Bike lanes in Vancouver are sometimes derided as the quixotic obsession of a greenwashed mayor. The reality is that our infrastructure is barely keeping up with other major cities that have prioritized cycling mode share. London and Paris are well-publicized examples of this transformation. Buenos Aires offers another striking study, laying over 130 kilometres of protected bike lanes since only 2009, usually at the expense of automobile lanes or parking.
Porteño cyclovías are leaner than the Vancouver version, separated from traffic by narrow, yellow curbs plus occasional delineators. There are no planters or islands as seen in our alignments. This simplicity probably contributes to the speed with which they were installed, allowing rapid achievement of a functional network. The lanes are frequently punctuated by driveway access, but nonetheless feel safe to ride because they are usually installed on secondary roads. Many dodgy intersections remain, but this is a broader problem of the Buenos Aires street grid that is slow to amend. My travel companion informed me that a decade ago there weren’t even pedestrian signals in most neighbourhoods.
In fairness to Vancouver critics, Buenos Aires is a flat city, as are other popular examples of urban cycling across Europe. There is a legitimate argument about the extent of bicycle mode share that is possible in Vancouver given topography of the Burrard Peninsula. The ascent from Cambie Bridge to 10th Avenue is enough to leave any cyclist winded, far from the leisurely pedal of most Buenos Aires cyclovías. Our easiest separated commuter routes involve a hill or bridge of substantial grade at some point in the journey, enough to dissuade casual users. Famed West Coast athleticism may to some extent compensate for this natural disadvantage, but our mode share may ultimately find a lower ceiling than in cities that require fewer gear changes.