Maybe this has happened to you on a European holiday—you arrive in the city centre and see the town square filled with hundreds of parked bicycles. Elegant women in dresses and heels breeze by while men with briefcases and kids in tow cruise to schools and offices.
Protected bike lanes already run through a half-dozen cities in Canada, and many more are being planned and built throughout B.C. What’s the reason behind the biking boom? Number one is the shift to a healthy, low emission lifestyle. Bike sales are increasing, and more people want to use their bicycles for transportation as well as recreation. Cities have been directed to lower carbon emissions, and encouraging cycling fits that mandate.
To be successful, bike lanes must be safe and physically separated from traffic by barriers. The term “all ages and abilities bike route” has come to mean a system of protected lanes and well-marked intersections that can be used by a grannie biking to the seniors centre as well as her grandson cycling to his elementary school.
One might assume that increased bicycle traffic leads to more traffic fatalities, but the opposite is true. The protected bike causeways have a calming effect. Cars slow down rather than racing over the speed limit.
In a recent poll, 70% of Kelowna residents were in favour of building a cycling network. Kelowna now has areas with protected lanes running through neighbourhoods and safe bike lockers as well as racks for expensive electric bikes. Matthew Worona, Mobility Specialist with the City of Kelowna, has five years of bicycle data collected by traffic counters. Each year, the ridership on the bike lanes increases about 10%. “In 2020 we saw 30% growth in the spring, related to the pandemic, but that ridership has continued,” says Worona.
Despite the environmental benefits of increased bicycle transportation, taxpayers and city officials are often reluctant to support new infrastructure projects. Fortunately, the B.C. Active Transportation Infrastructure Grants Program provides cost-sharing grants to upgrade roads to create safe bike routes and improve safety at intersections.
After eighteen months of consultation, Penticton City Council recently passed an amendment to the Official Community Plan to include a “Lake-to-Lake All Ages and Abilities” bike route through the centre of town.
Detractors to the plan point to the popularity of an old railway bed cycle path on the Penticton Indian Reserve. But recreational hike and bike paths rarely function as effective commuter routes that connect neighbourhoods with community amenities like schools, shops and community centres.
It’s been shown that bike lanes also support rather than detract from local businesses. Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps states, “We started in 2015, and there was a lot of resistance, a lot of worry about how it would impact businesses on the route. But what we saw was business vacancies started to fill up with these new stores who had new cycle customers.”
Whether you’re a driver or a cyclist, no one likes the current situation where bikes and cars jockey for space in the same lane. Cities like Vancouver and Kelowna are proof that both types of transportation can be safely accommodated and have the potential to reduce carbon emissions and encourage healthier travel. Let’s go with the flow and not resist the bicycle revolution.
About Margaret Holm:
Margaret Holm lives in Penticton and is an educator and writer for environmental conservation and climate engagement.
Contact Holm at firstname.lastname@example.org