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Geoff Meggs, Vancouver city councillor; photo courtesy CAA. Click image to enlarge

By Gerry Frechette

The City of Vancouver is certainly one of the more bicycle-conscious cities in the country, especially in the past couple of years, with dedicated bike lanes having being built on a few major downtown routes, much to the consternation of drivers and businesses. It is fair to say that the relationship between riders and drivers is a difficult one at the moment.

It was in this environment that the Canadian Automobile Association took the initiative to host the first ever Changing Lanes Conference, with the sub-title, “Improving the Bike-Car Relationship on Canada’s Roads.” With a few panel discussions between noted authorities on road use and design, we would surely find out whether this worthy goal is even attainable.

To begin the proceedings, Jeff Walker of the CAA presented the results of an extensive survey the organization conducted into attitudes and perceptions surrounding bicycle use. Some of the survey results were eye-opening, and others confirmed what many drivers had to feel was the case just from seeing what happens on the roads of the country.

Half of those surveyed believe that the numbers of cyclists is increasing, and 61 per cent felt that there will be even more in the next few years. Incidents of contact between vehicles and bicycles are increasing each year, and the great majority of respondents felt that this was a serious problem.

So, just what causes this problem? Not surprisingly, the reason most cited was inadequate infrastructure for bicycles and separation from vehicles. But number two was lack of familiarity of the rules of the road by cyclists. The top three remedial actions suggested by the survey were more-clearly marked lanes for cars and bikes, and new training programs, both for drivers and cyclists.

The survey went on to ask, “As a driver, do you think it is easier or more difficult to deal with cyclists on the road today than it has been in the past?” Over half the respondents felt it was more difficult, while 20 per cent felt it was easier. It is not clear what “dealing with” refers to, so read into this what you will.

The perception of how stringently the rules of the road are enforced by police are strongly to the “lax” side, with some 66 per cent feeling that laws governing drivers in regard to cyclist safety are not adequately enforced, and a sky-high 81 per cent feeling that the laws governing cyclist behaviour on roads are not being enforced.

With the beginning of the panel discussions, it quickly became apparent that the make-up of the panels would strongly reflect the audience, namely that it was noticeably skewed towards the bicycle side of the road-use equation. All the bicycle coalitions in Vancouver (yes, there are several) plus more from across Canada were on hand, but curiously, for an event put on by an automobile association, there were few defenders of the motorized vehicle, given they include commercial and transit vehicles.

The first panel discussion addressed the building of cycling infrastructure in major cities, with detailed presentations from several planners and civic officials including City of Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs. Not surprisingly, the universal conclusion is that more cycling lanes are needed in cities, as the number of cyclists continues to grow.

The second panel was a discussion about strategies and actions that both drivers and cyclists can adopt to help make roads safer for everyone using them. With two cycling coalition officials, a police officer, and noted auto journalist Ted Laturnus among the panel, the views expressed were strong ones.