Not even Vancouver’s biggest speed bump can slow Union/Adanac ‘bike highway’

Has city’s bike bonanza become a victim of its own success?

12th and Cambie

Yes, it’s true — I’m using this space to write about a speed bump.

Not just any bump.

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The city, in fact, calls it a raised crosswalk.

Whatever it is, there is now a significant mound of asphalt in the middle of the road in the 500-block of Union Street in Strathcona. If you know the neighbourhood, it’s right outside Benny’s Market.

It was installed in May and — here’s the big news hook — it’s quite possibly the highest speed bump/raised crosswalk in the city!

Even Paul Storer, the city’s manager of transportation design, can’t think of another spot in town where such a traffic-slowing device has reached such a height.

But, as Storer told me, the bump wasn’t supposed to be that high.

“With this one, there was some kind of honest miscommunication with the crews and they went in and built it at a higher elevation than we were expecting,” he said.

How much higher?

The standard raised crosswalk — of which there are few in the city — is typically three inches high. Storer believes the crosswalk on Union Street is six inches, although it looks much higher.

“Whether it varies from six inches along the street [from curb to curb] is kind of the question,” he said, noting the crown of the street is typically higher to allow for water runoff to the curbs.

The design of the crosswalk allows pedestrians to be elevated from the street and makes for an up-and-across-and-down effect for bikes and cars travelling along Union.

Storer said the crosswalk was installed as part of upgrades being done to the Union/Adanac bike route, which sees an average of 5,000 cycling trips per day.

If you’ve been along that stretch at rush hour, particularly at this time of the year, it’s essentially a bike highway, with cyclists far outnumbering motorists.

So crossing the street, as Storer said, can be difficult for pedestrians.

“The biggest intended purpose is really to give the pedestrians the priority and to be sure that motor vehicles are slowing down,” he said.

“If it slows down some of the faster moving bikes, that’s a great thing, too.”

Slowing cars — yes. Slowing bikes — not so much, according to Janet Benedetti, who manages Benny’s Market, which has been along that stretch of Union for more than a century.

Even with the new marked sidewalk and street signs, she said, some cyclists continue to race by the store and fail to stop for pedestrians, particularly young children going to school up the block.

“Several of the neighbourhood kids that try to cross the street are always unsuccessful and have had some close calls,” said Benedetti, in between serving customers Wednesday.

“And cyclists — not all cyclists — they actually curse and swear at them as they’re crossing.”

She said the bump doesn’t seem to have impeded cyclists, noting she heard one rider the other day talk about the air he could get off the sloping mound of asphalt.

Some cars, however, are bottoming out as they cross, she said.

Benedetti would have preferred a pedestrian-activated crossing light outside the family’s store but settled for a raised crosswalk.

“It’s been OK, but people are still not yielding [to pedestrians],” she said.

“I don’t know if it’s relatively new, but yesterday there were two 10-year-old girls trying to cross the street and no one on bikes would stop for them. An adult had to intervene. It shouldn’t have to be like that.”

Added Benedetti: “It’s in the early stages. I’m really hoping things improve. I think the next step is to maybe have a police officer stand here and watch what’s going on.”

Benedetti stressed she is not anti-cyclist, noting her husband and other relatives ride bikes.  She just wants the street safer for everyone who lives, visits and works in the neighbourhood.

“We have to get along, obviously, I just think there are a lot of bad cyclists out there who think they are entitled to whatever they want to do,” she said, noting recent road closures to complete other upgrades in the neighbourhood had some cyclists riding on sidewalks.

The bike route on Union, she believes, has been in place since the 1990s, with her sister-in-law writing a two-and-a-half page letter in 1995 to the city to provide feedback on the route.

“She stated how rude the cyclists were — even back then,” Benedetti said.

“She said she’s been spat on, she’s been sworn at and she said she’s witnessed so many times where a little old lady or a parent with a child trying to cross the street couldn’t cross.”

Green Party Coun. Pete Fry, who lives in Strathcona, has driven, ridden and walked across the bump. Fry echoed much of what Benedetti said about conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians trying to reach or leave the store.

“In fact, I know one local mom who got in a huge swearing match with a cyclist who didn’t yield for her, and she was pushing a baby carriage,” Fry said.

“But it’s like anything, it’s always a few bad apples who make everybody else look bad.”

Fry said having a “cycle highway” in a densely populated neighbourhood is a challenge for the city, but work continues to try and achieve a balance for all people in Strathcona.

That includes better educating cyclists about “general respect for pedestrians. That is a real sore spot of conflict for folks who live in the neighbourhood,” he said.

Which led me to another question, and the more deep-think reason for writing this piece:

Has Vancouver reached a point — at least in Strathcona, if not across other neighbourhoods in the city — where so many people are cycling, that it’s now time to slow them down?

I ask as a motorist, a cyclist and pedestrian.

I also ask because I’ve been on the beat long enough to remember when bike-promoting politicians urged us to get out of our cars and onto our bikes.

There was no cycling infrastructure in this city to speak of 10 years ago; painted white lanes on a road don’t count.

Fast forward to 2019, and a cyclist can now ride from Chinatown, through downtown, over the Burrard Bridge and into Kitsilano in a protected bike lane.

The Cambie Bridge has a dedicated cycling lane, and the Granville Bridge will one day have its own once a redesign is completed in the next few years.

More and more upgrades are being done to bike routes all over the city, including recent curbs and cycling-only paths installed along the 10th Avenue route.

The result is cycling trips have increased and more people are riding to work and choosing two wheels instead of four to get around Vancouver.

That’s what city stats say.

Despite the bike-friendly moves, there is still a critical mass bike ride — where cyclists take over the streets and cause headaches for motorists and pedestrians — at the end of each month in this city.

In fact, there’s one this Friday.

Is it necessary?

Obviously the 43 people on the Critical Mass Vancouver Facebook group page who indicated they would participate think so. Same goes for the 132 interested in joining the peloton.

In my rush hour experience on a bike, that number of cyclists will travel over the bump on Union Street in less than 15 minutes. The same street, by the way, also had a section near Gore recently designated as one-way for vehicles.

As a cyclist, it’s great. As a motorist, it’s an inconvenience.

Meanwhile, the bump outside Benny’s — just call it the Benny Bump, already — will continue to be monitored by the city, Storer said.

“Our initial review is that it seems to be working, even though it wasn’t exactly what we designed. But if we do start to see problems, it is something we could replace with something more standard.”

Enjoy your Canada Day weekend, everyone — however you get around.


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