Will Rob Ford factor play out in Vancouver's civic election?

Post by Gord Price in


rob ford.jpg
Will a populist candidate opposed to bike lanes end up running for the NPA?

On my blog I published a few posts a while back regarding whether Vancouver was ready for a Rob Ford-style campaign in the upcoming civic election.

Could a Vancouver Rob emulate the populist (and popular) Toronto mayor by denouncing a “War on the Car” and the “Gravy Train at City Hall?”

Well, within a week, an actual Rob popped up as a possibility. Developer and Dunsmuir-Street hotel owner Rob Macdonald had penned an op-ed on how “Downtown bike routes are a disaster” and sent the blogosphere into fits. Within hours, journalist Frances Bula suggested “Developer with rumoured political ambitions weighs in on the bike lanes.” Was Macdonald positioning himself for a run at a council seat? Maybe even for the mayor’s job?

Here’s a taste of Macdonald’s florid style: the bike routes, he maintained, were the cause of “a substantial drop in sales revenues; … job losses; business closures; shopkeepers’ life savings wiped out; falling property values, with a resulting loss of property taxes for the city; and a downtown traffic plan that is so compromised that many people won’t go downtown unless they absolutely have to …”

Whew! In this kind of tirade, quiet facts get drowned out by the noise of the charge. Recent data reveals that more people are coming to downtown than ever (up 10% since 1996) in fewer cars (down 25%). Despite the myth of an exodus to the suburbs, there are more downtown jobs than ever (up 26%) and, of course, a lot more people living there (up 75%).

Clearly the crowds that fill downtown streets (if not the parking garages) are taking transit and walking and cycling – enough to justify some modest street reallocation to handle the change. Clearly that’s also unsettling for some people – and not just in Vancouver.

“Bikelashes” are occurring wherever separated lanes appear, even in that centre of sophistication, New York City, where a cycle track in Brooklyn has split the chattering classes and political elites with polarizing populism. Similar controversies around North America and Europe suggest that something deeper is going on than just disputes over asphalt. And perhaps Macdonald wants to mine that vein.

Could he win a civic seat over a bike route?

Maybe – even if the lane is well used in the summer and the consequences are minor, which is thus far the case. The Hornby bike lane has led to a mere one-minute delay during the afternoon rush. Given the complexity of traffic – and how easily it can be disrupted – that’s astonishing. And no doubt frustrating to the critics, who would like a little doom with their gloom.

But still, why the angst? Cycling, after all, is only one degree of separation from weightier issues: climate change, energy prices, obesity. But rather than take on serious policy, the mad dogs prefer to bark at the two-wheelers and their city hall supporters with charges of “social engineering” and wasting taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars.

Maybe there’s something generational happening here.

Though Macdonald himself is a long-distance cyclist, he doesn’t seem to relate to those who use two wheels for actual transportation – those who are predominantly young and see themselves as advocates for a more “sustainable” way of life.

Is this a case of affluent boomers dismissing the lifestyles of those who will have to deal with the debts passed on to them, whether measured in carbon or credit, by those who would throw them back into traffic?

Imagine the boomer generation saying to the millennials: “Work hard (with less benefits) to help pay for our health care and security, but don’t expect us to tolerate your desire to travel safely and cheaply while staying fit and doing your bit for the environment. Stay out of our face and out of our way.”

That should make for a fun election.

Macdonald hasn’t as of this writing said whether he’ll run – and if he did, whether he would bulldoze the separated lanes. In fact, no critics have said they’ll kill the lanes – but it probably doesn’t matter. The rhetorical battle has been engaged, and in victory the message would be clear.

The Robs are in charge, and we ain’t going green.

- Post by Gordon Price. He is Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. He also writes, teaches and consults on urban development and planning. He served six terms as Councillor for the City of Vancouver, from 1986 to 2002, as well as on the board of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (now Metro) and TransLink, the regional transportation authority.

Follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus. Follow Gordon on Twitter @pricetags.


Ford, Toronto and Vancouver bikelanes.

I would suggest that dedicated infrastructure and tolls needs to be on the civic agenda.

