Back to the drawing board in Chilliwack for bike lanes

Coun. Jason Lum rejected a "one size fits all" approach to bike lanes, and re-opened the whole discussion at the last council meeting

Standard bike lanes might not offer cyclists enough protection from cars to get people cycling in Chilliwack

Standard bike lanes might not offer cyclists enough protection from cars to get people cycling in Chilliwack

There won’t be any real uptick in cycling on Chilliwack roads until cyclists feel a lot safer doing it.

That was the rationale by Coun. Jason Lum to reject a “one size fits all” approach to bike lanes, and re-open the discussion.

“I’d like to strike Alternative 1 from the motion,” he said, putting aside the enhanced bike lane motion recommended by city staff at the last council meeting.

He took it in a new direction.

“Instead I would like to see this whole document referred back to TAC (transportation advisory committee) — with all the options on the table,” said Lum.

It’s an idea worth exploring more fully, he said.

The topic came up at city hall recently during the public engagement portion of the budget discussions, while approving the 10-year financial plan for City of Chilliwack.

During the information hearing, Chilliwack resident Janice Balakshin asked council to focus on making Chilliwack a more cycling friendly community for the many commuters and avid cyclists out there.

“The real game changer is segregated lanes,” she said at the time.

Chilliwack could easily one day be designated a “cycling destination” and Balakshin advocated creating a better network.

“I think we need to dig into this a little more,” Coun. Lum told his fellow councillors at the last council meeting.

City staff had been tasked by council to research options for arterial and collector roads, in response to mounting public pressure for system-wide bike lane improvements, according to the staff report. They measured performance and cost, comparing alternatives to the standard painted and signed 1.5m wide bike lane, which is “unprotected” without any kind of physical barrier separating the lanes of traffic.

Chilliwack has 185 km of paved and delineated bike lanes, and over the past decade the bike lane network gets added to when roads are widened or new developments and roads are built, for example.

Staff, with the help of a consultant, came up with a recommendation for council to select “Alternative 1 Enhanced Bike Lane” as the approved “alternate” option for Chilliwack.

It would cost an estimated $1 million per year, for the length of the 10-year financial plan. But Alternative 1 was not the option best suited for the high-volume Vedder corridor however.

Vedder was described as a “hardcore commuter corridor” during some of the discussions so Alternative 1  was for other types of roads.

The wider painted lane option was not suited for the Vedder corridor because of: “driveway frequency, high land cost and resulting business impacts, in addition to the limitations to improving the cycling experience on high volume urban roads,” according to the staff report.

Alternative 1 provides: “an additional buffer distance” in painted lanes between cyclists and vehicles without introducing a physical barrier, which creates challenges for street sweeping, snow clearing, farm vehicles, and driveway accesses.

But Coun. Lum, and ultimately the rest of council, wasn’t prepared to vote for a one-size-fits-all standard by approving the Alternative 1, which is wider than the current standard.

“A larger painted barrier doesn’t provide safety from vehicles.”

He said the costs of various models could vary widely, and in some cases maybe Alternative 4 was preferable, with its safer physical barriers.

In the end, council approved a motion unanimously to refer the matter back to TAC.

“It will help move the conversation forward,” Coun. Lum said after it was over in chambers.

Coun. Sam Waddington, who chairs TAC, said he was glad to be getting a chance to look at some broader options. He said he agreed that multiple types of bike lane standards were needed, as well as looking at the situation from a cyclist’s point of view.

“We have to have provide a physical separation on a bike lane or else no one is going to ride them,” said Waddington. “We don’t want to make cycling into a hero sport.”

He’d like to see Chilliwack adopt a cycling mentality like they have in Europe.

“Lake many European cities, our urban core is linear and condensed. We have little or no no snow clearing, salting, and sanding operations.

Coun. Waddington said he’d like to strike a cycling focused committee including mountain bikers, road riders, casual cyclists and more. He recently attended a national municipal conference where the subject of bike lanes was discussed.

“The consensus was if you do not feel comfortable letting your kids bike to school, you haven’t done your job designing the cycling infrastructure. You have to look at it from a user perspective not just the motorists’ perspective. It’s about how to transform a community into one that views cycling as really important,” said Waddington.

Even the language has evolved.

The program used to be called “road shouldering” but now it’s the “bike lane” program, which reflects a shift in the thinking.

“So in much the same way Chilliwack is known for white water training on the Chilliwack River, we also have the best opportunity for a comprehensive cycling network. We should strive to be known for that, and that’s why a push for bike lanes is so important.”

Coun. Chris Kloot seconded the amended motion.

“If we’re going to become serious about getting people on their bikes, we have to do it well,” he said. “I’m excited to see what TAC will bring forth. I definitely think it needs a closer look.”

Mayor Sharon Gaetz said she appreciated the gesture of sending it back to TAC.

“It never hurts to have a second sober look,” she said.