the pedestrians and bike riders are simply passing through to other destinations and those arriving by car get to park at their destination business and simply walk across the sidewalk to enter the premises.

    1. Unfortunately the only strategy that seems to work is to ram it through against their protests and wait for them to grudgingly love it afterward – though they’ll never admit it.
      You can show all the data from everywhere else on Earth that these initiatives almost always increase business but most merchants will always believe they would be the exception.

      1. I agree with Frank. These people’s concerns, while unfounded, are real to them. They need to be educated and included not ridiculed or left out of the process.
        I wonder if a group of merchants from Union St and from the downtown BIA can go visit them and help them through this so they know what to expect and can become less worried about it.

        1. I attended just such a meeting. We listened to the rep from the DVBIA. The response from the representative of the CDBS was that their street was unique in Vancouver, and that the experience of other merchants on other streets didn’t apply to them.
          I think intercept surveys on Commercial Drive will help.
          Another thing that helps is supporting those merchants who are open to discussing it.

        2. Where is the breaking point on ‘unfounded concerns’? Pandering to the un-informed strikes me as a destructive course of action that leads to greater ignorance. Why isn’t it the responsibility of business owners to be aware of the world and trends in transportation, shopping, and urban design?
          I don’t suggest ridiculing them, but to steal a much-overused expression – whatever happened to personal responsibility? Aren’t they obligated to stay abreast of trends if they want their business to succeed?

        3. Chris, do you think it’s time now for a sort of bike-cultural revolution along with some re-education for these un-informed? Perhaps a forced march to Copenhagen.

      2. RV; “Unfortunately the only strategy that seems to work is to ram it through against their protests and wait for them to grudgingly love it afterward – ”
        Vancouverism II.
        For a minute I thought I was reading an office City press release.

        1. I suppose it’s not surprising that hard questions are ridiculed and misrepresented. We (as a society) are constantly calling for better-informed opinions and actions from individuals outside of the business sphere. Why does the business owner get to expect remedial education on easily researched topics? Perhaps you might try again with a real-life grown-up answer Eric-nonymous?

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  11. I’ve been on Commercial Drive thousands of times – mostly by bicycle; often by car. It used to be my primary shopping street when I lived near Wall St. Now, living in Renfrew Heights, I still bomb down there on my bike – generally don’t take the car – it’s no fun.
    And, though we live 4 minutes walk to Skytrain, well, this year I took it once, with my 9-year-old, as a treat – he thinks it’s fun to do the loop – Expo Line out and come back on the Millenium. We are not public transit people, but that trip, if you have a decent seat, away from some of the unpleasant human elements, is entertaining – unlike a claustrophobic subway.
    In all those years of cycling on Commercial, there were just a few dicey/scary moments. I’m a hard core confident highly experienced rider and can deal with what motordom throws at me – I understand why it unnerves others.
    Point for Bicyclists: Just because you show up with your bicycle doesn’t mean you have to be on it all the time. Often it’s smarter to get off and walk with it – use it like a shopping cart. It’s smarter to not pedal all the time, esp. if you come to a horrible hill. Get off and push your bike, using it as a mobile crutch. When I use my bike to shop at Stuporstore and am returning with 20 kgs of stuff, though I could muscle my way up standing on the pedals, that’s stupid. It’s hard on you, and it’s hard on the bike.
    By walking the bike a bit, you use different muscle groups – a change is as good as a rest.
    Same goes for dangerous cycling zones – there are times – especially cycling with kids, when it’s prudent for everybody to get off and walk through an intersection. Get back on when the danger zone is cleared.
    I have five bicycles – there are nine in our household. If you can only have one, it should be a touring bike with fenders, a mirror, and bags. This is comfort, longevity, and practicality – it is the ultimate evolution of the bicycle – best means of transportation invented. Some might want to add an electric system – this is unnecessary. It adds too much weight, cost, and complexity. As stated earlier – if you come to a hill – get off and walk up. Simple.
    My primary shopping bike has a full pannier setup, and quality wrap on the drop bars – yes the bike should have drop bars – though you usually hold the top curve position, having multiple other places to hold is wonderful. The drop bar is the ultimate evolution of the handlebar.
    This bike also has a sprung Brooks Saddle – way easier on the body – don’t get the ones on rails. Mine also has a New Zealand sheepskin cover. You can’t imagine how great that is until you’ve tried it.
    The worst issues I’ve had on Commercial have been with bus drivers – the turkeys who pass you and then pull over – forcing you to go around – this is dangerous. If the driver would slack off his speed for literally two seconds this danger would be avoided. It would not affect his precious schedule. A plague on these bus drivers – I think they are deliberately hostile. I’d be too if I had that job.
    The other danger is the motor maniac suddenly pulling over for coffee. I read about that in a cycling book – and it has happened to me. Without the coffee their brains are not operating on all cylinders. Watch out.
    Should Commercial have bike lanes? Of course. Should it permit vehicles at all? No. Make it like Rue St. Denis in Montreal. It would become a tourist destination, for locals and international.