If people want bike lane supporters to shudder suggest tolls but be careful what you ask for because, if they were smart, they would respond by saying 'after you Alphonse'.

Street pricing, which is a cute way of saying 'tolls', combined with the significant expansion of high tech parking meters in residential areas is the wave of the future. Lets hope the NPA has a place at the table.

A Rob Ford style campaign might work if Vancouver extended out to Maple Ridge and Delta. Inside the current city lines, I doubt it.

I am not sure that I follow @David's comment, but if he is suggesting that bikes and cars pay tolls to go downtown that reflect their relative burden on the economy, infrastructure and environment, it is an interesting idea but hard to implement and it would end up costing car drivers a great deal. Perhaps we could start by requiring people to pay for on-street parking - a fee of about $1,000 per year would likely cover something like the true costs.

And thank you to Mr. Price for providing some actual numbers to frame the discussion. It would be good to have numbers from other cities as well.

Thanks to Gordon Price and other enlightened NPA representatives, past NPA administrations have put in hundreds of kilometres of integrated bike lanes throughout the city, far more than the current administration.

And they managed to do so without dividing the entire city, by consulting widely and engineering wisely, two steps notably missing from the Hornby Street bike lane contretemps.

Hornby is a very narrow, heavily-trafficked street unsuitable at the start for a bike lane, and unfortunately the solution they've imposed was badly engineered and done in a rush - just watch the confusion over the separate right-turn signals which continue to baffle everyone, including the cyclists that continue running into cars and buses turning right ...

The result is a poorly though-through hodge-podge that failed miserably to accommodate long-established businesses along the length of that key downtown artery. Il Giardino, a celebrated Vancouver institution, has seen a sharp fall-off in business as just one of many examples.

At a minimum, government's goal should be not to make things worse, a simple caution this ideologically-blind council has ignored from the beginning of its term. From the reckless politicization of the Olympic Village and cavalier attitude to taxpayer losses, to the ill-planned Hornby bike lane, to the failed "STIR" program in the West End that actually paid developers government subsidies just to end up with market-rate housing, this council has repeatedly made matters worse in our city, not better.

Its time for a change and for a more sensible, responsible and reasonable approach to governing our city. People more in the tradition of Mr. Price, for instance. Here's hoping!

"The Robs are in charge, and we ain’t going green."

Climate change was the foundation of the "Green Religion". With the science settled, economic tests were not relevant in assessing green initatives. How can you put a price on saving the planet. Good excuse to tap another source of government funding with carbon taxes and all those financial whizzes that created sub prime debt were rubbing their hands at the thought of trading carbon credits.

Fortunately, the wheels have come off the climate change bus and the green baloon is deflating around the world.
Yes, we still need to consider alternative forms of energy, transportation etc but it will be in the context of what makes economic sense. The millenials will eventually come to the same conclusion and be thankful that more was not wasted by those looking to cash in on the green revolution.

@Sean Bickerton

Anything that takes space away from the automobile tends to be controversial in cities all over the world. Bring it back to Rob Ford, his main issue was reallocating space for streetcars and LRT. There was years of planning behind the LRT in TO.

Yesterday, I saw a father with his two daughters, they looked to be around 8-10 years old, cycling on the Hornby bike lane. I never saw any children this age along the old Hornby painted bike lane.

It is really hard to see how Il Giardino would be suffering because of the bike lane. They still have their loading zone and it is no more difficult to access their business. If they are suffering, it could be due to all the negative press generated by the opponents of the bike lane, the HST which has caused business to plummet at restaurants around the province, the economy or the tougher driving and driving regulations. Compare Il Giardino to similar businesses elsewhere in the city before passing judgement. To make claims like you are doing without any solid numbers, analysis or proof is rather reckless.

Bike lights and separate phases are used in cities all over the world. While it make take people a bit of time to adjust, I have notice few drivers and even fewer cyclists not following the signals. You are severely underestimating people's ability to figure out and adapt to new situations.

Ironically, you first complain about what you claim is the politicalization of the Olympic Village after you proceed to totally politicalize the bike lanes. Remember, the whole controversy was flamed by Laura Jones, the ex Fraser Institute hack who, instead of doing any research into the impact of bike lanes elsewhere or trying to help business adjust, decided to fear-monger instead.

