Sunday, October 21, 2007

An Open Letter to the Motorists of Vancouver

Commuting really sucks right now - for everyone. It's raining, it's getting darker, and there's still construction everywhere. At least the garbage strike is over, eh?

I have some helpful suggestions for those motorists who choose to avoid the congestion by driving on the city's designated bike routes.

First of all, please respect the fact that you're choosing to use what for most of us is the only safe route. (Those "local access only" signs that keep getting knocked down or pushed to the sides of the road are there for a reason.) The favourable stop signs and bike-activated crossing lights on these roads are as convenient for you as they are for us, so I can see why you'd choose to drive on the bike routes, but we don't really have another choice. I cycled down the main roads (Fraser & Broadway) once after a snowfall, before the bike routes were cleared, and it was terrifying. I take the bus instead now, even though I HATE the bus. So please watch out for bikes (hello to the jackass who pulled out from a parking spot JUST as I was passing him last week), give us space, and don't honk or act aggressively (e.g. trying to block the gap between the cars and the kerb) when we squeeze past all the cars that now use the bike routes as we try to press the crossing button.

Secondly, please please please learn how to use traffic circles and roundabouts properly. They're not just a traffic calming measure (like a speed bump), they're actual road features with actual rules (like a stop sign.) Here's the
official word from ICBC - page 6 onwards. The most important points are:

- ALWAYS go around the circle in a counterclockwise direction (i.e. turn right into the circle.) Yes, even if you're turning left. Just go 75% of the way around the circle before exiting. I have almost been hit several times by people who look directly at me as I approach the circle, signal left, and then cut across my path.

- Yield to vehicles already in the circle. That includes bikes.

- It would be very helpful indeed if you could signal your intended direction as you approach and enter the circle. I believe some of you have flashing lights on the sides of your vehicles that indicate your intentions to other traffic. Could just be one of those urban legends though.

(A polite word to those of you who let cyclists across first, even when we get there after you or you're already in the circle. It's extremely nice of you, and I do appreciate the thought - especially when it's raining or I'm trying to maintain my momentum up a hill - but ultimately it's easier and safer for everyone if we all follow the same rules all the time.)

Thirdly, please signal your intentions through your lights, road position and movement, not by hand gestures. Car windshields are very reflective and I can't always see your face and hands, especially when it's dark. I also have to keep my eye on all the other vehicles on the road. So if you're waving me across while you keep inching forwards, I'm going to assume that you're not stopping. If you come to a complete stop then I know what's going on and we won't have to do that frustrating dance when we both lurch forwards at the same time and then both stop.

There are good and bad drivers, just as there are good and bad cyclists. I play by the rules - I respect traffic signals, stop signs, and traffic circles1 and I ride defensively, never aggressively. Overall, cycling in Vancouver is much safer and more pleasant than in Glasgow, where I lived before. There's room for all of us out there. Please just respect our space, and please, please, please go back to using Cambie when it reopens.

Thank you.

1Most of the time. You know, unless there's clearly no-one else around.


  1. When I first moved to my current home, commuting was pretty good (except for the area under construction near the very end). Now, traffic comes to a stop way up the road, and commuting really stinks. I find the best solution is to leave home after 9:00--this morning, it took me less than 40 minutes; last time I left a little before 7:00 it took me well over an hour.
    Some people think that coming in so early means going home real late. Well, gosh, I can't be getting home so late, so I don't leave work later.

  2. Yikes! Mine is 15 minutes to work (downhill) and 20 minutes home (uphill). It's not long, it's just dangerous right now!


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