Patricia Coppard: Trail-widening great, but let’s start with etiquette

When our office moved to the Dockside Green area last year, I was excited at the prospect of cycling to work on the Galloping Goose, joining a virtuous river of humanity flowing to our various offices — no fumes, no engine racket, just silently pumping legs.

What did I find? Speed freaks and aggressive passers, zero courtesy, the occasional fully motorized scooter with tiny useless pedals.

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With the surge in popularity of electric-assist bikes, aggressive riding and high speeds are now open to all comers — no need for thighs of steel. The only difference between the jerks behind the wheel and the jerks gripping handlebars is a few hundred grams of spandex.

A few years ago, I visited Mountain View, California, home of Google and LinkedIn and other tech giants, and had an entirely different experience.

I cycled the Stevens Creek Trail, a popular multi-use trail that was similar to the Goose with one big difference: Cyclists, joggers, dog walkers and stroller-pushers on the trail were all vocally courteous. “On your left,” cyclists said while passing. “Bike up,” a jogger told me as I was about to round a blind curve into the path of another bike.

Those Californians were so much politer than Victorians, I was shocked. We’re supposed to be the polite ones.

So I wrote to the Mountain View recreation department to find out what they do that we don’t. I got a fast response from Steve Achabal, a recreation supervisor.

He told me that beginning in 2016, after a 15 mph (24 km/h) speed limit was imposed, the city began an education program to get the word out, via pamphlets and website updates.

It then brainstormed to determine the six most important etiquette guidelines that would be posted on signs along the trail, including: Stay to the right, announce yourself when passing, pass on the left, stay alert, don’t walk in groups that impede trail users on the other side of the yellow line, and keep dogs on short leashes.

Over 16 kilometres of trail, they placed 100 speed-limit signs and about 40 etiquette signs.

The city also started a volunteer program called Trail Ambassadors, in which avid trail users wearing identifiable shirts, jackets, or helmet wraps while on the trail act as the city’s eyes and ears regarding trail issues, model proper trail etiquette and provide helpful information to trail users.

The city purchased a mobile radar unit so trail users could see how fast they were going. Rangers, along with staff, would periodically place the radar unit in congested areas of the trail and talk to users.

Several sandwich-board signs were placed around schools that border the trail to remind users to slow for younger commuters. The police department patrols the trail on mountain bikes and motorcycles.

“The city still receives complaints about etiquette from time to time, but in general, with the high volume of users, patrons still feel the trail is a positive place to recreate,” Achabal told me in an email.

These are all great ideas the Capital Regional District should be looking at, starting with speed limits. Pop-up tents during bike-to-work week aren’t enough. If you want people to “share with care,” it has to be a multi-pronged effort, as it was in Mountain View — not just the occasional largely ignored sign.

While widening the Goose to provide separate walking and cycling lanes in the busiest sections, as proposed, would be great for pedestrians, it doesn’t deal with speeding and aggressive cyclists who have a real potential to injure someone.

It’s also costly — an estimated $17.8 million for widening and lighting 6.6 kilometres.

Imposing a speed limit and actively promoting trail etiquette is much cheaper and would make the trail a truly welcoming place for cyclists of all ages and abilities, including kids — and maybe bring back some of the users who’ve been scared off.

In Mountain View, Achabal says citations for speeding aren’t issued, although that might happen in future, for the “less than 1 percent that feel the trail is a race course.”

“We really try to educate users and talk to violators often instead of enforcing rules so as to not escalate things. We often recommend to the in-shape road bike users that they would be better off using city streets instead of a recreational trail that was created for the whole community. If they would rather stay off the streets, we then ask for their compliance, which they often agree with.”

Eventually, it would be nice to have enough bike infrastructure on city streets that experienced cycle commuters don’t use the Goose at all. In the meantime, bring on the Trail Ambassadors to model what it truly means to share with care.

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