It is easy to criticize, the real question is how would you do better creating cycling facilities for people of all ages and abilities. Would you have placed the separated bike lanes on Burrard instead or would you have taken the easy way out and just not bothered creating family friendly cycling lanes.

Oh, I'm pretty sure Mr. Price supports the Hornby Bike Lane. He has been a leader for years in supporting these types of bold measures. Remember the first Burrard Bridge Trial. You are right, we do need people in the tradition of Mr. Price who are willing to show leadership and make tough choices.

The issue isn't whether bikes or cars are better or worse, it's the coercion that makes people bitter on both sides. No one likes having their money stolen and spent on things they disagree with. Here's a crazy idea; privatize a handful of roads, and let the left and right settle it by putting their money up and putting their ideologies on display in full unencumbered glory for public scrutiny.

Auction a few roads, just as an experiment. The left can buy some roads and fill them with planters, bike lanes, bulges, "parklets" and other assorted nonsense, enforce massive tolls and 20km/h limits, and we could then watch all the businesses near their eco-roads fail miserably and property values plummet. Then you'll have all the "real numbers" you need to accurately re-assess the tragic failure of progressive/socialist/2+2=5 thinking.

God forbid we fix a problem in society by voluntary means, by increasing personal freedoms and responsibilities, instead of taking them by force and referring to that act of violence as a friendly "nudge" as progressives often do.

Mr Price celebrated the arrival of the Hornby bike lanes as a "click" moment in Vancouver's history. So much for the encomium. Where would seg-lanes actually be a good idea? On the Abbotsford stretch of Highway 1, where two cyclists have been killed in the last six months.
There are ways to achieve the modal shift from cars to cycling,e-bikes,e-cars and public transit. The current administration with it's balkanizition of both public space and competing mode users isn't anywhere close to a solution. I haven't seen anything the NPA has offered as any better. So sad.

Now to the main question. I believe Rob Macdonald has already declined to run. I could be wrong. As for him, or anyone else running on a Ford-like platform, it's not likely to work here. Vancouver's political culture is far different from Toronto's. We're not a megalopolis like TO with a large commuter population, and our electorate IMHO is far more sophisticated.(Except for this guy) :-)


Transportation and taxation no doubt will be part of the mix, but so will many other issues. What's going to be interesting is to see if Vision runs a Harper-like bubble campaign to shield it's poster boy from any real debate about his council's serious and multitudinous shortcomings.

What our Mayor and people like Geoff Meggs have accomplish is a deep distrust/frustration/animosity between cars drivers and cyclists.
They took the idea of a bike freindly city and destroyed it because they "hate" cars and want to hurt peoole out of their cars.
Instead of encouraging us to work together the leaders of the city of Vancouver have single handed created a deep rift between cyclists and drivers.

We need a new slate of leaders who will tear down the segregated bike lanes - ALL of them - including the test lanenon the burrard street bridge.

Btw the person who thinks that hornby is now only takes 1 minute longer....lol get your facts straight don't be a LIAR. I drive that route all the time.

We need bikes lanes and even more than we have now but BRIGHTLY PAINTED bike lanes NOT segregated bike lanes. There should be bike lanes going in every direction in the city (painted ones).

None of this can be implemented by car haters and/or cyclist

I think this is a great idea. I would be happy to invest in a road designed for cyclists, pedestrians, with wider sidewalks and more sidewalk life. Where do I sign up? I would even be happy to be in a competitive bidding situation with car users. This would be a very interesting experiment to try out and I hope the City takes it up.

Don't assume that conventional 'left wing' and 'right wing' definitions are relevant to this issue.

I was brushed by cars, once hard enough to knock me down, three times on Hornby before the segregated bike line was put in. I was also knocked off the bridge into traffic several years ago.

So for those of you opposed to segregated bike lanes, what are you suggesting instead for cyclists?

Hi Gerry

What are some ideas you would propose to encourage alternate forms of transit (freeing up road space for people who really have a reason to use cars)?

It would be great to have more ideas on the table, and more ways to test different approaches.


