Bike it upside down

A few things lately have made me think that we need to change the way we approach ideas.

We should engineer ways to succeed instead of trying to poke holes in something to make it fail.

I read a good piece about the fact that it is really difficult to have a good conversation about bicycle helmets. One quote in it from Lars Bo Anderson who talks about how Denmark had 26 deaths in the whole country last year, but instead of focusing on that fact, it should be noted that cycling saved 6,000 lives last year.

While thousands of people die each year in car crashes, we don’t have any offsetting health benefits to sitting behind the wheel of a car.

Then, this picture from Vondelpark in Amsterdam shows a dad carrying a toddler in his arms while riding a bike.

Facebook users had a lot to say, mostly about how terrible a dad for putting his child in danger when there was a child seat right there.

People looked at the picture and immediately saw in their imagination the dad crashing on his bike and the child being hurt. (There were also several comments about how the back tire really needed more air.)

Luckily, I have a co-worker from The Netherlands who took a look at the picture and said that it’s something you can see every day. No one from there would think twice since the risk is low in that environment.

These examples seem to indicate that we are focusing too much on the negative of cycling. 

Similarly, people seem to think all cyclists have a death wish when they see a few who don’t ride with helmets or behave in an unsafe manner on the road. That’s not most cyclists, data has shown that both cyclists and drivers break the rules at the same rate.

During Bike To Work Week, hundreds of responsible cyclists stopped by the celebration stations. These are the cyclists who make up the majority, but because they blend into traffic we don’t take notice. We see the cyclists who scare us.

When we see a cyclist without a helmet, we automatically see that Hollywood-produced scene in our heads with the ambulance EMT standing forlornly over an unmoving body. Cue the wailing family and the guilt-ridden driver who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Seeing only the negative in any activity limits our ability to explore it. Should we do this with cycling?

The bicycle was invented 200 years ago as horses starved due to large clouds of ash from a volcano eruption. It expanded how people could get around. 

Two hundred years and bicycles still hold a strong place in our society. Let’s look for ways to celebrate the bicycle. Look at all it offers us: better health, easy mobility, less pollution. That’s just the short list.

Look for the cyclist wearing a helmet, look for the cyclist signalling and staying visible in traffic.

Look for drivers who notice cyclists.

See road users who show respect to others.

These are the positive things that will help us all get where we want to go in a better frame of mind.

Catering to the top

Kelowna has a good cycling network. It has good coverage and it has connected most parts of town.

But — you knew there was a but in here somewhere — you have to be part of the top 10 per cent to use it on two wheels.

This refers back to the categorization that came out of Portland a decade ago where they defined the following groups (based on 2016 data):

  • Strong and Fearless (5%)
  • Enthused and Confident (4%) 
  • Interested and Curious (55%)
  • No Way No How (36%)

I can make this claim because there is no “one” design for the infrastructure. Even on my short commute work, less than two kilometres, there are three different types:

  • Low volume, shared roadway
  • Bike lane, on street
  • Sharrows, shared roadway

Low-volume streets might have parked cars; you don’t want to weave in around them. Just pick a good line and stay straight. 

Bike lanes are good, but will typically have more traffic roaring past at faster speeds and many times can have debris on the pavement which needs to be taken into account.

Sharrows, well, there’s not a lot of good I can say these unless the speed limit has been reduced to 30 kilometres an hour. Recent studies have shown that they don’t increase safety for anyone.

Separated facilities, cycle tracks and multi-use paths, are great. But no matter how long they are, a cyclist still has to deal with crossings and intersections. 

Figuring out the route to get anywhere you have to find what types of infrastructure you’re comfortable riding. This takes time, practice, and experience.

If we had more separated infrastructure and better intersection treatments, it could encourage people who don’t currently entertain cycling as a mode of transportation to try it.

That takes money, lots of money. And it would inconvenience drivers, can’t have that.

So what next?

Let’s find people who want to do more, who realize the potential of cycling. You know that potential, better health, and more discretionary funds

What do you think would happen if a new cyclist rode around with an experienced cyclist?

You’re correct; the new cyclist would gain confidence and experience at a quicker rate than just riding alone.

This is the idea of “pair cycling.” Let the “strong and fearless” lead by example and bring the “interested and curious” up to being the “enthused and confident."

Cyclists who have been out there and ride a lot will typically be the ones who know the secrets of staying visible; of knowing which rules of the road that keep someone on two wheels safest, and knowing how to get places quickly.

Trailforks.com is a great resource of trails to ride that is built by riders for riders. They share their knowledge through this site.

Let’s find a way to share resources. Are you the “interested and curious?" Are you “strong and fearless?" We can conquer the network. 

To get involved, email me at [email protected].

Potential trail killer

The old rail bed from Kelowna to Vernon is now looking to get new life as a recreation trail and transportation corridor thanks to thousands of donors organized by the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative.

For the trail to be a success, it needs to:

  • attract all levels of users
  • draw tourists and locals alike
  • provide value in a safe and efficient manner
  • flow.

Drivers don’t like stop-and-start traffic, designers work on making roadways that keep the traffic flowing and minimize the stop/start patterns that waste gas and frustrate people.

