“Outpouring of gibberish” in Vancouver as NYC’s bike lanes surge, Portland celebrates $100 million in bike business

Is Vancouver possessed by an “outpouring of spectacular gibberish” on the issue of bike lanes, as suggested today by Province columnist Ethan Barron? Surely not.

Perhaps he has been lulled into a false sense of security by the news that New York’s bike lane network, which has added so many kilometres of bike lanes — 320 km in the last four years, raising ridership by 80 percent — that the system is proving a major tourist draw. Are you sitting down? The goal is 2,800 kilometres in the next 20 years.

Surely no businesses will be left standing.

Or perhaps Barron has heard about Portland’s progress, where bike commuting doubled as a mode share in just three years from 2005 to 2008, generating a lot of new business in the process.

Former Vancouver sustainability director Tom Osdoba, now managing director at the Centre for Sustainable Business Practices at the University of Oregon, made that point in a note to Barron this afternoon, which he kindly copied to me.

Here are the key gains in Portland, as summarized by Osdoba:

We ignore the economic impacts of cyclists and cycling.
  • Consider the number of bike parking spaces available in lieu of car parking. It’s a significant ratio, in the 10:1 neighbourhood. Local businesses should consider the benefits and not just the perceived risks.
  • Bike-related business represents more than $100 million of economic activity in Portland, a city roughly the same population but with a bike mode share that’s more than double Vancouver’s at the moment.
  • One corridor in Portland has experienced new businesses opening in the past year directly as a result of the growth of bike commuters looking for services along their routes. You now regularly see significant bike traffic on these routes, but it takes several years for that growth to happen. [Just one day in Copenhagen will illustrate the potential.]
Infrastructure costs can be spread over years.
  • From 2005-2008, bike commuting doubled as a mode share for Portland, with almost no growth in infrastructure. [You already note the non-existent wear-and-tear.]
  • Portland just committed $60 Million for the next 20 years for cycling infrastructure, with an objective of 25% mode share. An historic amount of resources, but equal to the street maintenance budget for one year. Cycling infrastructure is a bargain.
Operational adjustments in the traffic management can further minimize the ‘adjustment’ to more bikes on the street.
  • Timing of street lights can reduce unneeded risks, and help improve biker visibility and reduce biker misbehaviour (which is often, but not always, a result of traffic controls)
  • Signage, lighting and other measures can ease fears, tensions and risks.
  • Behaviours on all sides adjusts, and one would expect significant differences 10 years down the road.
People commute by bike, or use bike as primary transportation, for many reasons. In the central city, I can get around faster and with less ‘hassle-based’ stress on a bike than any other way. I free up transit for those who cannot bike easily, and I contribute to less congestion.
However, I also bike because I enjoy riding and like to embrace an active lifestyle. Once I stopped driving for my commute, I stopped making one more work call en route, I had to plan better so I wouldn’t be rushing to my next appointment, and I had more time to clear my mind. These benefits translate to better productivity and to safer streets.