  12. Where is the subway below Commercial Drive ?
    Yes to more bike lanes but ONLY if there are other RAPID transit alternatives being offered. It does not help commerce to merely frustrate car users and even bus users as the buses get stuck in traffic, too. People will shop elsewhere. Also see: Tsawwassen Mall expansion (see pricetag discussions here https://www.google.ca/search?q=pricetags+tsawwassen ) or Oak Ridge Center expansion. Both malls offer convenient access, by car or by subway.

    1. “Where is the subway below Commercial Drive?”
      Where is your justification for it? Ridership projections? Budget? Prioritization against other rapid transit opportunities?
      Yesterday you posted with an objection that you weren’t asking for everything. Perhaps this request could be added to that tally.

      1. My point is that merely making car use miserable is not a viable transportation strategy. Half the shop owners will do the adult thing and close their stores.
        Shops need easy access. Hence only stores within easy reach of a car or a rapid transit system like a subway, LRT or SkyTrain will survive. Commercial “drive” will die if they go down to one lane and 50% of the stores won’t survive unless in parallel massive nearby density is increased. Is it ?
        People will shop elsewhere unless they live nearby or it is easily accessible Jeff !

        1. The thing I often notice on west 4th in Kits is that it often behaves exactly like a 2 lane road (one each way) … anytime there is even a modicum of traffic, it only takes one car turning left or one person trying to park (or both at the same time) … busses have similar effect if they don’t pull all the way to the curb … which they often dont … to make the extra lane useless.
          I’m sure Commercial Drive is similar.
          So, adding in some turn lanes, the street could probably have even greater capacity than now, because it would have a chance to actually move fluidly. Also probably woyld have fewer accidents as less people try to deek around turning cars.
          This way there would easily be plenty of groom for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, AND more cars.

        2. Why not convert the free parking lanes aka squatter lanes one block over into a bike lane ? Or would this trample too much on the Vision supporters’ rights to (almost $120/year) free car parking in their neighborhood ? Afterall, after the renters’ paradise west-end E-Van is Vision’s ground zero.

        3. Thomas, I have news for you. Car use is indeed miserable in Vancouver, it has been for years, and it isn’t going to get better. This is especially true of the Drive. I used to live there, and walking or the bike were pretty much the only option. If you wanted to take a car, you pretty much had to park in someone’s residential area and walk quite a ways down to the drive, it was simply quicker to take a bike. Build the bike lane!

        4. “Commercial “drive” will die if they go down to one lane”
          Nonsense. North of First, there is only one traffic lane now in each direction when parking is permitted. So is that strip dead? Would the ‘adult thing to do’ be to just close those stores now?
          You do realize that the transportation survey the City did showed that trips to shop are less than 50% motor vehicle? Building more complete streets is the smartest thing to do economically, for citizens and shop owners.

    2. We have seen the horrid “petition” put out by the CDBS. The city did a proper transportation survey of Grandview Woodland residents:
      Some interesting results which the CDBS might want to pay attention to:
      – 70% wanted the city to make cycling more comfortable and convenient
      – 68% wanted transit improvements.
      – 54% were in favour of reducing street parking to provide improvements to walking, cycling and transit.
      Why would any business owner object to improved walking, cycling, transit? This is obviously how their customers want to get around. If I were a business owner on Commercial Drive, I would insist that the CDBS conduct a customer survey to find out how their customers traveled to their business.

  13. Arcitectus – good idea. putting a 4-lane street on a “road diet” and converting it to 2 moving lanes plus turning pockets has indeed been around for awhile. Seattle has done it quite well in a number of places, notably the Broadway shopping strip. The turning bays eliminate the congestion where it occurs – at the intersections.
    Again, though, I think it would only – or best – apply south of 1st where there are 4 moving lanes. Do you think it could work north of 1st?

    1. The road north of 1st seems to be one lane narrower … so even without addressing lane width (which could potentially go down also), the same plan could work with parking on one side or the other, if not both. I’ve always felt like the traffic was less bad north of first than south, so there likely needs to be less necessary capacity north of first anyway – many of the people who use Commercial as an Arterial (and therefor have little likely intention of shopping on the street anyway) I think turn on 1st, or from 1st, and don’t visit north of that.