Making "Car-free" accessible

There has recently been a lot of discussion among the politically engaged residents of Grandview Woodlands about what an improved Commercial Drive would look like. This conversation was sparked by a new group that formed recently, the "Commercial Drive Action Group" (who now have a Facebook group called "Commercial Drive for Everyone", which the organizer initially presented to GWAC (Grandview Woodland Area Council) meeting attendees as a group interested in making The Drive more bike-friendly. My understanding is that now the mission is broadening to generally focusing on more people (vs. car) friendly movement around the area, slightly less specific to cycling. The timing of this, during the extended time for sorting out the city's long term development plan for Grandview Woodlands, is critical as it could help set the tone for the next several decades of change for The Drive.

Cycling as someone with limited physical abilities

Personally, I've always wanted to be like those I see whizzing around so freely: able to cycle around my neighbourhood for errands, for exercise, and for fun. Until last year, my physical limitations and the hilly landscape made this dream out of reach. That was until, after agonizing for over a year, I finally decided to invest in an electric assist bike. It has been nothing short of life altering.


Original caption from the photo above:

Ran a neighborhood errand by bike today! Amazing!!! I still feel a bit of post-biking dizziness when I stop but it seems to pass much more quickly than when I have to exert myself more. Also, helped so much riding in traffic and being able to pick up speed quickly - I could just take the lane as needed and keep up with traffic!

Original caption from the photo above:

The electric bike is amazing. I rode it to the post office today, not far, but a good little heavier traffic trial. It felt so wonderful being able to get around the neighbourhood without the car. Even my new feet issues don't bother me on it, which is great since walking is a bit painful right now. And I felt so much more comfortable in the traffic being able to speed up quickly!

Note: take "quickly" with a grain of salt - most cyclists on regular bikes are constantly passing me while I ride with the electric assist on!

After a full season of riding last year, I still only feel able and comfortable riding it within a range of about 1 km, and stick to the side streets. On moderate to good health days, I will easily choose it over the car for anything within that range. 

The major catch? E-bikes are expensive! Definitely an option for those who are more financially privileged. Adult tricycle bikes that are non-electric assist are a lot more reasonable for those with balance/stability issues, but with the hills, they are not going to be most peoples' choice. 

Another big catch? Electric assist bikes aren't allowed on Vancouver transit. So even though I can comfortably ride my bike to the nearest Skytrain station, it's not allowed on - this severely limits the range I can use my bike for. There is a great article about e-bikes on transit here. If I could safely park my bike at the station, that would also be helpful (though it wouldn't help me when I get to the other end of the Skytrain trip), but currently it's not an option.

My point? Cycling is amazing, but it's not an option for a lot of people. Walking is also not an option for a lot of people - for me, my agility is good but I can't walk long distances these days. On a bad day, the end of the block is enough. On my best day, I can probably do 2 km round trip.

For many people who are differently abled, elderly, or live with chronic illness, getting around under one's own power is extremely challenging, or not an option at all. That doesn't mean their/our (for as much as I can speak up, I am really only able to speak for myself and try and bring awareness - I don't purport to speak for this entire contingent!) needs are any less important, or that their/our desire for more sustainable options are any less. It's just a reality and it's important that "sustainable development" doesn't push their mobility into an even more marginalized position.

The missing link: Improved transit options

Cross-posting some of my comments from a discussion online about this:

As someone who is no longer under 30 but not too far off, but who lives with at times debilitating chronic illness (yet not severe enough to qualify as disabled), the bikes over cars agenda does leave me with a sour taste in my mouth. I’d like to see fewer cars on the road and more trips by other methods as much as the next person, but in certain circumstances ableism and a different kind of privilege (that of physical ability and athleticism) rears its head.

That said, of course the more appealing options there are, the more people will choose to leave their cars at home! I was able to invest in an electric assist bike last year, and it has been an amazing and pretty life changing experience for me. On good days, I can now whiz around the neighbourhood, wind in my helmet, getting groceries, going to the post office, etc. and relegate the car only to longer distance trips, yay!

