It's hard to believe there was ever a time when safe and accessible cycling on Burrard Bridge would have been questioned, let alone fought.
But 1996 was one of those times. The first of a few times.
For all his leadership and accomplishments over six terms on Vancouver City Council, Gordon Price may be forever known for helping break the debate about cycling wide open, purely through his efforts to get a bike lane to stick on this one bridge.
And yet, despite being saddled with instant notoriety and disdain for this failed effort, cycling advocacy in the city — even across the region — was also elevated.
That initial outcome became an important, if painful, step in raising it from a nascent, marginal movement to one with real demands. With valid concerns. And with a growing tailwind.
After all these years, nothing expresses the contentiousness, political footballing and see-sawing of cycling advocacy in the city like the struggles over the Burrard Bridge. Not the staggered, multi-decade implementation of the now-iconic seawall, not the will-they-or-won't-they pre-Olympic drama of the Cambie Canada Line Bikeway, not even the angst surrounding the Hornby and Dunsmuir separated bike lanes.
The Burrard Bridge story was the boogeyman cycling project, and for a long time.
Today, as we prepare for a grand opening of two-way separated lanes on both sides of the bridge (plus separated walking and suicide barriers, lest they be forgotten), it can be broadly recognized as a triumph. Of planning, of engineering, and of political fortitude and patience.
The NPA still can't bring themselves to support it, to be passionate advocates. The most they'll say is, well we could have handled it better, or....bullshit.
The blowback that initially occurs towards change is something a politician wants to be seen to be leading, if they're in opposition.
So when Point Grey Road happened it was natural that the NPA would oppose it, because the blowback was so intense. Or Burrard Bridge.
Twenty-one years ago, it could have ended Gordon's career. In virtually every one of almost five dozen separate interviews with people involved in cycling from the 1980s through today, the trials and tribulations associated with solving the Burrard Bridge problem comes up. Again and again — the south end, the north end, the city planners, the politicians, the drivers, the hate. And of course, the helicopters.
The reasons why it took so long to safely accommodate pedestrians, bikes and cars on the Burrard Bridge is today not only part of the story of Vancouver cycling, it's part of the story of Vancouver.
As is Gordon Price's struggle to swim upstream, and the sting, felt by many in the city, from the removal of that first bike lane on the bridge. "It was too early", he says pragmatically.
Today, a million plus bike trips a year are testament to why you won't see such a reversal on Burrard Bridge again.
And why Gordon Price's efforts now hang on him like a garland. He might as well drink a glass of milk too, like those Formula One racers.
On one hand, it has to be a success. These networks have to be used, and once they are, then they become part of the identity of the city.
The other — and it can happen with the same infrastructure — are the people who say, and you'll still hear it, “these bikeways aren't being used, nobody uses these bikeways.”
And you look at these people, and you say hmmmm. That's fascinating. So you don't actually see reality.
The world that you have taken a position on — because you objected it at the beginning of the process — you've locked yourself in. You actually can't acknowledge success.
And while the politics around cycling haven't changed too much in the intervening years — still a political football ready to be played, even if the rules of creating cycling controversy have become more convoluted and contrived — those in opposition are shrinking.
The people who govern, build and manage our communities, have changed. They've become more like Gordon Price, and like the mayors, planners and engineers he worked alongside over his sixteen years on council.
My two-hour interview with Gordon in his West End apartment, overlooking the Chilco bikeway and Lost Lagoon, resulted in a twenty-page testimony of his time working on transportation issues, and cycling in particular.
It's a fascinating journey into Vancouver's urban development history, from the Garden City movement, through streetcar suburbia, to the expansion of Vancouverism, a phenomenon that today infiltrates the design and development of communities across the Lower Mainland.
In time, I'll share more about what I learned about his role in the creation of a cycling network in the city — working alongside volunteer committee members, city staff and fellow councillors — and his ideas about car dominance, community design and change. Maybe in this blog, definitely in the book.
But not today.
Instead, today we celebrate Gordon Price for his double role as instigator of the city's first bike lane controversy, and patron of the newest jewel in Vancouver's all ages and abilities cycling network - the Burrard Bridge.
Making these commitments incrementally over time, as the network effects come into play, produces a cultural change. And that becomes a reflection of who we are.
I just can't believe anyone who goes over the Burrard Bridge driving or on transit, and doesn't see the flow of people and who they are.
That's who we are.