Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Infrastructural creativity

I have an enjoyable ride to work, and find it achievable with the current set of roads. "Achievable" isn't exactly a great goal however, especially considering there are lots of people who haven't ridden a bike as much as me. I have some difficult parts of my ride where I've used some creativity to find safe crossings. And I'm convinced that more people would commute by bike if the infrastructure was more inviting to cyclists, and lacked the Great Walls of on-ramps and speeding cars that we're forced into.

Education on how to deal with cars is valuable, and so are creative methods for getting around problem intersections. Creativity at the asphalt and concrete level would make a much bigger difference.

Yesterday morning, Kevin Sylvester on CBC Toronto radio brought up Vancouver's designated "Bike Routes", as he called them. (Vancouver refers to them as "Bikeways", but that term is ambiguous.) These are roads that have been designed to be efficient for the cyclist, and, at the same time, passable but not fast for a person in a car. The road might have some type of traffic calming devices like traffic circles that tend to slow down cars more than bikes. There are no stop signs along the road so a cyclist isn't standing on the pedals half the time. Cars are around, but are forced to travel about the same speed as a cyclist, so the threat level is much lower. I've heard this type of route called a Bicycle Boulevard in California, when it was described on the Cycle Ontario mail list.

During my university years, I spent a summer living in Vancouver. I lived on the eastern edge of downtown (anyone who knows Vancouver probably just shuddered at the sound of that, and rightfully so) and commuted by bike to Burnaby (a Vancouver suburb). This was when I was honing my skills on the bike mainly out of necessity, since owning a car as a student was impossible and taking the bus to a part of Burnaby that was off the grid would have cost me hundreds of dollars in paperback novels.

I followed some of these bike routes, and I took some roads that were similar in style, but not officially bike routes. Roads chosen for Bicycle Boulevards are probably the same roads I would choose on my own, but have been modified with the cyclist in mind. The key is that the routes are direct, have low car traffic, no stop signs, and safe crossings of major streets. Imagine, no stop signs or red lights for 2 kilometres! If these types of routes are done well, they can be an ideal way to cross a city. Cities with a grid road system can easily implement Bicycle Boulevards, but it means some of the minor cross streets in residential areas will no longer be ideal for cars.

Another bicycle infrastructure feature that seems worth bringing up while I'm on this thread is the barrier between the bicycle lane and the "other" lane. I think a lot of cyclists don't like the idea of a wall running down the street that's too high to hop, and makes turning or crossing difficult. The type of barrier I saw in Quebec was something new to me. It was a series of rigid plastic or rubber flat poles that are bolted into the bike lane line. The poles are separated by more than ten metres, so there's nothing stopping a cyclist from leaving or entering the bike lane. They create a visual barrier for the driver of a car. If the driver doesn't want to knick the right mirror on these, the driver will keep to the left. This helps ensure the cyclist has enough room, and avoids the common problem on winding roads of drivers cutting corners in the bike lanes. The down side is that they don't look that nice.

What's best? I'm not the person to answer that question. (I pretend to be an expert on too many other things.) From what I see, a combination of solutions can contribute to making a city more bike friendly.

Thanks for reading through my recent wordiness. Comments and disagreements are welcome as usual. Actually, if you live in Toronto and have experience with Vancouver's bike roads, it would probably help to get a discussion going on CBC radio. They're always eager to hear from listeners.

Darren J 8/23/2006 09:00:00 a.m.


I'd love it, if, eventually, all the streetcar routes in Toronto become bikeways too... have the centre lane for streetcars and the curb lane for bikes. I'm not saying cars wouldn't be allowed... but if enough cyclists use the same route, car traffic is diminished or slowed down enough to make everything safer.

Also, there's a great episode on BikeTV about Bike Boulevardes in San Francisco / Bay Area:
_Entering along the Weston-N. Humber park area in T.O., for example, there are non-stop cement curbs running between the continous (one-side of the road) bike path route and an adjoining park entrance roadway.
_That physical barrier idea was lousy; especially given the almost complete lack of '20km only' car traffic for the road.

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