That's not the point

Sometimes being an advocate for cycling makes my head hurt.

People have so many different ideas that are sometimes based on experience, sometimes on knowledge, and sometimes just plain conjecture.

I think we can all agree that we don't slow down; taking time to smell the flowers has gone out of style. We like our information in bite-sized pieces and many times we dish up opinions without thinking.

Driving has become the de facto standard. You meet someone new over the age of 15 and you can be 95 per cent certain they have a driver's licence and have gone through the training that goes along with it.

There's a common frame of reference.

Cycling, on the other hand, has so many different uses and purposes that one cyclist might not have the same experiences as another or even have the same outlook.

Road cycling, recreational cycling, mountain biking, cruisers, recumbents, folders, and the list of different aspects goes on. Not to mention the root question, "Do you even cycle, bro?"

So when it comes to being an advocate, there are many comments we hear from people who might or might not cycle, who might or might not have a lot of experience, who might or might not be able to think from the other side of the road.  

Recently, we discussed a proposed design for Ellis Street and how we felt it created problems for all road users:

  • drivers
  • cyclists
  • pedestrians.

Most of our issues stemmed from the plan not following the OCP, Downtown Plan, nor the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan.

One of the comments that came back was, "Since we're spending all this money on Ethel why can't cyclists go use that if they don't feel safe?"

It's like saying to a driver, "Since we've spent all this money widening Spall to four lanes why not use that to get from the airport to North Glenmore instead of Sexmith if you don't feel safe driving with trucks?" 

Something that was addressed last year with the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan was the future layout of the cycling grid. The distance that was proposed between main legs was 400 metres. This was based on surveys and experience. People are willing to ride anything for 400 or 500 meters before they get to better infrastructure for longer trips.

Based on the original comment, someone who lives in Central Green would ride over to Ethel Street to go up to Cawston Avenue and then back to go to a Rockets game at Prospera Place. 

A trip that is just 1.2 kilometres straight up Ellis Street would become almost three km by detouring over to Ethel Street. The equivalent of telling someone in a car that they need to detour through Salmon Arm around the back way to get to Vernon.

This is an example of how treating cycling as a second-class transportation mode will keep people in their cars.

Another comment I hear sometimes when pushing back on new infrastructure is, "Why would you not want more bike lanes?"

Again, to put it in car-speak, "Let me build the left-side portion of the road with a sharp hairpin turn that dead-ends into the back of the old Bargains Bargains store."

No one should ever be satisfied with half-complete infrastructure. If an installation doesn't provide end-to-end service it will be ignored.

Cyclists have to deal with this all the time as municipalities save project costs by adding infrastructure where there are already plans to upgrade vehicle roadways. 

When Abbott Street from the Sails to Harvey Avenue was resurfaced, there were new bike lanes added that went to Leon Avenue, but from there, nowhere. Not until months later when a connector was made from the southbound side to the sidewalk.

Northbound is still a miss as there isn't a way to get there unless you use the crosswalk.

Bike lanes along Clement Avenue between Ellis and Richter streets — if you're riding along Clement there are no bike lanes from Sunset until you get to Ellis and then they end at Richter.

Disappearing roadways?

It's never that we don't want infrastructure. The real matter is that getting non-cyclists to consider cycling requires better end-to-end support. Many cyclists have already waited for years for better treatment; let's get the will and the money together to do it right the first time.

The current population consists of people who drive, people who cycle, people who walk, and people who do two or all three.

We need to stop prioritizing any mode of transportation over another. Whether we want to admit  we have a problem with the number of cars on the road or not, it just makes sense to support more active modes as that helps our health and our society.


Suicide by car

On the wrong side

Someone, somewhere decided that building infrastructure that combines all non-motorized traffic was an efficient use of land.

One great fact of non-motorized traffic is that it has a much lower rate of fatalities — less chance of one mode user killing another.

While multi-use paths such as Cawston, Rails With Trails, and Casorso are good examples of ways to move a lot of people, we don’t use them as well as we could.

A great factor in the “low risk of death” aspect of cycling, skateboarding, running, and walking is that by going at relatively low speeds you can see what’s coming. Agility also provides a way to avoid hazards and collisions.

I point out these two aspects for a reason. We’re not using multi-use paths correctly.

Cyclists glide up silently around pedestrians. Pedestrians wearing headphones just blithely cross exits and entrances. Plenty of chances for fun and stress.

No signs, no instructions, batteries not included. They build it and we’ll come.

Intuitively, we travel on the right just like motorized traffic does on vehicle roadways. Nothing usually happens because the traffic (yes, we’re *all* traffic) that is overtaking others will take evasive action before a collision occurs.

This still scares people. Sadly the number of bells on bikes is pretty low and the practice of at least calling out a warning to someone is not second nature.

And don’t let me get started about dogs on leashes.

So my suggestion is that we start doing things a bit differently.

Any user that is on foot — walking, running, taking the pooch out for stroll — should stay to the outside of the path and move in a contraflow direction.

Any user that is rolling on wheels, stay closer to the centre of the path and move in the normal direction of travel.

What this accomplishes is that everyone will have the greatest amount of time to deal with anyone else from a “collision potential.” Fewer number of surprises.

If a walker and a cyclist are coming from opposing directions, they’ll be on the same side of the path but they’ll be able to see each other and negotiate who moves.

If a skateboarder and walker are going the same direction, they are already on opposite sides so no one really has to do much to not collide.

If two cyclists are approaching each they can gently aim to the sides where there won’t be pedestrians, or if there are people on foot they will be able to adjust speed and allow for a smooth blending.

People wearing headphones can use their eyes to see what is going on. Since having no motors means they are pretty silent and hearing won’t be as effective at keeping a person safe as when dealing with cars on the road.

I’ve been doing this for about five years now. Every once in awhile, I find someone else doing the same and if the chance arises I’ll strike up a conversation.

Many times, I’ve discovered that the other person is from Europe where they have these types of trails in abundance and don’t think twice about them. And this is the way they work.

I’ve heard complaints that cyclists and pedestrians don’t like mixing the different modes on the multi-use paths. Here’s an idea that might solve the main complaints such as fast-silent bikers and chaotic-wandering walkers.

I’d say “go with the flow” but in this case, don’t, if you’re on foot.

The last ingredient that it needs, I leave it to the end to hopefully make the greatest impact:

  • everyone needs to be polite and respect other users.

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.

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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