York Region risks empty bike lanes as legacy

A recent Money Sense magazine survey of best places to live in Canada ranked Vaughan 102 out of 190 cities. This is down from the previous year’s ranking of 70, out of the 180 best places.  Much of this survey has to be taken with a grain of salt as decisions about why we choose a particular place to live are more complex than the 10 categories used in its rating system.  But what was revealing about the survey was that Vaughan ranked dead last in the walking or biking to work category. Even places such as North Bay, Ontario and Red Deer, Alta. scored better.

Getting on a bike in most suburbs is fraught with danger. In Vaughan, it is especially hazardous due to the large number of transport trucks that dominate our roads.  That’s why I was disappointed by a recent decision by York Region to favour bike lanes along Hwy. 7 that would not be physically separated from vehicular traffic. Instead, paint will be used to separate you and the 18-wheel transport truck in the next lane.

In a recent Vaughan Citizen story about the proposed painted Hwy. 7 bike lanes, the region’s director of traffic management Steve Kemp stated: “A novice cyclist wouldn’t want to try Hwy. 7 any more than a novice driver would start on Hwy. 401.”  Unfortunately, the region is investing in cycling infrastructure that it expects very few people to use. Mr. Kemp believes the number of cyclists will grow over time after this bike lane is created. This seems highly unlikely because the same barriers that will make cycling dangerous along Hwy. 7 will always be there.

The region should be promoting cycling as a viable transportation option over the car.  To do this requires a bike lane segregated by a curb or one raised to the pedestrian sidewalk level.  A bucket of paint will not accomplish this. Clearly, your safety and promoting cycling doesn’t seem to be the focus.

Meanwhile, York Region already has a progressive plan to convert car commuters into public transit users. Ridership on regional transit grew by 25 per cent from 2005 to 2011 and had its busiest year in 2011, despite the strike. The region needs to learn from its promotion of public transit and apply the same lessons to its cycling infrastructure. Passengers here pay the highest fares in the GTA and taxpayers pay the highest subsidies to support and grow public transit. If you want to get people out of their cars and reduce traffic congestion, it will cost money up front. But the long-term gains are worth it.

Ottawa, which ranked No. 1 in the Money Sense survey, has created the very type of segregated cycling lane that would provide safety for cyclists and convince more users to choose a bike as a viable means for transportation, whatever their riding skills may be.

A pilot project along Ottawa’s Laurier Avenue has a curb separating cyclist from cars and also helps create a buffer for pedestrians. It’s a simple idea that’s proven to make cyclists safer and encourages people to get on a bike.  What’s happening in Ottawa is not revolutionary by any means. Segregating people from cars is simply common sense.

What’s almost as disappointing as the complete disregard for the safety of the region’s cyclists is the missed opportunity to do something progressive. The region actually has an opportunity to leap ahead of Toronto and show the rest of the country that it is not the same suburb of the past, instead, the region’s politicians risk having a series of empty bike lanes as their legacy to alternative transportation.

A large part of the problem is that those making decisions do not themselves use a bicycle as a means for transportation.  Before the region makes a final decision, perhaps transportation services staff would like to take a bike ride along Hwy. 7. I’ll bring the bucket of paint.

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