Why should cyclists and pedestrians be treated any differently?

The current Rails with Trails contains a few “choke” points where baffle gates are installed. These are installations where two halves of a gate are offset enough so that all traffic has to make an “S” turn to get though.

If you’re like me and have a trailer at times, it means dismounting and walking my bike to get the whole contraption through.

Ever noticed that the baffle gate near High Road and Pheasant Street has a path worn in the dirt behind the bench that avoids the gate? If there is a route that can bypass the gate, it will be used.

What happens when two parties going opposite directions meet at a set of baffle gates? Even if they are handy at manoeuvring through the gates, one group will have to stop and wait for the other group.

Does that sound like a trail you’d want to use? And let’s throw slower moving pedestrians into the mix.

I’ve asked City staff why this was designed this way and they said it was for cyclists' safety.

Anyone who cycles on a regular basis will know that a safe cycling requires three things:

  • Consistent speed, not constantly speeding up or slowing down
  • A straight path, curves and turns require more balance
  • Long lines of sight, preparing for conflict with as much lead time as possible

What about using bollards? They don’t force everyone into a conflicting path.

The City of Saanich has started removing the bollards from the trails in its area.

The Capital Regional District has a policy against putting anything on trails that will be used for cycling. Both  these areas have discovered that more accidents happen due to these “safety” measures than occur at intersections with roadways.

Specifically, their guidelines states, “Minimize the use of bollards to avoid creating obstacles for bicyclists.“

CalTrans, the organization responsible for transportation corridor design in California states: “Obstacle posts and gates are fixed objects and placement within the bicycle path travelled way can cause them to be an obstruction to bicyclists.“ 

I cannot say that cycling is the solution for everyone, but if more people would entertain the idea, we could increase the traffic flow for all modes of transportation instead of continuing to spend outrageous amounts of money on roads that just get clogged with cars.

We need to realize the potential of the Rail Trail and make sure it will serve those who have the opportunity to use it.

Students going to UBCO have been asking for safe cycling facilities for over a decade. Even Mayor Colin Basran, who took the challenge to ride the highway to get to the campus, recognized that the highway route was extremely precarious and would only be used by the fearless few.

If cycling a bike is not taken seriously and treated the same as driving a car, then everything the local government says is just wasted breath and we will become willing victims to a world of gridlock, higher taxes and worsening air quality.


Bikes can have class

It’s that time of year again when we see a large increase in the number of cyclists during Bike To Work Week.

This year, it runs May 29 to June 4.

Bike To Work Week brings out more people every year. People try it for the first time, get indoctrinated and join the bicycultists in the fun of less stress and healthier minds. (Yes, I borrowed “bicycultist” from an anti-cycling columnist out of Toronto who makes me laugh.)

With Bike To Work Week comes an even more important event, Bike To School Week.

While an adult has to get over the idea that life should be convenient to get on a bike, a child doesn’t have this idea; life just is. 

Kids have an advantage; they haven’t been told over and over again how their life should be, yet. They’ve been having fun without overwhelming responsibility, and, as parents I hope we haven’t transferred too much of our own stress onto them.

How many people who don’t ride a bike see a cyclist not in spandex and think, “They must not have enough money to buy a car.” A child won’t have the same thought.

There is no preconceived notion and so getting on a bike for a kid won’t have any negative connotations.

It’s funny how my daughter is my testing ground for ideas. She’s four years old and just moved to her third bike. She’s three years ahead of where I was when starting to ride. 

I pull out the chariot and my bike and she whines, “I want to take the car.” The struggle ensues as I try to explain that it’s good for daddy’s mental health, heart health, and stress levels.

Things unravel as she cries that she wants to be strapped into the car so she can listen to music. I pull out my bluetooth speaker, fire up a local radio station, and off we roll into the sunset.

I’ve talked to parents who say they drive their kids to school because they don’t feel they’d be safe unless they’re protected by that shell of metal against all the other parents who are carting the kids in the family SUV.

Oh, the irony!

If everyone were to stop driving the children to school, all the kids would be safe from cars.

First thing to getting your child safely to school without a car: find a safe route that you can ride with them.

  • Low traffic
  • good visibility
  • slow speed limits
  • and best of all, cycling infrastructure.

There are lots of choices and it doesn’t take much to find a good option. Might be as good as green eggs and ham.

It would be amazing to see the bike racks at our schools filled up with kids' cycles. 

The old saw of “putting away childish things” when we grow up might count for something like the alphabet blocks and naps. Well, maybe not naps, but definitely avoiding cracks in the sidewalks.

Bicycles shouldn’t be considered one of those childish things and we should help our kids get all the benefits. 

Think of biking to school is the gateway activity to biking to work. Set your kids up to have a happier, wealthier life by not spending so much on gas and a vehicle. 

Enjoy Bike To Work Week; register your team for some great prizes.

Enjoy Bike To School Week  and win some swag for your school.

More Grind My Gears articles

About the Author

As a youngster on two feet, a teenager on two wheels, then a young adult on four wheels, Landon has found that life is really about using all modes of transportation. Currently a cycling advocate with the Kelowna Area Cycling Coalition he tries to lower road rage on both sides.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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