Sunday, June 16, 2013

Windshield Myopia

A couple of weeks ago the Victoria Times-Colonist published an editorial proposing that weather alone was pretty much responsible for our high levels of cycling in Victoria.  Here's my rejoinder, an op-ed piece sent in soon afterwards, but never published.

Re:  TC Editorial, Thursday June 6, 2013, on bikes and traffic safety

Your editorial on road safety issues suggests that Victoria has done little to improve the lot of cyclists and that our high ridership is a happy accident of climate.

That doesn’t square with the facts.

Saskatoon and Kingston, both cities with harsher winters also enjoy high levels of cycling and in the U.S. places like Madison, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis, Minnesota also have high levels of cycling, challenging the notion that weather alone will generate higher levels of participation.

Victoria, like other cities that have extensive networks of bicycle facilities, still has work to do to fill in the gaps, but the pace of change here has been impressive.  A more thorough investigation of what we do have will find one of the most well developed off-road trail systems of any city in North America.  Few have parallel routes that provide the levels of service, continuity and connectivity as efficiently and effectively as do the Galloping Goose and Lochside trails.  Counts near 1,000 bikes per hour have been recorded at busy locations.

Unlike many cities, however, we do not have an extensive grid system – something that makes easier work of the “cycle track” systems now being seen in Vancouver or Montreal.   Even those cities still rely on marked bike lanes on major routes or traffic calming on quieter streets to support cycling for transportation.

Painted bike lanes do make conditions safer and more appealing for many and other local count projects have found a significant, positive correlation between our on-road facilities and an observed growth in cycling traffic.

Local governments and other agencies are looking at separated or buffered bike lanes for numbers of routes, but they will be constrained by local context and daunting cost issues.  Solutions will not be immediate and indeed, our regional plan has a long term horizon. 

Your editorial also suggests that we lack for a good education program to teach people how better to share the roads.  That is incorrect.  More than 2,000 cyclists have gone through a Bike to Work commuter program that is equipping people with the skills to ride safely in traffic and cycling advocates have worked with local authorities on enforcement initiatives and better bike smarts for drivers.

A blip in collision numbers may make for a good story, but actual rates show a relatively safe cycling city.  Growing numbers of people are choosing bicycling for at least some of their daily travel needs, at least where infrastructure has been improved and all municipalities are continuing to work on further improvements to serve local as well as regional needs.

While we need to do more, and our regional plans provide an ambitious blueprint for how our transportation system might evolve in the future.  Your editorial misses the very real progress we have already made, the associated increases in cycling numbers and safety outcomes that we are building into the fabric of our transportation system.


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