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Vancouver residents fight to keep bike lanes on MacArthur Blvd

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

MacArthur Blvd south of Mill Plain Blvd with MacMcLoughlin Middle School in the background.

Outcry from bike advocates has succeeded in keeping bike lanes along a popular cycling corridor — at least for now. After a letter writing campaign and a rally at a recent city council meeting, the City of Vancouver is re-examining its proposal to remove bike lanes and replace them with shared bike/car lanes along MacArthur Blvd, a critical route used by people bicycling in and out of downtown Vancouver.

“Reducing any bicycle infrastructure in Vancouver simply makes no sense.”
— Amy Horstman

With two standard vehicle lanes and a bike lane in each direction, MacArthur is universally considered overbuilt for its current use. It was constructed during WWII to transport military equipment and workers; lore has it that it might have also been used as an airstrip. Now the route runs through quiet neighborhoods and is home to two public schools, a number of churches and a few small businesses. It has low car traffic volume, and with its bike lanes, it is a major section of the only east/west corridor in Vancouver that works well for bicycling.

The city’s proposal is part of a resurfacing/restriping project and may have resulted from possible liability issues with the existing bike lanes because of several sunken storm drains and steep sides. However, rather than implement long-term plans and visions that call for a road diet with dedicated bike lanes along MacArthur, the City asked residents how they’d prefer to re-stripe the road.

The response was mixed: In neighborhoods along MacArthur, people wanted to keep two lanes of traffic, but not by a significant majority. Overall, respondents wanted dedicated bike lanes. In an attempted compromise, the City proposed two standard vehicles lanes and sharrows in one of them. The bike lane would be eliminated. Cyclists were angry that the city had done no studies before making the decision and that it was passing up an opportunity to create a model multi-modal transportation corridor which could have been done as part of the re-striping process at no additional cost.

“Reducing any bicycle infrastructure in Vancouver simply makes no sense,” said Amy Horstman in her presentation to the Vancouver City Council at their last monthly meeting. Horstman, who has a daily 90 minute bike commute along MacArthur said, “We should be talking about how critical it is to invest time and money to connect our communities via bicycle lanes, separated greenways and other active transportation methods. Sadly, in a 2009 study by the Inavero Institute, Vancouver was rated as the having the worst access to bicycle routes and worst safety in the surveyed metro area.”

(Photo: Jan Verrinder)

Many people who ride bikes in Vancouver are united against having bike lanes replaced by sharrows. The official speed limit along MacArthur is 35mph; cyclists say many drivers exceed that, and expecting cars to share a lane with cyclists is unrealistic.

“The overall width and ‘freeway’ feel of the boulevard, the speed at which autos and trucks travel on the street—which in my experience is closer to 45 mph than the currently posted 35 mph,” Lou Elliott wrote in a letter to the city council, “and the general lack of understanding by automobile drivers of the ‘sharrow’ system and its intention, render the use of the ‘sharrow’ concept on MacArthur Boulevard not only ineffective and confusing but downright dangerous.”

Laurel Cripe put it more bluntly. “The only way I anticipate ‘sharing’ the road on MacArthur is the way I do anywhere there is no bike lane. I ride on the right of the lane with my teeth clenched, and I hope cars avoid running me over.”

The safety of children in the shared bike lanes is also a big concern. “We have bike programs at the middle school on MacArthur and are trying to encourage physical activity for our children,” said Jan Verrinder who lives in the neighborhood and rides along MacArthur. “Safety would be a serious issue if sharrows were substituted for the current bicycle lanes. Do we really want confused, speeding drivers coming up behind children and families in a shared lane?”

Cyclists are also concerned the city might lower the speed limit to try and mitigate the safety issues with sharrows. They are skeptical that drivers will slow down, and they wonder how the city will enforce lower speeds.

In response to cyclists concerns, the city is doing some safety and traffic volume studies and says it will have an update mid-April. Cyclists however are dubious that the city will retreat from its current plan. “The MacArthur neighborhood is an historical powerhouse,” said Todd Boulanger, a former transportation planner with the city. “They’re still living back in the old days when families were large and had five cars. They’re used to getting a higher level of attention.”

Contributor Madeleine von Laue is a Vancouver resident actively working to stop the sharrow proposal.