Cycling Advocacy – More Bike Lanes Needed

I live in Kitchener-Waterloo in the northeast end of town and one of my biggest pet peeves about cycling infrastructure in this part of town is the lack of bike lanes or safe roads to cross Highway 85 to get across town. 

There’s been considerable improvement in bike paths and bike lanes in K-W in recent years.  However, whenever roads get repaved or rebuilt, I’m disappointed when I don’t see bike lanes added.

On the map below (from Google Maps), I’ve highlighted Highway 85 (a.k.a. Conestoga Parkway) and I’ve circled eight possible places to cross it.  Google Maps has an option to show dedicated bike lanes (solid green lines) and “bike friendly roads” (dashed green lines).

The first thing to note is that for the eight possible crossings of Highway 85, only one (#6, King Street at Conestoga Mall) has dedicated bike lanes.  This is great and there’s been a lot of construction in this area for the new LRT.  However, you’ll also notice that these lanes aren’t connected to anything.  To get there from the east end of Waterloo, you’d either have to ride through the mall (and it’s very busy parking lot), or ride up to Northfield, turn left onto King Street, ride towards the mall and eventually get a bike lane.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Here’s a summary of the Highway 85 crossings:

  1. Victoria Street, Kitchener.  No bike lanes, busy traffic, four lanes.  I drive this road frequently and I never see cyclists.  No surprise, given that cars move fast.  It’s a busy road for commuters between K-W and Guelph.
  2. Lancaster Street.  No bike lane. This road could easily have a bike lane.  It doesn’t have full ramps in all directions for the Highway and it doesn’t get too busy. Bike lanes would make sense.  Cyclists could link up with Union St., Breithaupt Park, the bike lane on Margaret Ave. and the Spur Line Trail.
  3. Bridgeport Rd.  No bike lane.  This is a busy interchange with the Highway with cars merging to and from the ramps.  Still a bike lane from the east to Bluevale St. or Margaret Ave. could at least get cyclist across the highway into quieter neighbourhoods.
  4. University Ave. No bike lane.  Another busy interchange but a bike lane would still be safer.  There’s bike lanes on University from Northfield to Bridge St.  Then the lane disappears until Lincoln on the other side of the highway.  This is a frequent route for me when I ride to the Hydrocut trails.  A bike lane would sure help here.
  5. Lexington Road.  No bike lane.  Great bike lanes exist on Lexington from University to Davenport, then disappear.  They reappear at King St.  I use this road a lot as well.  There are paths once you get across the Highway that are paved but you still need to get across the Highway.
  6. King Street at Conestoga Mall.  Bike lanes (see above).
  7. Northfield Drive.  They’ve recently re-opened this bridge and the ramps.  So I’ll reserve judgment until I see it more.
  8. King Street at the St. Jacob’s Farmer’s Market.  No bike lanes, and turning left from King St. to the outlet mall always seems risky on a bike.

map-crossing-85

I’m not a city planner and I know there are a lot of considerations when it comes to these kinds of things.  But it seems to me that bike lanes should be part of all resurfacing or rebuilding plans.  City planners seem to want to force cyclists onto certain roads, rather than make all roads (other than major highways of course) accessible by bikes.  They’re catering to cyclists who already ride these roads, rather than trying to get more people onto bicycles and out of cars.

Certainly, we live in a car-centric society.  I drive a car so I’m part of the problem.  Everything is too convenient for car drivers and too inconvenient for cyclists.  How do we get more people out of their cars and onto bikes?  Again, I’m no planner, but I’ll add my wish list:

  1. A well-connected network of bike lanes, paths (My dream: all roads will have bike lanes).  K-W is getting there, but there’s still a lot of disconnection in our network.
  2. An efficient and affordable public transit system (If public transit was cheaper than parking, my guess is that more people would use it).
  3. Safe and secure bicycle parking.  Too many bikes are stolen in K-W.  The last thing cyclists should have to worry about is having their bike stolen.

These things aren’t easy, but they are possible.  Other cities are investing huge $ into cycling infrastructure.  Let’s make it happen!

UPDATE:  See comments below.  I’d forgotten about two other options for crossing the Highway: (1) Guelph St.  This has recently been updated with a bike lane (I believe).  From there, you can continue on Guelph St (I’m not sure how long the bike lane continues as you ride west) or ride to Union St. and to Margaret Ave.  (2) Wellington. Lots of construction going on here.  Cars come off the Highway fast so cycling won’t feel safe.  I’m not sure if there’s a plan for bike lanes on Wellington or not.

 

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16 thoughts on “Cycling Advocacy – More Bike Lanes Needed

  1. Good summary post. A few things to add. Bike lanes were added on Northfield Dr. as part of the LRT work there. They’re painted bike lanes, not great, but definitely better than nothing. You also missed both the Guelph St. and Wellington Rd. crossings. Wellington Rd. was a full interchange, but virtually unused. It was reasonably good to cross, but since it’s being rebuilt as part of the new highway 7 project, I have no idea what it will look like in 3-5 years when it’s done. Guelph St. on the other hand was a relatively quite road with no interchange, it was reasonable to cross on.

    Definitely there is major need for improvement, the expressway represents one of the biggest barriers to cycling in the city. It is also worth considering the southern portion of the expressway as it also cuts off many neighbourhoods, and has limited routes.

    One of the biggest reasons why the expressway represents such a major barrier is jurisdictional. Regional and city planners may want to add infrastructure, but they must get the permission of and work with the province in doing so. Northfield was able to get infrastructure because the LRT work which already required major provincial co-operation included it. King St. was accomplished I believe because they were able to build the lanes without touching the bridge or the interchange (they are MUT in the boulevard). Lexington the city of Waterloo has worked to try and get a path across the bridge, but it is still up in the air. University Ave. was recently rebuilt by the province, with no infrastructure, that one really burns. Same with Lancaster, which as you pointed out, could be a great route.

