By Larraine Roulston:
In North America, cycling is becoming increasingly popular. It does not, however, compare to the popularity in many European and Asian cities. On my side of the Atlantic, the lack of initial infrastructure that includes protected bike lanes has made it quite impossible to widen city streets. However, as we aim for better air quality, aspire to lessen our reliance on oil, and strive to achieve societal fitness, urban planners are beginning to acknowledge the cyclist.
Incorporating protected bike lanes bordered by sidewalks and protected planter boxes should encourage a greater number of people to cycle to work. As well, many would dust off their old two-wheelers for both pleasure and shopping. A variety of barriers separating cars and pedestrians would avert the type of targeted attack that caused 10 deaths and 15 injuries that occurred recently in North Toronto. Protected lanes would also prevent cyclists from being accidentally hit by vehicles. In the U.S., The Wall Street Journalreported that since 2009 the number of hit and run fatalities has increased by 61 percent.
Several years ago, I cycled part of the Galloping Goose Trail in British Columbia. This delightful 55 km hiking, jogging and biking trail runs from Sooke to Victoria. Many of Victoria’s suburban commuters wind their way past fields, parks and farms directly into the heart of downtown Victoria. The trail also offers tourists an opportunity to spend a day enjoying its length. On another BC visit, I biked in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Both areas felt extremely safe. I have been tempted to select a bike from a city’s bike-share program for general sightseeing; however, the uncertainty of riding safely within high traffic areas has dissuaded me. Unless seniors are seasoned bikers, they are not apt to test areas where they do not feel confident. Nor would parents with children take the same risk.
Store manager Alex Fraser of Spokes and Sports Toronto said, “In a perfect world, introducing more lanes like this would double, if not triple, bike usage. To go a step further, I would like to see visionary planners incorporate one or more protected ‘bike highways’ to allow cyclists to ride well-traveled routes leading across the city and towards the downtown core. Even if the routes were less direct, that wouldn’t pose a problem for cycling commuters. If necessary, these lanes could incorporate signal lights and enter/exit ramps. The number of cyclists on other roadways would be reduced, as they would be funneled though these ‘highway’ style routes.”
In communities slated for development, today’s road engineers are incorporating bike lanes. To face the challenges on existing streets, they are opting for pilot projects to include protected bike lanes that undoubtably would decrease some of the vehicular traffic. (Perhaps auto manufacturers could design narrower cars where passengers sit behind the driver.) As an overall budgetary consideration, spending tax dollars on bike protection lanes would be offset by the decreasing expense of hospitalizingcycling victims.
Although there are several challenges to overcome such as motorists complaining about traffic flow and retailers worrying about losing storefront parking, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and Philadelphia are some of the major cities that have been successful in testing protected bike routes. All cyclists love experiencing the increased safety that these lanes provide. How well does your city rank?