Not sure about other people, but I have never seen climate change as the only or even the prime reason for moving to a sustainable and resilient economy, one that is integrated with the ecology and provides a higher level of wellness for people. This just makes good human and economic sense.

That said, even climate change skeptics like Bjorn Lomborg have changed there position and now agree that climate change is a real issue, with real economic consequences, that need to be addressed. See his most recent book Smart Solutions to Climate Change (Cambridge, 2010).

How about a bus pass or a few weeks enrolled in pedal pushers,pricey is another fabian eco loon who thinks less than four one hundredths of one percent of co2 not carbon in the air is going to fry the planet,97% of co2 is natural so man contributes 3% of 390 parts per million,c02 is a colorless odorless gas that all life on this planet depends on.200 ppm less c02 the planet turns brown and dies.

I disagree. Climate change, and AGW specifically, is the direct underpinning to carbon taxes, cap and trade schemes, and uneconomic green energy initiatives. It is a necessary component to justify forcing people into behaviour they would not willingly pay for if they had a choice. A good example is the Leeds Platinum standard of the Olympic Village. Sounds good but consumers are not willing to pay a cent for it.

I have much more faith in the private sector to develop economic alternative energy solutions than in the public sector. The city of Vancouver couldn't even break even in developing some of the best real estate in Canada. I doubt if they will have any more success in creating a "resiliant and sustainable" economy.

Even if you accept his bogus 1 min.triptime number that means if its 5min trip now thats a 20% increase in the devil co2.OMG your biking is killing the children.

Lets say there are 300 cars on hornby in rush hour thats 300min.per trip thats 20 trips per hour at 5 min. per trip so thats 6000 min.if rush hour is 4 hours combined morning and afternoon thats 24000 min. more of the deadly gas.Oh please save us from the evil bikes.You could shoot a cannon down the hornby bike lane right now and nobody would get hurt.

OOPs should be 12 trips per hour,so thats 3600 min per hour and 14400 min per 4 hour rush hour,dont want to be accused of bumping the numbers like a warmest.

Sure, anthropogenic greenhouse gasses and climate change are the driver for carbon taxes and cap & trade. But is that the whole of the green agenda? Even if you discount climate change (which I don't) there are many externalities to the use of automobiles that are effectively subsidies. LEEDs predates general debate about or concern for climate change and I remember many efforts to create energy efficient building standards from the early 1970s.

I also prefer market solutions to most problems. But the market has to be designed (and markets are designed artifacts) so that it sends price signals about the true costs (including externalities). I don't think governments should be choosing winners or subsidizing the private sector. I am opposed to many zoning measures, SR&ED tax credits (I know, a federal issue), government investment in commercial technologies (I do not like the recent direction of the NRC), etc. And it is private companies and individual decisions that will do the most to move us to a sustainable and resilient city. I am one of those people who will use a bike if there is a bike lane or not, who buys carbon credits for flights, is happy to pay more for local food, etc. These are all my choices. But I am sure happy that the bike lanes make cycling a safer choice in Vancouver.

If you were shooting it at 12:30 today you would have hit me.

And all you climate change skeptics may enjoy reading http://www.frumforum.com/confessions-of-a-climate-change-convert

Google "Monderman". Also "segregated bike lanes safety". Here's a freebie.


Thanks Gerry

I was aware of the issues in Portland, which incidentally were solved by infrastructure. And I agree that the single best way to increase bike safety is to get a lot more bikes on the road. Having cycled a lot in Copenhagen (lots of segregated bike lanes) and Tokyo (virtually no segregated bike lanes as bicycles are expected to be on sidewalks, not roads) and Boston (pretty much no bike lanes at all in Boston proper) all I can say is that (i) I have been hit in Boston and Vancouver but not Copenhagen or Tokyo and (ii) I feel safer with segregated bike lanes. I have also studied Monderman and visited some of the places he designed. It is an interesting approach (in some ways Tokyo is an example, though I am pretty sure Tokyo evolved organically and was not designed). Do you think the Monderman approach would work in Vancouver? If so, where should we try it? Is there a risk of mixing models so that drivers, pedestrians and cyclist get even more confused than they already are?

