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In Vancouver, No Traction for a Bicycle Backlash

Radio jock rants portray horde of angry car commuters, but even mayor's enemies are bike lovers.

By Niamh Scallan 11 Aug 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Niamh Scallan is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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Sportscaster Dave Pratt: 'Shut down' Critical Mass. Photo: Lisa Sauer/Nunuboo Photography, TEAM 1040

It's rage against the bicycle on a popular Vancouver afternoon drive show.

Radio sportscaster Dave Pratt of the Pratt and Taylor Show, "the sports fanatics' #1 choice on the drive home," has a reputation across the Lower Mainland for his daily rants about all things sports.

But lately, the middle-aged, leather-pants-wearing bachelor has embarked on a personal vendetta against Vancouver city council for its bike-friendly behaviour. Mayor Gregor Robertson's dream of a downtown network of separated bike lanes has created a traffic nightmare for commuters trying to get to and from work, he says.

"They've got traffic tied up in every different direction coming in and out of town for no good reason," Pratt told the Tyee. "It's an enormous waste of money."

Pratt speaks for the city's car-driving commuters who stand to lose from council's costly cycling initiatives, he says. But much to his despair, two wheels seem to trump four at City Hall these days, where politicos from all three parties on council stand united in their goal to be the greenest city in the world.

Which makes it difficult to know just how much voter anger Pratt is channeling, and whether he represents a serious political backlash in the making a year away from the next municipal election.

For now, Pratt rants on to his wheel-gripping audience and claims to be in search of a new pro-car candidate to run for mayor -- maybe even the macho-talking talent agent Bruce Allen.

"Dedicated bike lines are not wanted and they are not needed," he fumes. "It's the height of irresponsibility to further a political agenda"

City looking at Hornby bike lane

Under Vision Mayor Gregor Robertson, Vancouver city council doubled its 2009 Bicycle Network budget to $3.4 million to forward its plan for safer cycling infrastructure.

Council voted unanimously in July to make permanent the Burrard Bridge separated bike lane. And the quest for more separated lanes continued this year with a new route on Dunsmuir Viaduct and a trial lane on Dunsmuir Street.

City staffers begin exploring Hornby Street as the newest addition to downtown Vancouver's network of separated lanes at a public consultation Wednesday, August 11. Some business owners on Hornby have voiced their opposition, saying the lane will hamper their customers if built in the fall.

"What's never being available is safe infrastructure for cyclists downtown," Vision councillor Geoff Meggs said of recent developments. "And we're not unique is this regard. Every city in North America and most in Europe have taken on this issue."

And providing safer routes for cyclists encourages more people to hop on their bikes, Meggs said.

"The Burrard Bridge turned out very successfully and the numbers are pretty inarguable," he said. "It raised cycling volumes by 25 per cent."

NPA's Anton slams Vision's public process

The city's lone NPA councillor, Suzanne Anton, shares Vision Vancouver's goal for a downtown network of safe bike routes.

"I'm very supportive of cycling infrastructure in the city," said Anton, a bike enthusiast herself who is spending her August holidays cycling across Europe. "It’s really not a political issue because all political parties have been supportive for many years."

Yet with the 2011 election in sight, Anton isn't about to let Vision off the hook. She folds the bike controversy into a larger criticism she levels at the mayor and his party. The NPA councillor said that Vision Vancouver's aggressive pursuit of bike-friendly streets in the city reflects a troubling pattern of arrogant behaviour amongst city councillors and a disregard of public process.

"The way the city has done it has caused a lot of grief around the city," she told The Tyee. "It's that cavalier treatment of the public which is causing problems."

According to Anton, council failed to consult effectively with residents, businesses and other local stakeholders about some of the changes being made to Vancouver's streets. Many lane barricades and street changes were rolled out too hastily, she said.

"The barricades around the city. . . they got tossed up overnight," Anton said.

This is no different from how Vision Vancouver has acted before, she added.

"They are not very interested in hearing from the public," she said. "It happened with the STIR program and now it's happening in the cycling program."

Could the public consultation become an election platform in the next election?

"Yes," she said. "This a council that ran on consultation. . . that's one of their election promises that they have failed at most dramatically and significantly."

Former NPA councilor criticizes Anton

For Gordon Price, director of Simon Fraser University's City Program and former NPA city councillor, Anton's comments have little to do with council's bike policies and more to do with the game of politics.

"If you don't like the party, you criticize the process," he said. "She does not want, I would guess, to criticize the idea of the bike lanes in principle but also wants to support critics because she's 'in opposition.'"

Public consultation is a vital part of policy-making, Price said, but it is important to distinguish those who just want to criticize the process as a way of avoiding having to object to policies like separated bike lanes or affordable housing.

And after sitting on Vancouver city council for 15 years, Price is wary of councillors who use the 'public process' ticket as an excuse and a strategy to gain political ground, he said.

"Vision does the same thing. . . all political parties do this," he said. "It's a fairly subtle point but an important one. It means that there is no process that would be satisfactory unless they were in power."

Bruce Allen for mayor?

Back at TEAM 1040's afternoon drive show, Pratt and company are unwilling to stand by while bike-loving politicians rule the roads.

"Since the last election, there have been these major issues that have done incredible damage to the city," he told The Tyee."Now, it's about finding the people who want to go and run for council and run for mayor."

And who could be a worthy leader of Vancouver's irritated car-driving commuters?

"We went and talked to Bruce Allen to see if he's interested in becoming mayor and I think he'll be strong opposition next year in the election," Pratt said.

According to Allen's publicist Marlene Palmer, there's no truth to the rumour that 'Vote Allen' signs will appear on Vancouverites' lawns next fall.

But Pratt hasn't given up scheming of ways to rally support for his cause.

Topping Pratt's list of priorities is the elimination of Vancouver's monthly Critical Mass ride.

"You have a collection of pinheads who believe they have the right to completely highjack the city and shut it down," he said. "It's a criminal act and the fact that the city is not doing anything about it speaks volumes to the lack of leadership at city hall."

Who wants to back pedal?

In Gordon Price's mind, Pratt's political ambitions are a load of hot air.

"If there was a political party on the right or anywhere on the political spectrum that was prepared to say. . . this whole cycling thing is just a bunch of bullshit and we're going to take a step back and reverse and not pursue that. . . then yeah, you might be able to build on that."

But City Hall's "bike city" aspirations reflect much broader, more profound issues like climate change, peak oil and obesity that no politician in Vancouver would dare back-pedal on, he said.

And as for "Pratt's Rant," Price has yet to understand why a sportscaster would oppose a get-fit initiative pursued by city council.

"I think that maybe it offends them at a gut level," he said. "They feel, I think, intuitively that they're being criticized and then they associate it with the left politically and the culture wars."

"Their response is very, very emotional," he added, "and it gets conflated into something very much bigger than it really is."  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Transportation

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