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National conference brings bikers, motorists together

A crowd of more than 100 debated the sometimes perilous and often contentious relationship between cyclists and motorists at the Vancouver Convention Centre, Wednesday.

The Canadian Automotive Association brought together panelists from across Canada (with one from Portland, Ore.) for the one day conference titled Changing Lanes: Improving the Bike-Car Relationship on Canada's Roads.

With an aim to better understand the dynamic of road-sharing in Canada's cities, three panels -- consisting of five panelists each -- tackled the issues of infrastructure, safety and business concerns.

"Across the country, communities of all sizes are grappling with infrastructure, education and safety issues as more bikes, cars and transit vehicles coexist on Canada's roadways," said Jeff Walker, vice president of public affairs at CAA.

"There is and will be enormous pressure placed on our transportation infrastructure, and Canadian cities need to prepare."

City of Vancouver councilor Geoff Meggs sat on the day's first panel and discussed infrastructure projects aimed at making Vancouver a safer city for cyclists.

"Although we are very proud of what we have achieved, we do not say that Vancouver is on cutting edge," said Meggs before launching into a defence of the city's hotly contested bike lanes.

"There was an opportunity missed to indicate to drivers why we were doing these things," he said of the recently completed separated bike lanes found on Dunsmuir and Hornby Streets.

Many of the bike-friendly policies and initiatives undertaken in Vancouver derived from successful strategies implemented elsewhere.

Jennifer Dill, another of the infrastructure panelists, presented data from Portland, Ore., widely viewed as one of the world's most bike-friendly cities. Dill is a director of the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium.

"As more cyclists have been on the road, we are seeing the incidence of crashes going down," said Dill.

"It's a concept dubbed 'safety in numbers.' The more cyclists and the more pedestrians you have on the road creates a safer environment."

A rousing and enthusiastic lunch-time keynote presentation also drew on international examples.

Gil Penalosa is an executive director of 8-80 Cities, a Toronto-based non-profit group that hopes to make urban roads safe for eight-year-olds and 80-year-olds alike.

Penalosa drew on the experiences of "bikeable" and "vibrant" cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam as international examples of the way cars, bikes and pedestrians can coexist.

The day's second panel discussed bike safety issues and included a presentation by West Vancouver Police sergeant Tim Kravjanski and an awkward rant from automotive journalist Ted Laturnus.

Laturnus railed against Vancouver's "militant" cyclists and rider-awareness events like Critical Mass. But sighs and scoffs from the audience suggested his views were marginal and contrary to the theme of the day.

While discussion of infrastructure dominated the conference, the need for better educational tools and programs also surfaced.

CAA is developing an online teaching site to help educate drivers on how to deal with cyclists on the road. CAA hopes the tool will be used in driver education courses across the country. The site will also include a similar tool to educate cyclists on the rules of the road, signaling and safety equipment.

Tyler Harbottle is completing a practicum at The Tyee. Contact him by email or on Twitter.

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