It’s great news that city council decided to include an off-road bike lane in its plan for a ring road around the east side of the city. Portions of that route are already popular with city cyclists, and the path will be needed to ensure safety once the road becomes a major highway.
Without having looked at the drawings, one hopes the path will be linked to the city’s network of bike routes, in as many places as possible.
Likewise, attention must be paid to building safe crossings of the new highway, so that cyclists can use the path in both directions. As it is, the roads heading east from Red Deer are highly popular bike routes, and the new ring road could become a barrier to safe passage, if planning does not include convenient ways to get beyond the road to the rather lovely countryside to the east.
Just the same, with a project slated to take 50 years to complete, who can predict how the far end of the road will look, compared with the drawings Stantec Consulting Engineers of Red Deer will submit today?
In an era of so-called Peak Oil, who can say what percentage of commuters will be riding bikes to work regularly in the future — even in our climate? But a safe guess is that the percentage then will be much higher than it is today, and planning needs to accommodate those riders.
A 10-country OPEC study called Greening Household Behaviour puts Canada dead last for walking and cycling as transportation. Understandable, given our climate, and the distances we need to cover on our commutes. But Sweden, also a cold country, has more walkers and bikers than auto users. In Norway, it’s close enough to be called even.
The difference is infrastructure — and we just have less of it.
Off-road bike lanes are becoming the norm for cities upgrading their urban infrastructure. “Share the road” has been tried around the world to deal with conflicts between two-wheeled and four-wheeled road users.
Largely, it hasn’t worked. Fault lies with both cyclists and motorists, but at the bottom, the relative speeds of bikes and cars plus the vulnerability of cyclists in close contact with motor vehicles means they just don’t mix well.
Likewise cyclists and pedestrians. “Share the road” is difficult; “share the sidewalk” even more so.
Worldwide, cities have found traffic congestion is calmed and safety for all is enhanced when each variety of commuter has its own path. Motorists reacted with outrage in some American cities when councils declared entire street lanes in some areas off-limits to cars and converted them to bike lanes. But the practice has made commuting safer and more pleasant for all concerned.
Copenhagen — deemed the urban cycling capital of the world — is building multi-lane superhighways for cyclists, in order to quiet motor transport.
Not that anyone is asking for that in Red Deer. But keeping cyclists out of auto lanes and off the sidewalks wherever that is possible makes everyone safer and happier — leading to more people cycling regularly.
I ride to work year-round. The limiting factors for me are deep snow and temperatures below -20. New bike routes will mean rather little to me; I’ll ride anyway.
Planners and councils must consider those who would ride more, if it were safe, useful and pleasant. Other cities have found that’s a large — and growing — crowd of taxpayers and voters. They’ve also found that quality of life is considered higher in cities where people have choices about how they will get around.
The off-road bike lane may be a few years away, but deciding to build it has already made Red Deer a better place.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.