Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

“Business community bashes Burrard Bridge bike lane trial”

with 8 comments

Vancouver Courier

Once again the headline writer misleads – probably intentionally. It is not the community that is “bashing” it is Charles Gauthier “executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement Association” who does not represent everyone downtown. For example, for far too long I had to spend time in meetings over the redesign of the Granville Mall. Gauthier led the “open it up to cars” brigade – but retailers on the mall itself – people like John Fluevog who runs the eponymous shoe shop – were dead set against more cars. So the DVBIA had to trot out people like Blaine Culling – who was expanding his entertainment businesses in the scruffy end down by the bridge which was always open to cars. Or the Pacific Centre folks who had sucked the trade off the street years before.

“You’re not going to get someone from Maple Ridge to bike to Vancouver to go to the opera,” Gauthier said.

True – but so what? On my last trip to the opera I did not do any shopping either!

All over the world, town centres that have reduced the impact of cars on people trying to get around and enjoy the place have found that business improves. Indeed, that is what the suburban shopping mall tries to create – a car free, safe environment in which people can wander around. Unfortunately, since there is never much else to do inside a Mall except shop, many developers have since turned away from the conventional mall and are now trying to recreate streets.  One of the earliest I have visited was imaginatively called “The Block” and is in Orange County, near Disneyland – which of course is also (within its gates) mainly pedestrian and public transport oriented.

Gauthier seems to be completely unaware – or chooses to ignore – most of the recent literature on planning and transportation in urban areas. I have never seen him at any of the City Programme lectures – or other events where these issues are discussed objectively. The DVBIA seems to be stuck in the past.

It is also the case, as I have written here many times, that the Burrard Bridge trial will not actually reduce vehicle capacity. Because that is not a function of the number of lanes on the bridge itself but of the signal settings at the intersections at each end. I do not understand why people like Jerry Dobrovolny do not say that too. I was appalled by the editorializing that Gloria Makarenko managed to insert into a recent CBC news report on the trial where she suggested that it would inevitably lead to worse traffic congestion – because that is (she said) what happened last time.

Cities are not about making it easy for cars to drive through. We have always known that – yet had to fight off the people who hate cities like Robert Moses, as well as those who seem incapable of understanding them, like Charles Gauthier. It is people movement that matters. And it is people who spend time (and money) within the city who contribute to its wealth and well being. And increasingly, Vancouver is seeing more people walking and cycling and fewer people in cars. Which is as it should be and will inevitably continue.

There are serious concerns for businesses impacted by construction – both on Granville and, up until recently, Cambie, and of course there needs to be a process by which such businesses get heard and helped. Other places do that a lot better than we do too. But just bleating about anything that might appear to reduce car carrying capacity  is no longer credible. Just because people reduce their car use does not mean they stop spending. And of course, downtown attractions need to be worthwhile and accessible. Concentrating a lot of drinking establishments in a few blocks of Granville was probably not the best urban strategy – though it no doubt suited Mr Culling’s pocket. (And it meant the street has now to be closed to cars at closing time too!) Concentrating on chain stores and upmarket retail on Robson looks like it neglected the new residents – something at long last now being addressed. Both these mistakes can be laid at Mr Gauthier’s door. He and his cohorts pressed for these changes – and we have had to pay for them.

The present one lane trial already concedes far too much to the car brigade. But it may well reduce the collision rate – so for that reason alone is worth supporting. It also seems likely that the present Mayor may actually let the trial run its course – which may mean that it stands a better chance of a fair assessment. But you can bet your boots that Gauthier and Co will be calling for its ending long before the trail is up and will declare it a failure no matter what the actual results are.

Burrard Bridge - Critical Mass June 26, 2009

Burrard Bridge – Critical Mass June 26, 2009

The photo above was taken by “Random Dude” on flickr and has a creative commons license

Written by Stephen Rees

June 26, 2009 at 10:08 am

8 Responses

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  1. People who bike have more money to spend than motorists or transit riders.