Must be nice to have the road to yourself.

I would have been more impressed if David's research had gone further than the IPCC report that has been somewhat discredited as being an advocacy document rather than an impartial scientific review.

I didn't, but as I wasn't counting or even particularly paying attention i can't really say how many other cyclists were on Hornby around that time. I did pass five on the ride, two passed me (I an vain enough to notice that) and there was some number going the other way.

Say more about why you think the IPCC is an advocacy document. And what do you think of Bjorn Lomborg's change in position as stated in Smart Solutions to Climate Change?

I wonder if urban scale is a factor in the success of the Monderman approach. In Vancouver I try to ride at about 28 km per hour and am often riding 10-15 km routes. In Tokyo I ride much slower and if I need to go farther ride to the nearest station. I suspect (don't know) that Monderman's approach works best when everyone (except pedestrians of course) is willing to go much slower, which is probably more acceptable in smaller scale environments.

Sean you make me laugh. You spend 5 paragraphs belittling and mocking vision and end it all with a hope for a brighter future.

Just like other editors here, it just seems impossible for you to come up with/explain good ideas without first shitting on the current crop. Yet you expect us to believe the NPA would be any different...ha!

If you go to NOFRAKKINGCOSENSUS she has done an audit of the IPCC to do with peer review and other things she calls it the climate bible.

Donna Lafamboise at No Frakking Consensus is to the IPCC as Vivian Krause is to Tides.Anyway you should check the citizens audit.

And I'll bet you still think those were "accidental".

If http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/ is your major source of information on climate change you need to get out more. I only spent an hour on it, and I learned a bit about polemics and some juicy gossip but nothing of the science of climate change. I agree that there is lots of room for disagreement on the projections and the properties of emergent systems are impossible to predict. But to claim that climate change is some sort of vast conspiracy of the left is simply stupid. Take an open and honest look at the evidence, download and examine the models (and contrary to what some claim these are easily available on-line), and work out for yourself what the different scenarios are. If there is no climate change or it is minimal, the downside of dealing with it is less pollution, lower energy use, more varied energy sources, a more diverse economy, and quite likely higher economic growth (i can go through my logic for this if you are interested). If there is climate change and we don't deal with it then the outcomes are massive displacements in population, the collapse of the global trading system, and a severe economic contraction.

@ Sally Forth, ah, so you are sallying forth in your armored vehicle to do battle. Hope it's working for you.

"If there is no climate change...."

Of course there will be climate change - the climate has changed constantly and that is a big problem for the AGW position. Climate changed before industrialization due to natural forces. How do you isolate one variable - the impact of man - from the natural forces. Maybe AGW would be a good thing if it was counteracting a natural climate cooling.

Your economics are faulty in a global economy because if we unilaterally act and increase our costs, we will be less competitive. The Federal governments position is the only sensible response to climate change - act in concert with the United States. Provincial and civic governments should act within a national strategy.

As for Bjorn Lomborg, he was never a skeptic but accepted AGW as a reality but one that should be met with adaptive strategies and not preventive and that is the position he changed. In any event, so what? George Monbiot has now embraced nuclear power. (http://www.monbiot.com/2011/03/21/going-critical/). Does that mean all the Greens are going to line up now for nuclear power.

If you are interested in both sides of the arguement check out WUWT http://wattsupwiththat.com/

WOW nice spin.You asked for info on the IPCC not the science you dont like what you see and call her work gossip,how weak.Everything on her site is linked and proven conspirasy is your word but there is no doubt they have an agenda,100 billion a year seems reason enough to keep it going.Patchy said the IPCC uses only peer reviewed science mmmmm not so much.Leed authors who are still wet behind the ears,authors who work for WWF,greenpeace and other NGOs.And to top it off you talk about displaced people,google 50 million climate refugees and see what the first thing to come up too funny.Models, really models haha.100% of their models are wrong,but they keep adusting and running them hundreds of times until they get what they want.Models are only a tool and are not anything to do with empirical evidence.

Steven I think you should go to Watts site and look at the reference pages,look at the sea ice the SST,oceans,atmosphere or what ever you like you might find that its not worse than we thought.