We have to be mindful that bikes aren’t always an option for everyone, and frankly the #20 service is horrible. It stops a mere 2 blocks from where I live, and yet I quit taking it (if I can help it) ages ago. It’s frequently late (I at times waited for it for 40 mins to get home after work!) and the stop that I board at does not have a shelter or a bench for people who aren’t able to stand for long durations.

What I believe would be a more equal and wonderful plan for the drive:

South of 1st, as Jak seemed to agree with, take over one driving lane (on each side?) and add bike lanes. I agree with Chris and would actually prefer the Carrall St. style lanes over the large barrier. As a cyclist I might feel more protected with the large barrier, but they’re more expensive to install, and as a driver, many spots on the barrier style bike routes are impossible for me to actually see the cyclists over no matter how vigilant I am looking out for them! Something like this could be adequate

North of 1st, personally I am quite fond of using Salsbury Dr. when I bike (I don’t feel safe riding on either Commercial or Victoria), and I use it almost all of the time when I am headed in that direction. It’s very comfortably traffic calmed, and I’ve just had to memorize what intersections my usual destinations are at. The only thing that would make it work so much better is to make it easier to get onto, so I’d suggest appropriating one lane of parking on the east side of Commercial for the one block north of 1st, and creating a 2 way bike lane there that would connect to Salsbury. Leave the rest north of 1st as is.

Additional pipe dreams for me:

- Add way more bike parking like you find near the JJ Bean (ride in, on street) up and down from Venables to Broadway.
- Axe the #20 bus and replace it with a sweet light rail line connecting the Skytrain station to Hastings (or better yet, run it all the way down the 20 route into downtown). Make it run on a reliable schedule, have sidewalk level boarding for accessibility, and you will see people flee their single occupancy vehicles in a flash. A girl can dream. ;)

ps. Bikes and pedestrians don’t slow down transit, cars do! (Just walk down Robson or Denman at rush hour!)

Fewer cars on the road will immediately mean buses (or streetcars) will move more easily.

There are many, many options to safely board pedestrians [on]to transit, while allowing for bike lanes.

Here's some of that dreamy light rail from Portland, note the boarding areas - level to the sidewalk:

Portland LRT

Porland LRT - level boarding from sidewalk

And an example of a bus stop in Santa Monica, CA, with shelters and plentiful benches.

Plenty of seating and shelters - Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus

Another cross-posted comment of mine:

...My personal set of afflictions leave me with mild to moderate chronic pain, moderate to very severe fatigue, and depending on the day dizziness, heat intolerance, and a host of other issues. These all vary wildly depending on the day/month/season.

In practical/space use terms, this means that on a good day I can handle walking about 10 blocks round trip (I max out around there) or bike a couple km with the electric assist, on a bad day, I can’t comfortably walk a block or stand in a queue for more than a few minutes. Heat makes me ill, cold makes my extremities throb with pain.

So my personal issue isn’t so much actual accessibility (as in, I can walk up stairs or cross a street without a crosswalk, though I feel like I’m often taking my life in my hands!) as distances – which are far more difficult for me in the warm months.

I’m just giving this as an example – to look at me, you would assume I’m a healthy fit 30-something year old. There are many, many other people in the community who because of age, illness, disability, etc. cannot comfortably walk long distances or cycle.

To me this means that at least until our transit options rival those in the great European and US cities (and let’s be honest, we are waaaaaaay off right now, especially when it comes to community transportation – bus/LRT), many people in the community require personal vehicle access.

I may only use our car once a week, but when I need it (to go get groceries or pick up prescriptions for example), I really do need it. It’s not something I can accomplish by any other means. I don’t commute or use the car for anything else other than occasional errands or outings.

My partner (who is very mobile/able) takes transit to work and walks or bikes for most other things, other than sporting adventures.

Anyway, I’m rambling. My point is I’m all for fewer car trips, less parking space, etc. and I (and surely many other people who are less able) would LOVE to walk and bike and take transit everywhere, but it’s not always possible. So, trying to force cars out of the equation before there are other good alternatives available to *most* of the community is actually the opposite of equal and accessible.

TL; DR: If there is going to be pressure on the city for more cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, transit improvements have to be part of the package, they can’t be left to lag behind.