VPD Endangering Lives with Helmet Tickets

Lately I’ve been questioning if issuing helmet tickets is really the best use of police time. Helmets on cyclists don’t prevent collisions and certainly don’t make the roads safer for motorists or pedestrians.

Still, before today, I also thought maybe there some value to ticketing helmet less cyclists as helmets do provide some protection although not as much as many think. That was based on the assumption that police knew what they were doing when handing out tickets.

Well, that proved to be a really bad assumption. This afternoon, I was heading downtown along Cornwall when I saw two women standing on the street with bicycles talking with a man with a red quad on Chestnut at Burrard. As this is one of the most dangerous places to stand on the road at one of the most dangerous intersections in Vancouver, I thought that really can’t be a police officer giving out helmet tickets, can it?

For those not familiar with Chestnut, it is the first street off the south side of Burrard Bridge heading to the Planetarium. It is a blind corner due to a wall surrounding a pool and there is no sidewalk on the east side. The turn off Burrard is downhill making for longer stopping distances. People often walk on the road due to the lack of a sidewalk putting them in the path of turning cars and tour buses. There is also on street parking on the west side. Head on collisions between vehicles could result from drivers turning to avoid pedestrians or opening car doors. Bottom line is that it is dangerous for everyone. I have an outbox full of messages to the city on the many dangerous situations I have witnessed drivers, pedestrians and cyclists in at this corner. The City is even proposing closing the intersection to motor vehicles as part of the Cornwall Point Grey Greenway project.

As I was rather worried about people’s safety, I swung back to be sure it wasn’t. Well, it was. A Vancouver police officer giving out helmet tickets to the women, one of whom was standing a metre and a half or so away from the curb where she could have easily been hit by a turning car or bus. Being concerned, I told them to get off the road. I told the officer about the danger and that it was a horrible place to give out tickets. I suggested he ticket somewhere else, pretty much anywhere else.


Still, he stopped a male cyclist and had him stand in the road a bit closer to the curb than the women. He stopped another cyclist on Cornwall and had him walk around the blind corner. Not that safe either. He at least got a bit of a hint and had him stand on the grass off the road. Still, an officer should be trained to stop people in safe places. A civilian should not have to tell him something is not safe.

Not only was ticketing here unsafe for the cyclists and the officer, a driver steering to avoid them could hit another vehicle head on.

This brings up many questions including officer training. If this is not an isolated incident, the enforcement of the helmet law may be actually placing people at risk. Given the debate around effectiveness of the helmet law and the low percentage of fines that are being paid perhaps is it time that the BC Government grant a blanket exemption of the lawpending a full review as to its effects on the safety and health of British Columbians.

If you have experienced or witnessed other incidents where police enforcement has put you or others at risk, please detail them in the comments.

Never hurts to send a quick email to Premier Clark Premier@gov.bc.ca recommending that it is time for the Province to reconsider the Helmet Law.

Separated All Ages Bike Lanes Needed on Cornwall

The City of Vancouver has released its proposed improvements for cycling and walking on the Point Grey Cornwall Corridor.

The good news is that the plans includes an upgrade of Burrard Cornwall intersection with separated bike lanes west to Cypress and separated bike lanes on Point Grey between Balsam and Macdonald. An option including closing Point Grey between MacDonald and Alma to motor vehicles would also be great for cyclists of all ages. I’m particularly pleased with the proposed closure of Chestnut at Burrard to motor vehicles. The Park Board will be planning improvements in Kits Beach Park that could include a bike path from Balsam to Arbutus along Cornwall.

The bad news is that absolutely no improvements are planned on the section of Cornwall from Arbutus to Burrard either for all the people that current cycle on Cornwall or for all the people of all ages that will be attracted to the separated lanes east of Balsam. Instead, they are proposing to detour cyclists to York Street and upgrading York with some traffic calming and separated bike lanes by the school. Problem is that the hill on York is much longer than Cornwall and York does not have the lovely views of the oceans and mountains. In spite of the fact that York has much less traffic than Cornwall, many more people currently choose to cycle on Cornwall. Diverting cyclists up hilly routes really has not worked here or anywhere else in the world. It certainly did not work for the Seaside Bikeway that routed cyclists up Trafalgar then along York for a bit.

