Vancouverites—We Don’t Have to Be Amsterdam to Be a Cycling City.

Tue, 20 Nov 2018

Renee McMillen
Renee is a student in Simon Fraser University’s Semester in Dialogue program this fall at CityStudio. She will be graduating from SFU this upcoming spring with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Dialogue. She is passionate about eating locally and sustainably, social justice and resiliency, and is an avid cyclist in the city of Vancouver.

Cycling in Vancouver is far from perfect. Vancouverites who drive primarily by car offer every excuse in the book as to why cycling in Vancouver does not work; topography, weather and insufficient infrastructure. You’re right, Vancouver isn’t Amsterdam, but it doesn’t have to be. Once upon a time, Amsterdam wasn’t Amsterdam either. The vast cycling network you see today only developed over the last 20 to 30 years.

This summer, I travelled to the Netherlands and experienced cycling in Amsterdam firsthand. Unlike in Vancouver, I felt safe sharing the roads with motorists because 75 per cent of them are limited to a speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour. While this may seem low, it allowed for cars and cyclists to share the space seamlessly when bike lanes were not physically separated, and it gave drivers more time to react as needed. Cycling in Amsterdam provided me with the opportunity to appreciate my surroundings and engage with the city in a whole new way.

The ease of navigating Amsterdam on two wheels is from a combination of urban planning, the people adopting a cycling culture, but more importantly—government investment. With the proper infrastructure and resources for cyclists, we can build a cycling culture right here that fits a Vancouverite lifestyle. We aren’t that far behind, and we have the advantage of learning from our Dutch neighbours on how to build a cycling city.

Amsterdam has a great advantage in adopting a cycling lifestyle when the land itself is easier to navigate on two wheels. If it were that easy, why, then, is Winnipeg not the cycling capital of Canada? Perhaps there’s more to the equation here. In Amsterdam, there are facilities that support long-distance cyclists. There are countless bicycle parking structures, specific cars to take bikes aboard trains and buses, and 140 bicycle shops. Cycling is a lifestyle in Amsterdam. To support cycling commuters, we need unique solutions to Vancouver. Why not more racks on buses and free rides up hills? Why not design a bike-sharing program that fits the needs of Vancouverites? In Paris, there are bike-sharing programs for visitors, occasional and frequent users, including e-bike options. Paris even has subscriptions for users under 27 to encourage young users and increase accessibility. In Amsterdam, they have bike-sharing programs that are an extension of train travel from their commuter cards and for only three euros, you have 24 hours of access to the bicycle. Topography is hardly an issue when the programs are designed around the users.

Raincouver, as we fondly refer to our green and stormy city, had 154 days of rain in 2017. No wonder we’re so green! Though we do see more precipitation than Amsterdam, the wind comes in off the North Sea all year round and Amsterdamers face an average of 182 days per year of rainfall. Many do not have a car as the bike is their primary form of transport. With that mentality, Amsterdamers prepare for any type of weather they may face on two wheels.

Most importantly, Amsterdam has developed a huge, connected network of bike lanes. According to the authors of Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality, Melissa and Chris Bruntlett, there are 820,000 people living in the city of Amsterdam and there are 767 kilometres of bike lanes. Amsterdamers invest approximately $50 per person per year to cycling infrastructure. With a population of almost 650,000 in Vancouver, congestion is a huge issue. We have over 400 kilometres of bike lanes but we only contribute approximately $5 per person per year towards our cycling infrastructure. How can we expect the same growth and return on our investment when we put out a tenth of what the Dutch do?

Vancouverites, we need to address congestion on our roads with tangible solutions. The best way is to make this city easier, and safer, to navigate by bicycle. To the new city government—invest in our cities by building a much, much bigger network of bike lanes and explore the ways in which we can support cyclists on their daily commutes. Make bike sharing more accessible for everyone and lower the accessibility gap. We all need to navigate our city—let’s make it safe and easy to do so on two wheels.