A weekend breath of summer swept Vancouverites to the seaside. Kitsilano Beach has revealed itself suddenly, turning the usually sleepy promenade into a near-daily spectacle of young people living out fantastic, pleasurable lives. By foot, by bus, by car, and increasingly by bicycle, the seasonal pageantry of Cornwall has arrived.
Even I’ve been surprised by the cultural presence of bicycles in Kitsilano in these first long, reliably warm days. It is a neighbourhood that was loudly resistant to removal of parking and pushed back against initial drafts of the York bikeway. The City removed proposed counterflow lanes between Vine and Maple, opting instead to retain on-street parking in the final design. Some young Kitsilano residents heaped derision on the City’s new bike schemes, often with indignation that they would no longer be able to drive absolutely everywhere they wanted. If you’ve lost Kitsilano youth, I thought at the time, you’ve probably lost the centre-left vote in Vancouver.
Instead, I’ve seen drivers slowly adapt to the new stop signs along York, and a much larger number of bikes arriving at the beach. Local Pub has even installed a hanging bicycle rack beside their patio as a kind of design statement, creatively alleviating the lack of rack space for their clientele. If you’ve managed to get Kitsilano tank tops and aviators to Local by bicycle, then you’ve probably won the centre-left vote. In my mind, this is a more surprising turn than seeing families pedaling along Point Grey Road. This is the new normal.
As always in Vancouver, the question persists as to whether improved infrastructure along York and Point Grey Road will see any practical use in rainy months. Volume on Vancouver’s most popular bikeways falls by nearly two-thirds between summer and winter, and even more precipitously in the case of Burrard Bridge. One could argue that the absence of protected bikeways through Kitsilano perhaps contributed to Burrard’s poor seasonal figures to date, or that tourism overwhelmingly boosts the summer total versus other monitored lanes. But it’s also possible that few Kitsilano residents will ever commute downtown by bicycle in winter, preferring bus or automobile given the proximity. We won’t know until the end of the year whether closing Point Grey Road, improving bicycle priority on York, and streamlining the intersection at Cornwall and Burrard will make any dent in Burrard bicycle volumes during the chill, drizzly days of January.
If the only real success of the Seaside Greenway and York Bikeway is to facilitate enjoyment of the waterfront, and not to increase overall cycling mode share, that’s not such a failure. Completing a safe and comfortable route from Jericho to Kitsilano Beach Park, and connecting on to the rest of the seawall, was the primary goal of the project. Transportation 2040 objectives were always spoken of in a secondary way. But transit has more or less reached its limit serving this community in the absence of capital-intensive rapid transit. Take any packed 2 or 22 bus downtown on a November rush hour — they arrive every two or three minutes — and you’ll see what I mean. Getting Kitsilano commuters on bikes is the only way you’ll get more of them out of their cars. Heading to the beach, at least, we may be off to a good start.