Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Jack Knox: Gaps in bike lanes a spoke in the wheel

Crowbarred my butt out of the car and onto my bicycle for Bike To Work Week on Monday. I’m still waiting for the congratulatory phone call from David Suzuki. Bystanders who saw me rocket/wobble past were impressed. “Omigawd!” squealed one.
A3-cyclists.jpg
Workmates Rico Landucci, wearing a hard hat, and Paul Sager head home from work as they pass a Bike to Work Week "celebration station" at Dockside Green on Harbour Road on Monday. (And no, we're not sure what the guy on the left is doing either, but it's generally a good idea to keep your hands on your handlebar grips.)

Crowbarred my butt out of the car and onto my bicycle for Bike To Work Week on Monday. I’m still waiting for the congratulatory phone call from David Suzuki.

Bystanders who saw me rocket/wobble past were impressed. “Omigawd!” squealed one. “I think I just saw Rob Ford.”

This is indeed Bike To Work Week, when two-wheeled commuters entice occasional cyclists in a manner reminiscent of airport cultists/heroin dealers.

Organizers are luring riders with draw prizes, team honours and a series of “celebration stations” that pop up along cycling routes every day through June 2. Monday morning at the Selkirk Trestle, they served free coffee, pastries and breakfast sandwiches with bacon. They had me at bacon. (“Bacon is to men what chocolate is to women,” a woman observed as I daintily dabbed the grease from my chin.) Go to biketowork.ca/victoria for a schedule of events.

The Bike To Work people have some solid arguments in their favour:

  1. Cycling saves money.
  2. It’s good for your health.
  3. It’s good for the environment.
  4. You score like Ovechkin in spandex.

Sometimes cycling is a bit like eating kale, though. People who really like it want you to like it, too, and try a bit too hard to convince you how awesome it is, while ignoring the reasons not to ride:

  1. Helmet hair (this is not that big a deal for some of us).
  2. It rains here.
  3. People have an urge to punch cyclists, just like street mimes.
  4. In spandex, you look like something went terribly wrong in the sausage factory.

Also, you think you’re too old to ride — or too young to die. This last factor cannot be ignored in a city where riding can be a sphincter-shrinking experience.

It isn’t just a matter of attitude, though Lord knows we have enough boneheads — riders flitting around as though the rules were written for someone else, motorists thinking they deserve a Senate appointment for treating cyclists as equal users of the road.

Our real issue is cycling routes with more gaps than the Maginot Line in 1940. It’s hard to go from point A to point B without being plunged into at least one stretch that inspires prayer. Our bike lanes begin and end with capricious whim, suddenly funnelling white-knuckled drivers and pucker-butted cyclists onto the same patch of pavement, 10 pounds of potatoes stuffed in a five-pound bag.

“What we really need is infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure,” says Edward Pullman, the president of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, a volunteer group that promotes riding in the region. Not only bike lanes but separated paths like the Galloping Goose.

The Capital Regional District does have a plan that envisions pedestrians and cyclists accounting for 25 per cent of all trips by 2036 — but while local politicians are generally supportive, there is nothing that would compel our 13 municipalities to follow that map and co-ordinate routes.

As it is, the road to hell might be paved with good intentions, but it doesn’t have bike lanes. Getting from the Lochside and Galloping Goose trails to the Blanshard bike lanes is a pain (and the Blanshard lanes end abruptly). Drivers either don’t see or ignore the road signs that say cyclists may take the whole lane as they ride down the Bay Street hill.

Saanich has a plan to add bike lanes with a wide buffer on McKenzie Avenue from Shelbourne to UVic, but Shelbourne itself is a death wish with no easy fix; it carries too much traffic to take out a vehicle lane, and there’s no room to widen it to accommodate cyclists. Without alternative, they ride it anyway.

Again, it’s the safety gaps that keep people in their cars. Langford is arguably the most progressive municipality in Greater Victoria when it comes to including bikes in its road-building plans. View Royal is pretty good, too. Yet where other communities have bike lanes, Colwood has raised curbs that push Sooke Road riders into traffic.

We like to brag that this is the Cycling Capital of Canada, but, sunshine factor aside, reality doesn’t back it up, not when what we do is compared to that of other communities. If we’re serious about getting people to bike to work — reducing traffic, improving health, saving the environment — it will take more than a week of celebration stations.

jknox@timescolonist.com