Mapping Out Vancouver’s Cycling Accidents

Which intersections are most treacherous for two-wheeled travellers?

May 26, 2015

If you ever ride a bike in these parts, there’s a map you need to see. Google “Cyclists + ICBC” and up pops a display of collisions between Metro Vancouver cyclists and vehicles from 2009 to 2013. Hundreds of crashes, 980 injuries, and five fatalities are represented by myriad beige, pink, and orange dots. But it’s Vancouver’s most dangerous intersection that really catches the eye.

Jerry Dobrovolny, director of transportation for the City of Vancouver, knows the location well. The spot features prominently in the Cycling Safety Report his office is releasing this month, which names high-crash locations and provides traffic engineers with information about how things need to be fixed. The menacing red dot (indicating 28 cycling accidents) sits atop the intersection where Pacific Boulevard meets the Burrard Street Bridge.

That’s a well-known trouble spot, but it’s not the worst place for Vancouver cyclists overall. That distinction belongs to 10th Avenue, which happens to run below Dobrovolny’s window at City Hall.

A busy cross-town bike route lined with parked cars and cut by traffic arteries, West and East 10th account for 159 cycling collisions with vehicles. The single worst intersection—and the city’s second most dangerous corner, with 14 collisions—is at West 10th and Pine. These numbers, by the way, represent only a portion of accidents: ICBC data do not cover collisions with pedestrians or other cyclists, or falls to avoid a crash.

Meghan Winters knows 10th Avenue, too. She hates it: distracted drivers, hospital-bound pedestrians, suddenly opened car doors. Winters regularly commutes along this route to her office at VGH, where her SFU assistant professorship in health sciences provides a platform for her cycling research and policy advocacy. This means fighting for a Vancouver version of the bike-share system that now exists in 500 cities worldwide. This means promoting European-based urban infrastructure and safety features that allow, for example, 26 percent of Dutch cyclists to commute daily. (Vancouver is at six.) This means starting the interactive BikeMaps this past spring. The data-collecting and data-sharing system is meant to provide cyclists and policy-makers with up-to-date reports of collisions, near misses, thefts, and hazards. The entry from February 17, 2015, about an accident at the infamous Burrard/Pacific intersection is typical: “Six bikes all travelling at different speeds. About to overtake a slower bike. Hit brakes to avoid collision, and flew over handlebars. Injury: minor head fracture.”

The goal of BikeMaps is to add to the data Dobrovolny already receives from ICBC and his own Active Transportation office, in order to design a city where cycling dangers are continually reduced. With 500 kilometres of bikeways, off-street paths, and painted lanes already in place, and a $1.55-million annual budget to improve infrastructure and promote bicycling, Vancouver is now being likened to Portland—but nowhere close to Copenhagen or Amsterdam—in doing what’s required to make two-wheeled travel safe. As Europeans know, utilizing separated bike lanes—as on Hornby and Dunsmuir streets downtown—is 10 times safer than riding beside parked cars. And painted bike lanes reduce accidents by 50 percent. But as Dobrovolny points out, the greatest cause of cycling collisions is human error. Turning drivers cut off bike riders. Cyclists run stop signs. Drivers open doors into oncoming cyclists.

For every 100 million bicycle trips in B.C., there are still just 21 injuries and 14 fatalities: good odds now that will only get better when the data from BikeMaps and ICBC are, in the years ahead, utilized to rectify urban problems and to extend, as is planned, Metro Vancouver’s bikeway system by 2,400 kilometres.

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