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Comment: Bike lanes may not be unfair, but they are wasteful

Michel Murray A commentary by a Saanich cyclist and driver. “Are Victoria’s bikeways really wasteful and unfair?” asks Todd Litman in his recent commentary. Well, “unfair” is a tough call, the word being so subjective.
March 15, 2021: A cyclist goes along Richardson street with Richmond Avenue intersection in the background. [Adrian Lam, Times Colonist]

Michel Murray

A commentary by a Saanich cyclist and driver.

“Are Victoria’s bikeways really wasteful and unfair?” asks Todd Litman in his recent commentary.

Well, “unfair” is a tough call, the word being so subjective. But “wasteful,” I believe, is a slam-dunk. We can subject “wasteful” to some objective criteria.

For starters, what if you defined “wasteful” as being either buying something that you don’t need, or paying too much for something that you want? Would many people disagree with those definitions?

Now let’s look at the bike lanes, beginning with the latest projects on Vancouver and Richardson streets.

Many people have complained that these are unnecessary, have called them solutions to non-existent problems, or in fact creating problems where none existed before.

As an avid cyclist, I can certainly attest to these criticisms. I have always favoured Vancouver as a bike-friendly route between Fort Street and Beacon Hill Park because of its accessibility and low traffic volume. It boggles the mind to think that it needed improvement as a cycling route.

What it has accomplished, of course, is made driving through that residential area considerably more inconvenient. And while annoying drivers is fun for some Victoria councillors, I doubt that many taxpayers want their dollars spent in that pursuit. It’s pure wastefulness.

As for the older bike lanes on Pandora, Fort and Wharf Streets, what sort of return is the city getting for the millions spent on those projects? As a cyclist, I’ve made a sort of non-scientific survey of bike traffic on those routes that I believe is tolerably accurate.

There is an appreciable amount of bike traffic in the Pandora and Wharf lanes between 7 and 9:30 a.m., with a lesser amount on Fort. Around 3 p.m., a slightly less dense flow takes place in the reverse direction, as the morning group retraces its route.

During the rest of the day, the bike lanes are largely distinguished by the lengthy periods between bicycle sightings. I know that when I make use of them, I am always impressed by the city’s generosity in providing me with my own almost personal bike lane.

And here’s another bit of evidence: Frequently, at around 4:30 p.m., I find myself in my idling vehicle, with a couple more such behind me, wanting to turn right from Pandora onto Cook, but unable to do so while zero bicycles take advantage of the bike light.

Sure, every now and then a bike does appear, but the scarcity of the occurrence almost proves the point. It is definitely a case of the many being disobliged in favour of the few, and that’s a pretty good example of wastefulness.

I’m ready to make a blanket assertion: even though Victoria has a relatively large cycling population, their numbers still are far too small to justify the amount of money that has been spent, and continues to be spent, in catering to them.

Nor do factors such as safety or climate concerns represent any feasible excuse for the expenditures, especially in consideration of other demands on the city’s budget. So what is the city getting for its money?

Here’s a clue: Can anyone forget the rhapsodic terms Mayor Lisa Helps used upon her return from her trip to Heidelberg, how giddy with delight she was at the sight of that ancient city’s citizens walking, cycling, using public transport?

Hardly a private vehicle to be seen! This is what Victoria is getting for the millions it spends on bike lanes — the fantasy that it can be transformed into a medieval European city.

Never mind that Victoria is the administrative centre of a conurbation of municipalities to which thousands of people travel in their vehicles on a daily basis for such mundane purposes as employment, shopping or medical appointments.

Let’s pretend that these bike lanes will persuade them to trade their cars in for bicycles. And if they don’t, at least we can make their drives as unpleasant as possible. That will teach them.

I admit that I am employing a certain amount of hyperbole in my statements, and yet, can I be too far removed from what must be going on in the minds of these politicos?

Their own assertions imply that this is the result that they anticipate: People will pedal in from Langford to take advantage of the Pandora bike lane. Down the rabbit hole we go!

Now, I have not touched on other factors that might be labelled “unintended consequences,” such as the effect on elderly and disabled people attempting to access bus stops, the ill will that has been created to inconvenienced citizens, or the increased amount of exhaust from idling cars — but I’m running out of gas.

There are further arguments to be made concerning the excessive cost of these projects, but for the moment, I offer these as an intro course in their wastefulness.

I hope I haven’t wasted my time — or yours.