Please write Mayor Gregor Robertson and Council <mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca> supporting separated bike lanes on Cornwall and the improvements along Pt Grey. Tell them about your experiences along Cornwall and what the improvements would mean for your family, friends and community.

Please also sign HUB’s petition.

Cornwall a Great Cycling Route – Will Build on Success
Cornwall has all the elements of a great bicycle route. It is very scenic with great views of the mountains and ocean, relatively flat and has popular cycling destinations including Kits Beach and Kits Pool. It is far more popular than other streets in the area in spite of high levels of speeding traffic. With separated bike lanes, it will become one of the most popular bicycle routes in the city for commuters to Downtown and UBC as well as residents and tourists looking for a great ride on a sunny day.Cornwall will build upon the success of Burrard Bridge, Dunsmuir and Hornby providing people of all ages with a great cycling experience from Chinatown to Jericho Beach and beyond. Such great bicycle routes are critical to provide people with affordable transportation choices. Cycling to work in Vancouver east of Dunsmuir has increased by 40% since the opening of the separated bike lanes. Such bold initiatives are required for the city to meet its transportation and Greenest City goals. Separated bike lanes on Cornwall as the first project since the completion of the Transportation Plan will ensure that there is positive momentum to move the plan forward.People in cars who are considering cycling will see happy people like them cycling along Cornwall with their families. They will be tempted to give it a try themselves. Tourists will be easily able to find their way to and from Burrard Bridge and the Beaches without maps or signage that they likely will miss. The cafes and restaurants will be happy to have all these stomachs on wheels cycling near their front doors. If experience elsewhere holds here, these businesses will want bike sharing stations close by.

Separated Bike Lanes Benefit Everyone
Most people use a variety of modes to get around. Even though the majority don’t cycle daily, they may cycle often enough to prefer the safety, comfort and convenience benefits of separated bike lanes on Cornwall. Or they likely have friends and family who cycle. Whatever their reasons, significantly more people supported measures including the reallocation of lanes of traffic on Burrard Bridge and the separated bike lanes on Hornby in spite of widely held perception that motor vehicle travel times would increase.

Bus Bike Lane
Both to improve the street for transit and make it safer for everyone, a 24 hour 7 day a week bus bike lanes in addition to a separated all ages cycling facility would be a great idea. The city has not been really that proactive on transit priority measures. This would be a great place for them.

A bus/bike lane would speed transit and provide a safer, more comfortable space for those people who want to continue to cycle on the street. On off-peak hours, the second lane only seems to encourage aggressive driving as drivers quickly make lane changes to pass cars travelling at the speed limit, buses and cyclists.

This is a good idea even if (or especially if) there is an all ages path or lane on Cornwall as it will encourage faster moving cyclists to use the road decreasing conflicts and reducing congestion on the path especially with the packs of sport cyclists that are often using Cornwall. This will allow the path to be narrower as well.

Cycling in the Door Lane
Almost all the cyclists I have observed on Cornwall, cycle in the lane with the parked cars and are way to close to the doors. Especially on the long downhill stretch from Larch to Arbutus, cycling in this door zone is especially dangerous as cyclists are traveling faster and the breaking distance for cyclists and motor vehicles is greater. As dooring accounts for between 10-15% of cycling collisions, this is a very critical safety concern.

If there must be on street parking from Larch to Arbutus in particular, it all should be moved to the north (up hill) side of Cornwall. Cyclists will be going much slower and will hopefully have a separated path right next to them that they can easily access. Even then, I’d recommend widening the lane where there is parking to get cyclists out of the door zone.

Less Stress and Conflict
Separated bike lanes decrease conflicts between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians making travelling around the city more pleasant and less stressful for everyone.

People driving may get frustrated being stuck behind a slower moving cyclist or they may worry about hitting a cyclist. Switching lanes to pass cyclists increases the risk of collisions as well in addition to creating more congestion.

