Many District 5 residents have stated bicycle safety is an Issue of Special Concern, and it was pointed out to me that there are many different reasons for bicycling including commuting, exercising, sport training, and other recreation.
We have seen improvements in the HRM regarding bicycle lanes, and this progress is fantastic! But there is still much work to be done before we can call our area a truly “bicycle friendly” city.
This is a multifaceted issue with many factors to consider.
Regarding presently existing infrastructure, it is often a technical challenge to retrofit streets with dedicated bicycle lanes because of space limitations and other considerations. That said, there are few challenges that cannot be overcome with creative thinking.
We are likely going to see a continuation of the growth of new communities here in the HRM for the next several years. While it is indeed possible to retrofit existing infrastructure with bicycle lanes, there can at times be significant costs and other challenges, and people as we know tend to be resistant to certain types of change. Hence, it surely makes much more sense to build bicycle lanes into neighbourhoods from the beginning. I recently returned from a trip to Ontario, and in Kingston I saw a beautifully green new neighbourhood with a multi-use trail for walking, jogging and bicycling weaving through the trees.
We have an opportunity with all our new developments in the HRM to do it right or to carry on with the status quo. In the not-so-distant past, lets remember, there were many neighbourhoods made all over our country, including in various parts of the HRM, that catered to human movement by car: large boulevard lanes that are troublesome to walk across, neighbourhoods with no sidewalks for walking and no spot but the “car’s road” to bicycle, walk, or jog on.
Building new neighbourhoods with consideration given only to human movement by car is simply shortsighted.
Making a truly bicycle friendly city has many positive spinoffs:
- Safer and more friendly communities
- More self sufficient “walkable” communities with basic amenities close at hand
- Less frustration for car drivers who find bicyclists are “getting in their way”
- Healthier communities due to increased physical activity
- Attractive destination for people considering relocation for school, work, or other reasons.
I am lucky in the sense that I live close to the Dartmouth waterfront trail. And most of us in Darmouth and Waverly are close enough to Shubie Park’s trails to be able to enjoy these tremendous assets. There are truly wonderful places for bicycling in our city. But, there are still treacherous streets and intersections that deserve reconsideration for possible retrofitting of bicycle lanes.
Without safely laid out bicycle lanes, bicyclists will still have to contend for space with multi-tonne vehicles and often over-the-speed-limit cars.
Without safely laid out bicycle lanes, many car drivers will feel frustration when bicyclers are “in their way”.
Creative solutions exist to improve our city’s bicycle friendliness.
For example, removable tall, skinny pylons are commonplace in Japan (and I expect in many other countries) and are used to delineate lanes from each other. Of course, there is an expense to pylons and their installation. But if, again for example, we considered these pylons only for certain intersections, with as few as 3 pylons per lane we could likely make many of these intersections much safer for bicyclists, car drivers and passengers, and pedestrians alike. Pylons would encourage cars to slow down and visually suggests “caution”. Three pylons over 2 meters would segregate the lane for bicyclists. Slower and more cautious traffic flow would be a benefit for pedestrians.
Now, I am not suggesting that the above example is the correct solution for the HRM at present. But I do suggest that many solutions exist for retrofitting our existing infrastructure. We simply need to put our heads together and also consider best practices around Canada and the world and then decide how to proceed with bicycle and other active transportation in the HRM.
Let us remember, there is no price you can put on a human life!
* Please also read my article on Crosswalks and Intersections