The Best Bike Cities in North America: Vancouver, British Columbia

You don’t have to give up the amenities of a large urban environment just because you prefer traveling on two wheels over four

Vancouver, British Columbia.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Vancouver was the recent site of the 2012 Velo-city Global conference, which gathered together 700 delegates from 40 countries and close to 200 speakers. It was also the host city of the 2010 Winter Olympics, which helped steer attention toward this picturesque City of Glass where you can ski, sail, and hike all in one day—and still get in some time on the bike.

Pro-bike Mayor Gregor Robertson has spearheaded the expansion of Vancouver’s bike lane network to include two separated lanes that bisect the downtown core, distinct routes on one of the city’s major bridges, and bicycle boulevards where car traffic is discouraged using roundabouts and lower traffic speeds. Plus, there’s the seawall, the 14-mile separated bike path that follows the ocean around the popular tourist destinations of Stanley Park and False Creek all the way over to Kitsilano Beach, where the scenery in summertime is reminiscent of a Southern California coastline.

Beyond a growing network of bikeways, you can also take your bike onto the light rail system during off-peak hours. In fact, you can travel with your bike to and from the airport on a light rail train. Buses are all equipped with bike racks. Plus, there are rumors of a bike share coming soon to Terminal City once the issue of providing a bicycle helmet with the bike share bikes to adhere to the mandatory all-ages law has been addressed.

City council just approved five new bikeway expansions or improvements at a cost of $3 million in May of this year, part of the $25 million budget approved by the local government in 2010 and $10 million approved in 2011.

The cycling mode share in Vancouver is still below four percent—although it did increase by 27 percent since 2009, according to a report by the local transit authority TransLink—which is why it falls at the end of our list. In terms of cycle-friendly cities in Canada and North America, however, Vancouver has a lot going for it.

The temperate climate and relative density of the Lotusland makes it easier for cyclists to commute year-round. And the City of Vancouver’s overall plan to be the “greenest city in the world” by 2020 has elevated the importance of developing an effective network of alternative forms of transportation.

The monthly Critical Mass rides can attract thousands of Vancouver bikers during the summer. There’s also the bicycle performance troupe, the B:C:Clettes, Bikes Inside! bicycle-themed parties, Margaret Charles Chopper Collective (MC3) freak bike rides, the Kilowatt Hour electric bike rides, the VanUni unicycle group and, of course, Velopalooza. The month-long festival of bike fun features events and rides for the whole family during the Canadian Bike Month in June.

The nearby North Shore Mountains and Whistler are world renowned for their trails, which naturally has the effect of drawing a lot of mountain bikers to the city.

Having lived in Vancouver for over six years now, I can safely say that you soon get used to seeing downhill bikes parked beside townies, fixies, and carbon fiber road bikes. It's just another one of the many joys of living in a well-rounded, bike-friendly city.

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