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Editorial: Don't go hastily down the cycle path

Getting more people moving by bicycle is a worthwhile vision, but caution must be exercised to keep that vision within the limits of practicality and affordability.

Getting more people moving by bicycle is a worthwhile vision, but caution must be exercised to keep that vision within the limits of practicality and affordability.Planners and bike experts, working from the Capital Regional District’s Pedestrian and Cycling Master Plan, estimate it will cost about $220 million to upgrade existing routes and build new ones to realize the plan’s vision of getting more people travelling by bicycle. The figure is not quite so shocking when spread out over a couple of decades and a dozen municipalities, but it’s still not a sum to be taken lightly. The reasons for increasing bicycle travel are sound and compelling: More bicycles on the road would mean fewer cars. That in turn means less pollution and reduced consumption of fossil fuels. The cost of owning and operating a bicycle is a fraction of what it costs to own and run a car. Cycleways are vastly less expensive to build than roads for cars.Cycling is excellent exercise, within the capability of most people, and can help reduce obesity while improving physical condition — a brisk ride can burn 500 to 800 calories in an hour. When it comes to moving people, a bicycle is the cleanest, most energy-efficient means of transportation available.Cleaner air, healthier people, quieter streets, lower costs: What’s not to like?The Netherlands is an example of what can happen when a significant part of the population uses bicycles as the primary mode of transportation. Cycling accounts for more than a quarter of all trips nationwide, and nearly two-thirds of all trips in its cities. Most Dutch children cycle to school, and it’s not uncommon for high-school students to cycle as much as 15 kilometres in each direction. The country has extensive cycling infrastructure. Cycleways there have their own regulations and procedures, including traffic signs and signals.While much could (and should) be learned from the Netherlands’ experience, what works there will not necessarily work here. The country is far more compact and densely populated; the distances to travel are relatively small, and the country is flat. Nevertheless, it is important to encourage and enable cycling as a regular means of transportation, as well as wholesome recreation. That would necessarily include building more bike paths, improving existing routes and altering streets to accommodate cyclists, as budgets permit. To save costs, every opportunity should be taken to include cycling provisions in any new development or redevelopment of existing infrastructure. We will always require a mix of transportation methods ,and cycling is not feasible for everyone. While the region’s climate is probably the best in Canada for year-round cycling, weather will still impose limitations. While some of the more determined and expert cyclists are out on their velocipedes regardless of the weather, many will still be deterred by storms and low temperatures.Idealism should not trump common sense — $220 million is a lot of money to spend without a guarantee that it will reduce motorized traffic. “Build it and they will come” is a line from a movie, not a sound business plan. We should never stop dreaming, but before we throw money at a dream, let’s be sure of the foundation on which it will sit.