Vancouver, BC has been hard at work improving its bicycling infrastructure to encourage more bicyclists. Their efforts have included completing the Carrall Street Greenway, a short trail that connects False Creek with Burrard Inlet. At first I thought this seemed like a rather minor accomplishment. Then I realized that it completed the loop created by the Seaside Greenway that encircles much of downtown and includes Stanley Park’s famous seawall trail. Then I looked at the city’s website only to discover a fantastic web of Greenways built, under construction, or planned across the city of Vancouver. When completed there will be sixteen routes totaling eighty-seven miles, many of which would be classified as Class I bike paths in Thurston County. 

I love the fact that Thurston County has the Chehalis Western, Woodland, and Yelm-Tenino trails but I don’t understand why there aren’t plans for more greenways other than the Gate-Belmore Trail, especially considering how much more affordable bicycle trails are than building new roads. But really, the most important greenways are those that connect the urban areas. We need to have Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater connected in a much more bike-friendly manner. Thank god we have the wonderful bicycling map we have. 

Another advantage that Vancouverites have that we don’t down here in Thurston County are those new-fangled cyclist signal buttons at busy intersections. How nice would it be for novice riders not to feel like they have to play chicken with the rest of traffic because the traffic signals are too archaic to detect their chosen mode of transportation? “All you Suburbans, Hummers, and Priuses! STOP! It is my turn to make my way safely through this intersection!” I would love to feel like I had the power of the law on my side to let me pass through a busy intersection. Of course this requires us to assume that no one has any intention of building a safe and serene greenway nearby.

In 2005 the city of Vancouver set for itself the lofty goal of having 10% of its citizenry commuting by bicycle in 2010. With a year to go, they only have 3.7% of the city commuting by bicycle. But this makes me wonder how many people are commuting on foot. With all those skinny condo towers in downtown Vancouver I would think they would have a decently high percentage of the town walking to work, but I’m probably mistaken. That said, in four neighborhoods (Point Grey, Kitsilano, South Cambie, and Grandview-Woodlands) 11% of their residents are currently commuting to work by bicycle, so that’s pretty cool. As of 2005 just 2.1% of Thurston County commuted to work by bicycle while 1.9% commuted on foot. I pray that those numbers have risen in the last three years, because that’s pitiful, especially when only 4.0% took the bus. 

Interestingly, during Vancouver’s Bike to Work Week last year 3% of the participants had 60 kilometer (37 mile) roundtrip commutes. What would that mean in Thurston County? That would mean commuting from Bucoda to the State Capital (37.4 miles, roundtrip), Yelm to the State Capital (31 miles, roundtrip), or Rainier to Rochester (41.2 miles, roundtrip). What a wild world we would live in if people were making those commutes here. But then, maybe they are and I just don’t have the relevant information. 

The last thing I want to mention is the last thing they mentioned in the article: there is safety in numbers! The more people ride, the more people will ride. I suppose that was an ideal of Critical Mass, once upon a time. If more than 2.1% of Thurston County would get out on a bicycle to commute, people would stop looking at it as a fringe/hippie habit. People wouldn’t have to be afraid of riding alone, in isolation. They could feel that communal spirit of participating in something. Sadly, this must be why they all hop behind the wheel: there are so many other people doing it, they get to participate in that great community of commuters, but in a most destructive manner.