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.

What, me worry?

Some readers might remember MAD magazine and the likeness of a guy named Alfred E. Neuman. A little known tune released in 1959 features a goofy guy singing, What, Me worry? I don’t even care

It then goes on to describe doing idiotic things this person does that anyone with common sense would know is stupid.

Usually people who act this way don’t have a long life and will usually not pass their behaviour off to the next generation. Reminds me of a bumper sticker (for those who remember bumper stickers) that said “Stupid People Shouldn’t Breed.”

Unfortunately, as a society, we are creating a wonderful generation of offspring, but we’re not helping them make choices that will allow their following generation have a better life. Instead we’re indoctrinating them with the same “use once, throw away, buy again” mentality that drives the economy to produce more, but cheaper, merchandise.

Why should we care?

Simply, the kids and the future of our world. My kids, your kids, their kids. If you’re lucky, your grandkids.

Think about the pressure you are under to make money to buy food, put a roof over your head, and the clothes on your back. Is this the treadmill you want the next generation to endure?

Think about the stress you endure to drive your car down to the grocery store, or another local destination? Has that become so normal that we feel it should endured for the rest of time?

If we don’t start thinking about more than today we’re going to be stuck in 20 years with a system that doesn’t work even half as good as what we have now.

Six-laning Highway 97/Harvey between Leathead and Sexsmith will ease things for a year maybe, but as history has shown, more roads invite more traffic. “Build it and they will come” is nowhere more apparent than with roadways. Caltrans admitted as much in late 2015. 

Gasoline prices rise; they might dip for a little, but that never lasts. We’re talking about over the course of a decade, not the fluctuations within a single year. Something that should alarm us here in the Okanagan Valley is how the price jumped when two refineries shut down for maintenance just south of the border.

Roadways are expensive. If you try to make it cheaper, you can move it outside the city where land prices are lower but forcing new residents to spend more on driving costs. If you try to make cheaper, you can make it flatter, but you’re removing the locations available to build the road.

If you try to make it cheaper by not using as much material, you just add more cost to repair and maintenance that will follow inflation and cost more during the lifespan.

So how do we prepare the next generation to do more? Not “have more,” I feel that train has left the station. People are realizing that collecting more stuff means needing more space to store it.

Hoarders is sadly a popular television show that illustrates where we don’t want to go, let’s leave a legacy that future archeologists will marvel at, not get disgusted at.

Show our kids that we’re thinking and they will do the same. When I pull out the chariot to cycle down to the pool, my daughter will whine about wanting to go in the car. I don’t win the argument by just saying “no.”

I help her understand the distance involved isn’t very far, that the route will have less traffic and be safer, and that it gets me active, so I will live happier. And then I let her have the bluetooth speaker that I blast with classic rock that she loves.

Maybe she doesn’t understand the reasoning yet, but I hope that she retains the fact that as an adult I’m doing more than just taking the convenient route.

So we should worry, we should look beyond today, tomorrow and the next two years. Gridlock is in our near future. MadMax resource fights might be what comes after that if we’re not careful. As a society, we have the ability to think in terms of Roman empire length of times, we’ve proven that but we might have forgotten our history.

Let’s make choices that give us a future, not that consume our potential just to make us happy right now. We don’t have to become paranoid, but we can’t keep our heads in the sand with a “What, Me Worry?” attitude.

Thinking that some future scientist will deliver a solution when our current scientists have already been warning us of the consequences of our actions for decades is just plain goofy.


Helmets or heartbreaks?

A friend recently asked me my opinion of posts on Facebook about studies finding helmets don’t provide real protection.

His question made me revisit the helmet argument that comes up frequently and typically results in a stalemate between the “let me live me free” crowd and the “you’ll die otherwise” group.

When I moved to Kelowna, through my advocacy, I discovered Braintrust Canada. It is committed to helping people understand the risks around head injuries and support those who suffer from traumatic brain injury.

They got my attention quickly.

I ride with a helmet all the time. My daughter has three helmets; my wife has two helmets, and we have another couple of helmets for guests.

I have ridden without a helmet, but I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened in the last few years. I’ll admit that it happened because I was being lazy.

From that statement, you might conclude that I am in the camp that everyone should wear a helmet or they might as well be doing something equally as foolish like playing games on train tracks wearing earphones blasting away with death metal.


I think people should have a choice. After they legally become an adult.

Before the age of 18, you should wear a helmet because (yes, I expect teenagers to egg my house after this sentence) young minds have not developed enough to know how to weigh the risks involved with all behaviours.

Back to the topic of these studies.

Taken at face value, the studies conclude that helmets don’t provide a level of protection that is useful for cyclists and are harmful because they create a false sense of safety.

But you have to look beyond the words and apply it to the psychology.

Helmets are tested to an average of 10 km/h. A person might fall at this speed from a standstill, but what about getting hit by a car from behind going 50 km/h? Easy to see why someone might conclude that helmets aren’t built to standards we need when riding on the road.

Everyone who has ridden a motorcycle knows that the reason for full-face helmets is because the worse damage happens to your face and jaw and not the very top of your head. Why do bicycle helmet only come in the “brain pan” style?

While there was a study that concluded cars give more room to cyclists not wearing helmets, this conclusion has not been recreated and is the subject of many questions, possibly being discredited.

The message from this information? A helmet will not keep you safe on a bike. The studies conclude that just by putting one on your head, you’re more inclined to think yourself “armoured up” and take risks you wouldn’t otherwise.

We also have to remember that helmets prevent 85 per cent of brain injuries when you look at collisions impacting the head. More people live from brain injury than die from it, but that injury can be disastrous and affect more than just the injured.

When something happens, a fall, a collision, a momentary lapse of judgment — the helmet will do all it can to minimize the impact to our noggins.

When something happens, a helmet keeps our precious brain matter from getting jostled too much or worse, coming out.

While no one would question wearing a helmet to go out and hit the trails on a mountain bike, it seems like smooth pavement is not seen as dangerous. I’d agree that pavement isn’t a hazard to worry about.

The rest of the urban environment in most North American cities is where the danger lies.

If you’re an adult, I hope you choose to wear a helmet.

If you’re under 18, you have to wear a helmet, otherwise you might end up not enjoying your adult years the way you should.

The helmet needs to be part of our arsenal of “personal protective equipment.”

Other parts of our PPE will be:

  • visible clothing
  • bright lights
  • awareness of our environment.

As a whole, these will keep us safe, maybe not unhurt since we can’t control other road users, but it’s the best we can do to make sure we have a fun and safe ride.

Promoting helmet use while cycling should not give you the idea that riding a bike is dangerous. Cycling is healthy and safe at its core. Using a helmet is a nod to the fact that the environment is dangerous, risks exist in the current infrastructure design.

A helmet can never hurt us, it can only help us. Forget about your hairstyle, carry a brush, live a little longer with all your faculties.

Braintrust Canada needs our support, we don’t want to be a person who needs theirs.

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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