August 19, 2012

Cycles in the city

With improvements in rapid transit, bike lanes and pedestrian-oriented developments, Vancouver homeowners are becoming the new transportation trailblazers.

Photos Kim Stallknecht / PNG

When Ulrike Rodrigues purchased a condominium in East Vancouver 16 years ago, she didn’t exactly see herself as a lifestyle trailblazer. She was simply a renter who realized that the money she had saved by not owning a vehicle could be put towards a down payment in the emerging Mount Pleasant area. The 51-year-old technical writer doesn’t make a huge deal about it. “I wasn’t trying to be environmental. And I wasn’t even trying to be a homeowner. It just made sense to pay towards my own mortgage instead of someone else’s. Naturally, I chose a building that was close to transit and the side streets I cycled on every day.”

As the former Adventures of Mitey Miss columnist in Vancouver’s Momentum – a publication that actively promotes urban cycling – Rodrigues is glad other people are seeing the logic and benefits of driving less. Combined with major improvements in rapid transit – no less than three light rail transit lines now fan out from downtown stations into the suburbs – the general goal of elected officials and city staff has been to reduce the number of auto trips into the downtown peninsula.

Sadhu Johnston, Vancouver’s deputy city manager, says, “The number of people living and working at peak times – Monday through Friday during working hours – has increased by 75 per cent since 1996.” Yet, Johnston says, “We’ve been successful in reducing the amount of vehicle traffic into downtown by 25 per cent during that same 15-year time frame.” City of Vancouver statistics indicate almost a tripling of bike trips in the past two decades.

Robert Fung is the president of Salient Group, which focuses on the creation and restoration of compact, pedestrian-oriented downtown developments in Gastown and even historic New Westminster.  He says, “Salient has developed several buildings (Paris Block/Annex, Bowman Lofts, the Taylor Building and 21 Doors) with little or no parking. Purchasers were offered parking or a cash rebate and many took the cash. We have many home-owners for whom owning a vehicle is simply not in the equation. If they want a car, they’ll join a co-operative or arrange parking elsewhere.”

Fung calls this an “economic evolutionary model” that is attractive to owner occupants, as opposed to, say, offshore investors who would want a parking spot included with their purchase. Fung continues, “There is a very large capital cost to accommodating parking – up to $50,000 per spot.” The Canada Line anchored an instant neighbourhood in South-east False Creek, one that is very much a work in progress. Nathan Quan, 26, recently purchased a condo in the Maynards Block, a development that combines the rich architectural heritage of traditional bricks and mortar with a pair of sleek concrete, glass and steel towers.

“I liked the location because of its proximity to the new False Creek seawall extension. It’s great to be able to hop on my bike and go to Granville Island or over to Yaletown. The south side of the Creek is not as noisy as the downtown neighbourhoods.” Ah, you might ask, but surely this all changes when you have a family. Not necessarily, according to Robin Petri and Dane Doleman and their two kids, Sacha, 5, and Riley, 8. Petri works for ParkLane Homes. “I actually design communities,” she said, “and through my profession my husband and I, who are both engineers, had a very good idea of where we wanted to live before we bought a house.”

Petri and Doleman purchased a house on a small lot in Douglas Park a couple of years before the Olympics, in anticipation of the transit options that the Canada Line would open, and got rid of their car in 2009. Indeed, they’re currently converting the carport on their smallish 30 by 60-foot lot into a back yard. “Not having a car has improved our life in many ways,” Petri says. “It slows us down a bit; we do most of our shopping in Cambie Village so we spend our money locally. We have a great network of friends in the area. Our kids go to Emily Carr school and we have a ‘human school bus’ that stops by to pick up the kids for school and even helps transport them to after-school daycare.”

As for cycling, Petri says that her commuting time from home to downtown is “about 20 minutes, and I do it European style – I just cycle there in my work attire. If it’s raining more heavily, I’ll take the SkyTrain but that is about twice as long, time-wise.” Even their youngest girl has joined in the act, “Our five-year-old went to city hall daycare and at first she was in a trailer, then a Trail-A-Bike attachment, and by the end she was riding on her own.”

When they need a vehicle, they take advantage of the services provided by the MoDo car co-op. Robin says, “If we go away on a weekend, we can usually get the kind of vehicle that we need. We have access to a variety of vehicles – a van, say, for school field trips, or a pick-up truck for heavy-duty errands. It can be a challenge to cycle over with car seats since both of our kids still use them, but we’ve gotten used to it.”

There weren’t any safe bike lanes when Rodrigues bought her condo, but there are now and there will be more on the way. “Lots of residents already own bicycles – families, baby boomers, new Canadians. Hopefully, as the city continues to create safe and attractive bike paths, more people will pull their bikes off the balcony and out of the basement and start riding them.” Spoken like a true trailblazer.



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