A highway built for 2…


Imagine a highway built for 2 cars…that’s right, a road where only 2 cars can reach the destination every 2 hours.

It certainly would solve traffic congestion and it would cost a lot less than the Gateway boondogle the provincial government is trying to shove down our throats.

Of course, no car owner would stand for it.

But this highway does exist for cyclists: TransLink and BC Ferries have created a system that allows only 2 cyclists to travel from Vancouver to Nanaimo (and vice versa) every 2 hours…except for holidays when nobody can use public transit for the first sailing of the day. That’s right, a public holiday and you can only drive or ride in the dark to catch the first ferry of the day (but then, who would be trying to get out of town for a holiday weekend!). And yes, I exaggerate: only 2 cyclists can connect with the first two sailings each non-holiday…the other 6 sailings each day can accommodate 4 cyclists!Typical Bike Parking on BC Ferries

Now we are talking about a giant boat here. Lots of room for bikes, thousands of ’em. And get this: BC Ferries makes money for providing nothing in terms of bike facilities each time a cyclist boards ($2.50 per bike for no racks, no dedicated space, no lockers, no change rooms, no showers, no rain shelter while waiting to load, nothing).

Most importantly, realize that the majority of the people in the Lower Mainland live in one of the world’s largest natural harbours: Vancouver! Why are we forced to travel to the megalopolises of Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen to get to Vancouver Island or the Gulf Islands? Why are islanders forced to arrive nowhere near their destination?

Forcing folks to travel hours just to get on a ferry is precisely why TransLink’s lack of bicycle facilities is not just important, it is critical. The alternative is to drive (duh) or ride for 2 hours (guess what most people choose). And forget about taking the direct route (i.e., the highway) to East Vancouver or Burnaby because North Vancouver doesn’t allow cyclists on their part of the Trans-Canada.

Harbourlynx Fast Ferry realized this gaping hole in our transportation system a few years back and were poised to make lots of money exploiting it. They provided a comfortable, fast, inner harbour to inner harbour connection between Nanaimo and Vancouver that provided free passage to all bicycles. Unfortunately, they weren’t prepared for an unforeseen engine failure which has since bankrupt them.

However, the silence of BC Ferries and our Provincial Government has been deafening since this transportation tragedy ended a way of life for hundreds of commuters. Not only would the cost of reinstating this service pale in comparison to any other transportation project planned or underway (we’re talking a million or two, instead of multi-billions), it would facilitate the inevitable transition from our dependence on oil. But there I go again, expecting the government to work for all people, when we all know it only works for rich people.

But let’s not let TransLink and BC Ferries off the hook so easily.

TransLink has had access to “improved” bike racks for a couple of years now, but to date has refused to upgrade any buses. Granted these new racks only hold one more bike, but that also means one less car.

TransLink also steadfastly refuses to allow bikes on board our buses. All buses with bike racks have spaces inside to accommodate wheelchairs. Most of the time these are used by able-bodied folk, but they could accommodate 2 bikes each. One memorable Easter Friday morning, I took a bus with 7 bikes on board: 2 on the front, 2 in each wheelchair spot and one (sans wheels) behind the last row of seats. The bus was packed with people and not one complained.

And then there is the service. Buses are consistently packed to the ferries but rarely are extra buses put into service. For Horseshoe Bay, the Express Bus (257) is often an articulated (extra long) bus; great for more foot passengers (and for saving TransLink the cost of a 2nd driver) but it still only takes 2 bikes. If TransLink ever got serious about fulfilling the mandate it claims for providing services to cyclists, the 257 would turn into at least 2 buses and the racks would be upgraded. 6 bikes doesn’t sound like much, but for the short term, it would allow cyclists the consistency and reliability that car drivers usually get without even asking.

And let’s not forget BC Ferries in this fiasco. Not only does this publicly- owned corporation blatantly gouge cyclists, they refuse to adapt or expand their services to meet the needs of a changing transportation public.

Beyond taking over Harbourlynx and eliminating the bicycle tariff on all routes, they could provide bus service with a bicycle trailer (a la Deas Island/Massey Tunnel) to meet and leave from every sailing. This would increase their revenue (every cyclist pays the passenger fare, and almost every sailing still has room for more walk-ons/cyclists) and decrease their huge expense of providing parking for cars waiting to get on the subsequent sailings.

It’s no surprise to most that our transportation systems are stuck in the sixties. The surprise to many it seems is that the sustainable solutions are not only quick and easy, they are cheap and would help eliminate the recurring problems for which there is no solution. Congestion can not be solved, it must be managed. Cycling, like congestion, needs infrastructure to grow. We can build a $1 billion highway on Vancouver Island (with billions more in the Lower Mainland on the way) but our bicycle highway to the ferry, which would cost thousands at most, is simply left off the transportation map.

Please take the time to phone or email TransLink (604-953-3040, custrel@translink@bc.ca, gvtaboard@translink.bc.ca), BC Ferries (250- 381-1401, barry.graham@bcferries.com), and the Provincial Government (604-660-2421 or 800-663-7867, premier@gov.bc.ca, minister.transportation@gov.bc.ca) to ensure our bicycle highway allows more than just a pair of early birds to catch the ferry of their choice. The sooner we build it, the sooner we get outta town…by bike!


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