Metro Vancouver’s bike network consists of almost 1,700 km of off-street pathways, separated lanes, designated low-traffic routes as well as marked lanes and wide shoulders.
Until a few years ago, most of them were a mystery to me.
I preferred to find my own way, usually on quieter arterial roads that got me where I needed to go, but weren’t choked with trucks and traffic.
But connecting with bike route savvy cyclists through FRFuggitivi has exposed me to the joys of relaxing rides on some of those protected pathways.
Sure there may be a few more stop signs along the way, a few more twists and turns as routes find their way.
The trade off is a safer journey because motorists expect to encounter cyclists and for the most part respect our presence. I can count on one hand the number of road rage encounters I had last year; along busy thoroughfares they were a regular occurrence.
The routes often travel through areas I’d otherwise never traverse. You roll through the region’s history and evolution as neighbourhoods transform and gentrify from commercial to single family homes to high density condo projects.
The connections between routes mean no two rides have to be exactly the same; the variety is almost endless.
There’s still gaps, though. Routes end abruptly. Signage suddenly peters out. Traffic lights are inexplicably lacking at major cross streets. Pinch points throw cyclists into a stretch of heavy traffic.
But it’s getting better.
Today’s ride along some of the region’s oldest, most established routes brought us through three major problems that have recently been addressed, or are in the process of being fixed.
One of the scariest was the narrow, uneven sidewalk along the Stanley Park Causeway that connects the park to the Lion’s Gate Bridge. A couple of years ago a woman riding on that sidewalk, which is the designated bike route alongside a busy stretch of road, lost her balance and fell into the path of a bus. She was killed. But the accident sparked a review of that stretch of the city’s bike network and work is now ongoing to widen it and erect a barrier between the high sidewalk and the roadway. The northbound side is pretty much finished; work is beginning on the southbound side.
On the North Shore, a worrisome pinch point along Marine Drive as it climbs up to 3rd Street has also been addressed with a nice wide multi-user path where the sidewalk used to be. While the road was always a marked bike route, it’s narrow and heavily trafficked, a stressful combination as you chug up that climb.
The pair of deer we saw nibbling on a bush next to the path was a bonus.
And finally there’s the Ironworkers Bridge; once notorious for its narrow, bumpy sidewalks that flanked the busy highway we now have wide, smooth pathways that can be easily shared by passing cyclists and pedestrians. It’s actually possible now to enjoy the spectacular views down the Burrard Inlet to the city, or up towards the mountains that rise above Indian Arm.
TransLink, the pseudo-government agency that manages transportation in Metro Vancouver, promises even more improvements to make cycling easier and safer. It’s 2011 Regional Cycling Strategy committed to improve the connections between bikeways, maintain them in good repair, make the network easier to navigate, and improve facilities for parking and connections to transit.
I’m not sure about that last part yet. But I’d say they’re making pretty good headway on the rest.