Vancouver: an "after" picture come to life
Arriving in Vancouver and hopping onto a bike when you're used to places like Boston, your first thought is "this is what DONE looks like." Done arguing, done advocating, done waiting, done building... Vancouver looks and feels like a photoshopped "After" picture if you're a bike advocate. The water on all sides, the mountains tumbling over each other on every horizon, and those incredible bike paths everywhere... swoon.
Like most Canadian cities, Vancouver has figured out the one thing that drastically increases bike ridership: Safe infrastructure, and tons of it. No amount of ad campaigns, "education," or free helmet handouts will ever compete with infrastructure. Infrastructure was the problem all along, and as soon as you fix it, the problems magically dissipate. Vancouver basically has bike paths everywhere, connecting everything, and when you ride on them, it's immediately clear that they are a vital part of everyday life for residents of all stripes. I watched families getting groceries, well-dressed 30-somethings going to and from work, and retired seniors running errands. These paths certainly allow people to go out and get exercise on a bike if they want to, but they aren't treated like recreation-only paths, the way Boston's Department of Conservation and Recreation views all the bike paths they own in Boston and Cambridge (which they do not plow in winter, for example.) These paths are just as vital to city connectivity as the roads are.
Having said that, Vancouver certainly has its bike battles to fight. A misguided law passed quietly in the 1990's made it mandatory for every single biker to be wearing a helmet, not just children under the age of 16, as is the case in most North American cities. The "helmet" debate is a rich and feisty one that I won't get into here, but now that the law is on the books, any politician who would try to remove it can easily be tarred by his or her opponents as "anti-safety," which makes the issue politically toxic, so the law stands year after year despite vocal criticism from the biking community. Meanwhile that biking community rides around with or without a helmet as it sees fit, from what I saw, though I did hear that once in awhile the police will set up traps and hand out warnings or tickets, reigniting the debate all over again.
The other issue we found was that many of those gorgeous bike paths are entirely unlit at night. If you're on a bike with nothing but a "notice me" blinky front light (as is likely if you're visiting town), then the going can get very slow and tedious when you can barely see. Fortunately for us, both of the used Brompton folding bikes we picked up in the last year have generator front hubs and substantial hard-wired lights, so we had no trouble seeing where we were going. I'm sure there are a ton of challenges with putting in lights for all those paths, but in the meantime it puts an odd curfew on bikers who got somewhere using the paths. "Getting dark - gotta go!"
As with our last visit a year ago, we found Vancouver to be absolutely incredible. They have the "public access" aspect of their waterfront properties nailed, though we did wish there was more decent food available along the water too. We often found ourselves having to go inland for anything more than hot dogs and chips. But the sheer number of beaches, pools, and playgrounds at the waterfront was incredible. We also were able to make new friends very easily there - we had dinner with two different families while we were in town. The people, the infrastructure, and those jaw-dropping views in every direction make Vancouver a difficult place to leave, to put it mildly.
Places to Visit by Bike
Airbnb Wishlist - we like Strathcona, Kitsilano and Granville neighborhoods
Hotels - bike friendly hotels in Vancouver
- The Teahouse - higher priced restaurant in Stanley. Great food, cocktails, wine and beer selection with beautiful patio
- Bandidas Taqueria - vegetarian Mexican on Commercial
- Toshi Sushi - best sushi ever
- Bomber Brewery - bike friendly brewery off Adanac greenway
- Postmark Brewery - newest craft brewery with a great atmosphere
- Main Street Brewery
- The Wilder Snail - coffee shop in Strathcona
- Musette Caffe - bike themed coffee shop