    June 26, 2009 at 10:29 am

  2. Can’t add much to Stephen comments..It is so frustrating for those of us who have actually seen so many successful downtown pedestrian areas! and not just in Europe either! they are all over the world.. where do they get thees dinosaurs?
    And what about the incredibly dumb design of the entrances to the RAV line in the downtown area? 2 boxes that hides adjacent businesses and impede the flow of pedestrian traffic, like rocks in a fast flowing river, especially the one at Granville and Hastings.
    Couldn’t they negotiate with businesses and have the entrances inside a building, as they did with the newer Granville station entrance on Dunsmuir? I haven’t seen signs of a corridor going straight from the Waterfront SkyTrain platforms to the RAV line as it is commonly done in other places. Don’t tell me that one will have to exit the Skytrain system then enter the RAV line???

    I can’t believe that Translink/ Oakridge/ City hall are putting drastic parking restrictions around the station. This is the surest way to ensure that people drive cars downtown instead of taking the RAV line. And Oakridge will lose potential customers.
    Homeowners past 16th ave. have their own parking in the back and shouldn’t need to have one in front of their home. This is so 1950!

    Red frog

    June 26, 2009 at 11:55 am

  3. I live (and work) in Kits, but I bike downtown almost daily to shop, to eat, etc. I would never do that with a car. The insinuation that I’m a second-class consumer is a total slap in the face.

    If downtown businesses don’t want our money, the solution is simple – boycott them.


    June 26, 2009 at 12:05 pm

  4. This overreaction is perfect. Lowering expectations increases the likelihood the trial will be considered a success. It will also lower the credibility of the opponents of the trial when their dire predictions don’t come to pass.

    The other flaw in his argument is that no one goes to the opera in peak periods. Outside of a couple hours a day, the trial will have no impact what so ever on traffic. What might have an impact is this type of fear-mongering.


    June 26, 2009 at 12:20 pm

  5. And of course, some BIA’s actually understand how valuable all its customers are.

    Click to access bikebask2009.pdf


    June 26, 2009 at 1:21 pm

  6. It baffles me that the DVBIA executive director would go out of his way to act as an obstacle to improved cycling access to downtown, a neighbourhood of nearly 100,000 people. Frankly, bike lanes on Burrard Bridge have very little to do with the businesses Mr. Gauthier is paid to represent. What this is about is a public street that is demonstrably unsafe for people to walk and cycle.

    To a person I am sure each downtown business owner and manager desires and appreciates the dollars spent by each person who walks through their door. What frustrates me is the disconnect that seems to exist when it comes to the difference between a cyclist customers’ experience of downtown and the experience of customers who arrive by other modes of travel. If you are nearly killed while en route to a destination downtown, how likely do you think those people will be to return? As a business owner, why on earth would you object to anything that makes your part of the city better and more accessible?

    Granville Island’s transportation study found that while people who arrive on the Island by bicycle and on foot make up 27% of the total trips to the Island, they account for 54% of the economic activity on the Island. These are the people who bankroll Granville Island, the first-class customers, yet they are treated like second-class citizens when it comes to the Island’s transportation plan. I would be absolutely fascinated to find out similar numbers for DVBIA member businesses.

    East Vancouverite

    June 27, 2009 at 6:21 pm

  7. David – the trouble with boycotting them is that then they can say “Ï told you so” when their business goes south. Maybe better to make a point of supporting businesses like Fluevog who have a more progressive attitude and boycotting the rest, making it clear that it’s because they still think it’s 1950. Does anyone have a list somewhere of who is who?

    Bill Kinkaid

    June 28, 2009 at 7:06 am

  8. I can’t believe the comments and attitude presented by C. Gautier. Whatever credibility he once had is out the window. As another David said above, his insinuation of non-drivers being second class consumers is apparent and deserves to be acted upon. I, for one, won’t be adding any money to their coffers if I can help it.

    The Granville Island transportation study is quite clear. I, too, would love to see some numbers from the DVBIA. In the meantime, I wonder why someone with such an entrenched commitment to maintaining a false urban ideal is in charge of such a seemingly influential group.

    It’s time for big thinkers!

    david n.

    July 1, 2009 at 4:32 pm

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