As the summer winds down, I’d like to take this space to reflect on something which has been bothering me for quite a while: the growing animosity between Vancouver drivers and cyclists. In a city which prides itself for so many things, the behaviour on Lower Mainland roadways is definitely not on the list.
I’ve seen headlights shattered by enraged, skinny-jeaned shoegazers armed with U-Locks, and pissed off drivers run cyclists of the road just for not being fast enough. One day somebody’s going to get killed. Oh wait, that’s already happening.
It’s commonly accepted that drivers in and and around Vancouver can be pretty terrible. They don’t signal when making turns or lane changes, speeding is the rule rather than the exception and being able to read and write texts while traveling at highway speeds is considered a marketable skill.
Distracted driving in B.C. has become enough of a problem to ICBC that they’ve teamed up with the police to crack down on mobile device use while behind the wheel. Even going so far as to urge other road users to report and photograph offending drivers. Taxed increasingly harshly and viewed as pariahs by everyone from lifestyle lobby groups to pandering politicians, the hurried drivers of the lower mainland face a future that will make getting from A to B feel like anything but a straight line.
It’s also commonly accepted that Vancouver cyclists can be equally as terrible. Idly taking up entire lanes of roadway, oblivious to the mile long lineup of cars behind them. Or weaving in between vehicles during rush hour, blowing through red lights, stop signs and narrowly avoiding the crush of an overstuffed bus or truck as they pass on the right side.
Our civic pride and joy, the Seawall, an aimless tourist laden weekend gauntlet of beachgoing, half in the bag two wheelers riding high on the fumes blown at them by a municipal and regional government hell bent on executing the first phases of a strategic long term real estate development and resortification plan.
The disdain both groups have for one another is evident. Cyclists won’t hesitate to remind anyone of the time they were “almost” run over by some non signalling ignoramus, and drivers will offer stories of having to “slam on the brakes!” when some bubblehead biked straight out of the latest Rennie Marketing Systems advert and into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
Local cycling advocates paint a picture of drivers as out to get anyone on two wheels, and while we don’t hear too much from auto enthusiast groups about their two wheeled nemeses, the sounds of angry horns being punched along streets with separated bike lanes are evidence enough these groups have little interest in working together to find a solution to a transportation problem that is only going to get bigger.
#Vancouver Police responding to Richards & Dunsmuir St for a road rage incident between a cyclist and a car, Cyclist described as a hipster
— ScanBC (@ScanBC) September 10, 2013
To get a clear picture of what may come to pass between Metro Vancouver drivers and cyclists in the near future, one need only look to the Transportation 2040 Plan as adopted by Vancouver City Council.
Inside the 99-page document, one will find the outline of a strategy to implement the dreamlike vision of a “Green City”, composed of ever so walkable or rideable, high density neighbourhood developments clustered around major transit hubs.
Due to proposed traffic and infrastructure changes, those who own cars will find themselves hard pressed to find the space to park and store their vehicles, while losing convenient access to urban cores.
Taking a distant third place in priority to Transit and “Active Transportation”, getting around by automobile in Vancouver will not be easy in the forseeable future. What does this mean for the growing number of commuters who must drive in from the wilds across the Mighty Fraser? One thing is certain, the burning coal of resentment towards the statistical minority to whom the municipality appears to cater.
But it isn’t just a changing urban landscape that divides those who use four wheels and those who use two. The most important factor in the battle between drivers and cyclists in Vancouver is the individual.
The “Me First” society we live in, is really at the core of this much ballyhooed conflict. If a car is an expression of personal power and mobility, then a bike can also be considered an expression of personal choice to adopt a lifestyle emphasizing health and a commitment to consuming less energy.
However, when two seemingly disparate methods of getting around are forced to use the same roads, what once was a “choice”, suddenly becomes a “right”. The oft vocal cyclist lobby crows of their rights to a fair share of the road, and it’s not uncommon to hear a raging driver scream about how since they pay so many extra taxes, they have more rights to the road than some freeloading cyclist.
Both parties have at least one thing in common (other than their complete and total self-absorption): they have NO RIGHTS to the road.
Use of British Columbia roadways is not a right, it is a privilege. The licenses issued by the provincial government to newly minted drivers remain the property of British Columbia. And while cyclists enjoy the freedom to use roadways without the expense of having to pay for a license, they are obligated by law, to follow the same rules as their four wheeled counterparts.
Now why Vancouver cyclists and their respective lobbyists choose to cultivate a complete lack of respect for the multi-ton missiles with whom they choose to share the road, and why Vancouver drivers cocooned in their metal shells, can’t seem to maintain focus as they rocket down narrow lanes, we may never know.
Perhaps they’re in a hurry to get somewhere, or perhaps they just feel they’re more important than anyone else. But if I were to give one piece of advice, one simple truth that applies to all parties concerned, one which is easy to do and costs nothing to implement, it would be this:
“Watch where you’re going.”
That is all.
What are your thoughts on the drivers and cyclists of Vancouver? Feel free to share your tales of hell on the road in the comments below!