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.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

June 2013
Bike Lanes Threatened

BC Transit is considering options for rapid bus services along Douglas St., the Trans-Canada Highway, and other main transit routes serving high demand destinations in the region.

Some proposals that will be presented should set off alarm bells for cyclists in Greater Victoria.  Existing bike lanes could be erased for transit priority service - bad medicine for a transportation system that needs to shift road capacity to more sustainable choices.  Bike lanes shouldn’t be sacrificed to coddle the cars.  We need to offer alternatives for drivers to choose transit – not try and push bikes off the road where design challenges are too much for planners to grapple with.

Across downtown bicycling’s share of the commuter market exceeds 10%, not so far behind transit passenger volumes.  Like every traveler on our roads, cyclists are looking for direct and convenient routes to their destinations and, without an effective grid system, few options to take parallel routes.

For the same reasons that Blanshard has been dismissed as a primary rapid transit corridor, cyclists destined for shopping or workplaces along Douglas will want to use Douglas.  They already do, by the hundreds, if not by the thousands, every day.  They too pay their taxes and deserve no less access to the streets they pay for than do their fellow citizens.

Lately a “complete streets” approach to allocating road space has gained currency across North America and is rapidly gaining traction here in Victoria.  Pushing cyclists off of a key route by erasing bike lanes runs counter to a policy framework embraced by both the city and the region and should come off the table.

We are trying to build a more sustainable city, a more sustainable region and we are working to provide alternatives to an over-reliance on the private automobile.  Stealing space from cycling to speed up transit won’t be successful if it does so only to keep car capacity whole.

What we are seeing here is a retreat to an old-style of thinking – some see bikes as a competitor to transit, so they aren’t invested in providing space, let alone funding, to make more complete streets work in practice, (if it is seen to be stealing market share).

The real target, (and a much bigger one), are the more than 70% of residents who still choose driving first.  Chip away at some of their space; make transit a little more competitive in time and convenience - then you can start attracting the big numbers you need to fill buses, justify more resources and start developing the case for LRT again.  Stealing capacity at the margins from bicycle commuters targets a much smaller market, generates ill will among potential allies, and belies a commitment to sustainable transportation.

With more bike commuters, based on population, than in any other city in Canada, and well beyond most every city in North America, we are not a good target for reduced levels of service for cycling – rather we need more.  We need to find the option that helps Transit do their job better, but allows for those of us who ride to maintain fair access to the routes and destinations we need to get to - just like everyone else.

Let Transit know that cutting bike lanes is not on.  Check out the Transit future bus “open house” road show.  Make sure your council hears from you.  Transit meets on June 27th to consider options.  Don’t let them take away what we’ve worked hard to build.