It would work on Hornby, no doubt about it. Large sidewalks, wide streets, low speed environment. Allow me also to plug again the pressing need for segregated lanes on Highway 1 near population centers where the need is demonstrable and the result of not having them has proven to be (twice) fatal. As for global warming, I just want to know when we're going to get our share (brrrrrr...).

@gman Try looking at both sides. For a good review of the evidence by a skeptic try Bjorn Lomborg's Smart Solutions to Climate Change (note I do not agree with his solutions, but the analysis is challenging). You can find most of this on-line by Googling Copenhagen Consensus Center. On models read Paul N. Edwards A Vast Machine. Your comments on models make no sense. If you think there is no evidence for climate change and it is all a conspiracy there is not much for us to discuss. If you are willing to look at actual evidence and way options I am open to that.

Hi Gerry

Who could decide to put in a divided bike lane on Highway 1. I seldom get out that far (Highway 7 would be better for me) but I sure hear you. As a cyclist I still want a fairly quick way to get around downtown. I normally ride between 25 and 30 kph which I think is too fast for the design you are proposing (but yeah, I guess I can slow down in the general interest). Anywhere other than Hornby you would like to see this tried? I sort of like West 4th from Burrard West but that is in my own narrow selfish interests.

And I agree the design goal has to include coexistence of cars, light vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, transit and transport. Some separation will be needed though, although I can see cars, light vehicles, bicycles, pedestrian coexisting if we can get the designs right.

The Thought of The Night

“Let’s call the postings on this thread, The Steven Even Effect a.k.a...The Boomerang Effect.”

Steven, you are trying too hard. You intrigued me so...I did a bit of back reading.

Point 1. You like less bureaucrats in the City Hall...but better paid. Check one.

Point 2. You like the Vancouver Art gallery where it stands right now because...it enhances your Hornby bike lanes experience, which are bla, bla, bla great, bla, bla, bla safe, bla, bla, bla exceptional vision....

Point 3. You would make up your mind on voting Mike Klassen in...only after you find more about his ‘policies’...but you are comfortable and going to give Gregor another shot...despite him crapping all over his promises, pre electoral platform and policies, lying, swearing behind your back, cowering and showing no leadership what-so-ever. Go figure.

Do I also need to remind you of his Worship ‘biking’ acumen and show off prowess? Only to be trumped by finding out through a FOI that his yearly transportation allowance (why on earth someone paid 150 K per year...to sit... would need ‘helping’ with transportation costs is beyond me, just despicable, like with all the other councillors and higher echelon bureaucrats, see point 1) has been dutifully cashed in, like any pedestrian Aufochs from across the street, and from the same Hood would do, if you catch my drift.

And now you are pounding here on, and on, and on...Tokyo, Copenhagen, Boston, and allow me to add to your list few of my fav. cities: Paris, London, Amsterdam, Budapest...I can make a travel itinerary throughout South America as well, Buenos, Rio, Santiago ... but it wouldn’t mean anything , because I recognize the individuality of any and all of those cities, the uniqueness, the failed attempt to make a carbon copy of any of them. Period. This is Vancouver. And that’s that. Deal with it.

Copying doesn’t work. It makes one feel better, yes, It makes one appear knowledgeable, yes, can one implement it here, no.
Cats and dogs and mice. Different.

That’s what they/ we are. You try to mix them...and you'll have to call them Vegas. Hey don't believe me, go rent a Tom and Jerry cartoon movie, and then apply their teachings in Vancouver.
Oh, wait... Vision Vancouver is already experimenting with that here as we speak.But I probably wouldn't have to tell you that!

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

I'm surprised that Gordon Price would seriously contemplate a Rob Ford-like figure winning in Vancouver. With our unamalgamated municipalities, that would just never happen.

Now, whether Metro Vancouver's balkanized municipalities are a good thing or a bad thing is a topic for a different editorial.

Glad you care so much! So how would you integrate bikes into Vancouver?

The Thought of The Midnight

"A cyclist on a sidewalk is nothing but a pedestrian on wheels. A pedestrian on a bike lane is a cyclist with a flat shoe."

Start here...


And then we'll see.

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

Check out BCWineLover.com!

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