Bicycle Master Plan a chance for Victoria to become ‘Canada’s cycling capital’

Bryna Hallam

I’m glad to see that Victoria is moving forward with its new Bicycle Master Plan. The last one is nearly 20 years old, and covered up to 2010.

The five-year priority plan, which highlights six routes, is a good start — that’s all any plan is, really — so I hope they see this moment for what it really is: an opportunity for bold action.

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I’ve long been frustrated by Victoria’s status as “Canada’s cycling capital,” since I consider it mostly an accident of climate, rather than the result of, say, superior planning or infrastructure.

Chris Bruntlett of Modacity, in Victoria recently to give a talk on cycling, agrees, argues in Spacing that the city’s cycling rideshare (10 per cent within Victoria, or about six per cent in the capital region) “was as much a product of circumstance – a small population (just over 80,000), compact size (less than 20 sq. km.), mild climate, moderate topography – than it was of design and political will.”

He continues:

This premature assertion [as Canada's Cycling Capital] soon became more of a curse than a blessing, as politicians and city officials sometimes used it as an excuse not to invest resources in much-needed infrastructure. When pushed to increase budgets and staffing levels around active transportation projects, they would occasionally point to that title (and one misleading digit) as proof that it simply wasn’t needed.

There have definitely been other factors at work, including a risk-averse culture at City Hall, inadequate staffing levels, a lack of political leadership, an older generation of senior planners and engineers, a disconnected road network, and a not-so-effective advocacy community.

But regardless of the cause, cycling uptake has stagnated for 15 years; Victoria has fallen woefully behind the rest of the continent, and is only now beginning to realize it has some serious catching-up to do.

After all, Edmonton has a mayor who totes his kids around in a cargo bike, Calgary has added 18 km of bicycle lanes since 2011 (for a total of 260 km of on-street lanes, ahead of both Victoria — 41 km — and the capital region — 82 km), and even Toronto, home to the mayor once called “perhaps the most antibike politician in the world,” is considering protected bike lanes.

Translation: It’s game on, people, time to defend earn that title, and that means time for bold, decisive, forward-looking action.

Here are some general suggestions:

  • Look to places that have a higher rideshare and how they got there
  • Don’t be afraid of trying new things
  • People will resist change, but get used to it quickly once implemented

As Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin told the Times Colonist: "We’re going to need to be bold and visionary in moving forward.”

Here's hoping he means it.

For more information [PDFs]

Report to council on the Bicycle Master Plan

Bicycle Master Plan

GVCC letter to council

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Keep up-to-date on bicycle-related events in Greater Victoria. August goings-on can be found here.

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