"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wheels fall off bike-bylaw logic

Should Coquitlam Council pass a bylaw allowing it to force developers and builders to provide secure bike-storage spaces in all new multi-family residential and commercial buildings? That’s the question that council was faced with last night when considering a proposed amendment a zoning bylaw (Bylaw No. 4269, 2011).

Most council members viewed the bylaw quite favourably. But not me. And here is how I, in my first detailed speech in council chambers as a Councillor, explained my opposition:

Security. Coquitlam staff’s survey found several other local municipalities with similar laws. Vancouver has had such a law since 1999. But what staff didn’t report is that Vancouver’s more recent review of that law found that, while the commercial bike-storage facilities were being well used, those in residential buildings were going empty. Security is a big concern. People want to keep their $1,000-bikes close, and don’t trust the less-secure public facilities.

Incongruous double whammy. The stated reason for this bylaw is to complement council’s commitment to encourage bike riding. But, consider this: the bylaw does not touch car-park requirements. So, not only will builders have to provide a full complement of car-parking stalls, but they would now also have to build a full complement of bike-storage spaces.

Logically, one would expect to see some give and take here. If we really do foresee a future of fewer cars and more bicycles, then why not reduce the requirement for car stalls while we’re introducing requirements for bike-storage? But what the bylaw ends up saying is, on one hand, that it’s full-speed-ahead with car usage, and on the other, that it’s all-systems-go for bicycles. Something doesn’t add up.

And speaking of adding up: Affordability. This is a big one. Surely, this bylaw requirement would have the inevitable consequence of adding to the cost of construction, to be passed onto the consumer. Buying that one-bedroom apartment in Coquitlam would become just that much more expensive.

Overly prescriptive. This bylaw is said to put into action council’s goal of supporting neighbourhoods and enhancing the transportation system. But, if that’s what council wants to do, why not go all the way and compel builders of new buildings to provide a free bike with every condo purchase?

And while we’re in the realm of the ridiculous, I know that the city also has a goal to foster sustainability. This being so – and using the same logic that would force builders to provide secure bike-storage spaces — not compel every condo builder to put a community garden on their building's rooftop? Or, better yet, to set aside 50 square feet in every new apartment for a greenhouse to grow carrots and radishes? My point here is that just because Council favours some sort of positive outcome doesn’t mean it should or must compel it.

The solution. Instead, let market forces shape the outcome. Let apartment and condo builders have the freedom to offer these sorts of secure storage facilities, and see if buyers actually want them. If they’re popular, then other builders will follow. If they’re not, then so be it. Buyers and builders alike have made their choices. The people will have spoken. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be in a democracy.

Photo from satoridesigns.net


  1. I cannot believe that you would consider leaving bicycle parking out of construction code in this day and age. If we actually believe that we should cut back on carbon emissions, then it stands to reason that we should do anything we can to encourage alternatives to cars.

    Those who commit to bicycle commuting usually have, in addition to their thousand dollar bike, a beater that they can stick a basket on and use to get groceries with. These cyclists would gladly park in a communal bike park, if only the grocery store had bike parking, and the street had bike lanes.

    Making a greener world is going to require some financial investment for which the profits won't be immediately recognizable. But consider this: No one denies that we should mandate construction companies to provide access for the handicapped and to follow standards for earthquake resistance. Why then do we not hold them to environmental standards? Seems like a no-brainer to me. Check out the link below.


  2. Terry,

    Are you conflating market forces with democracy? I'm appalled by this logic.

    And while we're in the realm of the ridiculous, what is outlandish about mandating community garden space?

    Allowing the market to decide is what has put us in a state of global environmental crisis in the first place. It is your sort of backlash that is obstructing urgent progressive conversation. The city should be doing everything in its power to initiate sustainable living for the future survival of our ecosystems. I hope you reconsider your position for the good of your municipality.

  3. Actually, in a democracy there are elected officials who make decisions. They have a vision and act proactively to guide their city in that direction. Arguing against community facilities on the basis that market forces should lead the way is simply weak policy making.

    Even weaker is justifying such an approach using a reductio as absurdum. You can't legislate bike lockers because it would require equal support for carrot-growing facilities? Right. You can use an approach like that to argue virtually anything (eg the city should not have snow removal because then it would also have to provide a giant city-wide umbrella for when it rains)

    If more cycling is not part of your vision, or you think it's outside the remit of the city, then just say so. Residents can make up their own mind and act accordingly at the next election. Now THAT is democracy.

    @Alvin Tostig - You say "No one denies that we should mandate construction companies to provide access for the handicapped" but I'm afraid that's not true. The Libertarian candidate in the federal election argued exactly that. I hate to think what his opinion of adding bicycle storage to the building code would be!!!

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