At first glance, the idea of a segregated bike lane in a busy downtown city seems like a great idea. But is it?
A segregated lane (SL) might seem great while you’re riding in it. Well, except for the problem of cars wanting to turn right across the SL and cyclists wanting to turn left across traffic to access one-way streets. Plus, you have to ride regular roads to reach the SL and then what do you do when it ends? Either way, you still spend some time as “part of the road traffic.” Safe cycling requires knowledge of specific road rules and the practical skills to deal with errant drivers.
Ottawa, our nation’s capital, is to vote soon on a pilot project that would see an east-west segregated bike lane on Laurier Avenue in the heart of downtown. As an Ottawa cyclist with 24 years of experience, I think this SL project is a mistake. Educating cyclists is far more important than any of the other so-called safety enhancements, such as the construction of bike lanes, paths, lines on the road, etc. For example, see British survey on effectiveness of cycle training.
From those cyclists I have talked to or watched riding in the city, it is apparent that fear is a prime motivator for their actions. Fear that comes from a lack of cycling knowledge and skills in traffic. Educational safety programs like CanBike have far more beneficial results than a mere bike lane that gives a false sense of safety. Cyclists need to learn how to cycle in traffic – not avoid it! They are part of the traffic as vehicles on the road and should be trained as such.
The estimated $1.3 million cost for the Laurier Street SL would yield way more benefits if it was put into education and an awareness campaign across the city. School children, immigrants and the general population including motorists need access to cycling education. Putting promos on the side of buses explaining the basic rules would help; continuing education classes on cycling safety would help; supporting local cycling clubs to offer skills handling classes would help; enhancing drivers’ education of the cyclists needs would help; and finally, enforcing the existing rules would help.
This cycling project is like the flavour of the month at city hall. It’s the trendy way to think – go green and create the impression that you’re solving the challenge of mixing motor vehicles. Since the Copenhagen summit, local politicians think that what works there can work here. It ain’t so.
Avery Burdett, co-founder of the new Responsible Cycling Coalition says that City staff has selected “data about cycling in other cities even when those data and conclusions are not reliable.”
He and others are trying to have the SL project put on hold. The Laurier Avenue pilot project goes to city’s Transportation Committee on Feb. 2 and it’s important as many skeptics as possible show up to speak to the Committee. The full council is expected to vote on it on Feb. 17.
Please make your views known.