    In order to affect change, the government must hear your voice. The best way to do that is to right now, go and submit comments to the province. They are considering spending a great deal of money from the carbon tax in order to facilitate utility and commuter cycling. They’re asking the public what provincial infrastructure and barriers should be considered. Go tell them this! https://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTMwMjQ3&statusId=MTk3NDEy&language=en

    Further the region has a number of consultations discussing transportation planning, and indicating support for cycling would be helpful here too: http://www.regionofwaterloo.ca/en/regionalGovernment/Engage-Region-of-Waterloo.asp?pd_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.peakdemocracy.ca%2Fportals%2F153%2FIssue_1719#peak_democracy

    http://www.regionofwaterloo.ca/en/regionalGovernment/Engage-Region-of-Waterloo.asp?pd_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.peakdemocracy.ca%2Fportals%2F153%2FIssue_1747#peak_democracy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Daniel. Good point about Guelph and Wellington. There’s lots of construction around Wellington right now. Bike lanes would be nice, but cars will be coming off of 85 at high speeds as that new interchange is built. Guelph has had some construction I think it has a bike lane at the underpass now. I’d forgotten about these two. I’ll check out the links, thanks!

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  2. Great post Steve. I’m really disappointed in how the LRT has made cycling in Uptown Waterloo less desirable. Caroline use to have a bike lane. Now, it’s two very narrow car lanes (one in each direction) and just an extra wide sidewalk. It’s basically become a take the lane type of road. Also, looks like when King Street reopens it will be the same – two narrow lanes with no bike lane.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree Matt. All of these opportunities are being lost because cycling always seems to take a back seat during planning/construction. Some cyclists are OK with “take the lane”, but that kind of mentality is not going to encourage more people to ride on these roads. And it serves to upset many drivers.

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    • I actually have to disagree here, but there are a few points that need clarification. First it is not an “extra wide sidewalk”…despite all appearances, it is a multi-use trail. It is intended for use for cyclists. It is poorly designed in that it does not appear to be so, but that is the intention. When signage is added it will be more obvious, but really, signage shouldn’t be necessary. But do think having a multi-use trail instead of bike lanes makes the road accessible to more people who might want to bike.

      As for narrow lanes, I actually prefer this to wide lanes. Wide lanes encourage speeding and aggressive driving which is harmful to all road users. Further, narrow lanes make it easier to take the lane. Drivers do not have the false belief that if only you rode in the gutter they could squeeze past. Drivers seem far more accepting of cyclists taking the lane when the lane is narrow, thus, as a road cyclist, I prefer narrow lanes like on Caroline today.

      As a result, the combination of narrow lanes, with a MUT should meet the needs of most cyclists on Caroline, I believe.

      It is unfortunate that King St. didn’t get any bike provision south of Erb where the LRT is going in, but this one is worth putting into context. Caroline got the MUT because it connects the Laurel trail with the Iron Horse Trail, both of which existed when the planning for the project was undertaken. But at the time planning was being done, over 10 years ago now, bike infrastructure wasn’t the type of thing that was really considered. We have come a long way in a decade, but unfortunately there is still a legacy of projects that were planned that long ago. The wheels of government move very slowly.

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      • Now, I must kindly disagree with you Daniel. Those multi-use trails that appear as extra-wide sidewalks are a horrible idea for cycling infrastructure. It’s a bad idea to have pedestrians, who for the most part are distracted by smartphones, and cyclists using them together, especially when there is no indication where a cyclist should be on it. Caroline was better for cyclists before LRT work when it had a dedicated bike lane. This is North America, narrow lanes don’t slow drivers down that much and will do absolutely nothing to promote cycling as an alternative transportation method among people who do not feel comfortable riding in such cramped conditions. Many less experienced riders don’t feel at ease taking the lane and these are the type of people that better infrastructure should be catering to. On King, they could have easily made the sidewalks (I’m not ready to call these a multi-use trail) a little less wide and included segregated bike lanes.

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      • Now, I must kindly disagree with you Daniel. Those multi-use trails that appear as extra-wide sidewalks are a horrible idea for cycling infrastructure. It’s a bad idea to have pedestrians, who for the most part are distracted by smartphones, and cyclists using them together, especially when there is no indication where a cyclist should be on it. Caroline was better for cyclists before LRT work when it had a dedicated bike lane. This is North America, narrow lanes don’t slow drivers down that much and will do absolutely nothing to promote cycling as an alternative transportation method among people who do not feel comfortable riding in such cramped conditions. Many less experienced riders don’t feel at ease taking the lane and these are the type of people that better infrastructure should be catering to. On King, they could have easily made the sidewalks (I’m not ready to call these a multi-use trail) a little less wide and included segregated bike lanes.

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  3. Great article. One thing to add is that bike lanes need to meet minimum widths. The lanes on Fisher Hillman crossing 85 are so narrow the bike stencil overlaps the lines on each side. I ride mainly on Homer Watson, am comfortable side by side with cars, but adding lanes as we develop our roads is a huge must.

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    • The real problem isn’t that they don’t meet the minimum widths, but that the minimum widths prescribed are too narrow. But more to the point, I’d rather substandard width segregated lanes, than wider painted bike lanes.

      The vast majority of people are not comfortable riding with fast moving traffic, even in a painted bike lane, if we are to truly make cycling accessible to everyone, better infrastructure is needed, not just more infrastructure.

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