Dramatically Less Sidewalk Cycling, Better Pedestrian Environment
One of the main concerns of pedestrians and transit users on Cornwall is sidewalk cycling. There is strong evidence for Hornby and elsewhere that separated bike lanes along a street dramatically reduces sidewalk cycling. Separated bike lanes on Cornwall will also make walking much more pleasant by increasing the distance between the sidewalk and the fast-moving traffic especially on the narrow section between Maple and Arbutus

Travel times will likely decrease for everyone in off-peak hours due to people cycling instead of driving and fewer people cycling on the road slowing down buses. This transit time reduction benefit will be greatest on the hot summer days when congestion is worse due to beach traffic. Beach weather is great cycling weather. Overall, this could even result in faster transit times on average. This is also when aggressive beach traffic is likely to be on York looking for parking.

Safer for Everyone
Separated bike lanes also tend to reduce collisions and injures among all road users. On Hornby, the reduction in collisions was 20%. In NYC, the reduction in collisions was 33.60% and injuries was 26.4% http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/2011_columbus_assessment.pdf. On Cornwall/Pt Grey-Burrard to MacDonald, from 2005-2009, there was an average of 106.6 collisions and 38.8 injuries per year.

While not ideal, increased congestion does reduce motor vehicle speeds decreasing the severity of collisions.

Both collisions and injuries have significant time costs on both traffic and transit. It is estimated that 25% of congestion is caused by collisions. The time cost is much greater on those involved in the collisions. Hundreds of hours can be spent dealing with the impacts of collisions and injuries. I suspect when people are made aware of the impacts and give a choice, many would prefer longer travel times.

The longer downhill sections on York will likely increase cyclist speed increasing the chances and severity of cycling collisions.

I also looking at traffic count data on VanMap and there appeared to be between 20%-30% more motor vehicles crossing intersections with York than Cornwall. This could mean there is an increased likelihood of cycling collisions on York although the streets and the treatment are totally different so this would be hard to say for sure without more research. Motor vehicles are also heading down very steep hills crossing much of York. This could also increase the risk and severity of cycling collisions.

Cycling in Cities
Cycle tracks or separated bike lanes Cornwall score better on 3 of the top 4 motivators for cycling than York: “The route has beautiful scenery”, “The route has bicycle paths separated from traffic for the entire distance”, “The route is flat”, while “The route is away from traffic noise and pollution” is the top motivator, A cycle track along a major street still is a more desirable route than a residential street with traffic calming according to Cycling in Cities.
This is backed up by the current usage of Cornwall and York. A major street with parked cars rates the lowest of all infrastructure (16th) for cycling while a residential street with no traffic calming rates 5th. In spite of this, more cyclists chose to cycle along Pt Grey Cornwall than York. This is strong indication that there is little desire for most people to cycle on York. No amount of engineering or traffic calming will fix this.
Tourists and Recreational Cyclists
As they are out for a nice ride to enjoy the scenery, they are not likely to use York. They will want to cycle by Kits Beach Park to Arbutus or Yew. Both Yew and Arbutus are busy streets in the summer. It is not likely that people will use them to get up to York for only 2 or 3 blocks to get to Burrard Bridge. The same for people cycling to Kits Beach or Kits Pool. This increase will likely be a boon for many area business.

If people switch from driving to cycling, there may be reduced congestion other places in the city which might benefit transit travel times. Research indicates that even small reductions in motor vehicle traffic (3%) can have a significant impact on congestion.

Meeting Transportation Targets
While increased transit trip times due to congestion are not great, they will most likely not negatively impact the City’s transportation goals as motor vehicle travel times are similarly impacted. If anything, both the increased motor vehicle and transit travel times will encourage more cycling and walking helping the city to met its ambitious transportation targets. Indeed, many measures all around the city to increase pedestrian and cyclist safety and reduce travel times will almost certainly increase transit and motor vehicle travel times. I suspect it will be impossible for the city to meet its transportation and Greenest City targets without such measures.

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