Sorry to not be blogging much, but I have been exceedingly busy with other aspects of life. Mostly enjoying the hell out of summer while getting several things done. Ironically, too much if going on for me to write about all the cool stuff that’s going on. So here is a blog post I just cobbled together from something I wrote around Bike-to-Work-Week, and a recent event, just to hold you over until I have something interesting to say.
I might have mentioned this before, but I have a pretty good bike commute route to work.
First, the good news. My route is about 21 km long, and (for the most part) flat. I pass through a dizzying array of bicycle infrastructure along the way, and it is (for the most part) well designed and well maintained. I have always suspected this is because my route closely parallels that of another New West resident who is rather… um… outspoken about alternative transportation infrastructure, and who is always willing to call City Hall (be it New West or Richmond) to complain about dangerous or non-functional connections along the route. So thanks, Andrew!
My route to work looks like this on a typical day:
1.4 Km of local city roads with no specific bike infrastructure, but with quiet enough traffic at 7:00am that it isn’t generally a problem;
2.2 Km along the Crosstown Greenway along 7th Ave. This is a traffic-calmed road with limited bike infrastructure (“sharrows” on the road, bike-activated lights at major crossings) and parking on both sides, but mostly benefiting from the traffic calming of the West End neighbourhood.
The 500 m between 20th and the Queensborough bridge are a chaotic mess of pedestrians, passengers being dropped from cars, idling taxis and unpredictable buses, but that is the cost of Transit Station connectivity, and I rarely have “safety” issues here- indeed I use an overly cautious approach to the area being aware of all the unexpected.
1.2 Km crossing the Queensborough Bridge and attached bike/ped infrastructure. This route is super-safe, if a little noisy with the high-speed trucks and traffic so close behind. The sidewalk is a little narrow, which causes cyclists (at least those who aren’t complete jerks) to slow and make way for passing oncoming cyclists or pedestrians, and the surface is sometimes a bit sketchy on those frosty mornings, but no complaints from me!
3.4 Km along Boyd Street (in New West) which becomes Westminster Highway (in Richmond). There is a decent bike lane along the side of most of this route (except for about 1 km of unfortunate ugliness westbound on the Richmond side I have previously pointed out). There is a nasty tendency for large trucks to park in these bike lanes (in contravention of the “no stopping” signs) while grabbing coffee from Tim Horton’s, but this seems a pretty difficult piece of enforcement for the Police, and the City of New West installed break-away barriers to address the issue on Boyd.
2.5 Km along the “old” Westminster Highway. There is no specific bike infrastructure here, and nary a shoulder along most of it, but there is so little traffic along this dusty country road that it is rarely a concern.
1.9 Km along the actual Westminster Highway. This stretch, between the railway crossing and the new lights at No 8 Road is probably the least comfortable part of the whole ride. The shoulder is narrow and dirty, there is currently construction, there is a gentle curve (which often encourages cars to straddle the white line) and the large trucks generally go fast. This part will soon be seeing improvement if the “Economic Action Plan” signs are to be believed, so perhaps there is a plan to improve this spot for cyclists as well.
3.0 Km on a Separated Bike Route adjacent to Westminster Highway. For a stretch of Westminster, there is a 3m-wide separated bike/pedestrian route on the south side of the road. It is a bit “old school” as far as separated bike routes go, and has a few issues- the pavement is in rough shape in a few places, some of the driveways are blind, and the surrounding weeds are making the path narrower in a few places – but it is a pretty good route considering its vintage.
My biggest issue with the route is not a problem so much this time of year, but those damn bollards are going to be the death of me one rainy winter evening. There are dozens of bollards in the middle of the path, presumably to prevent people from driving a car in the bike lane – and the bollards are white with little reflective strips on top. However, at night time (especially in the rain) with headlights of oncoming cars an no other lighting, these bollards are nearly invisible. With the other concerns about the path (in-growing weeds, failing asphalt, and blind driveways), cyclists typically cheat towards the safer middle of the path, but that is where the invisible bollard await…
5.8 Km through increasingly urbanized Richmond: Westminster, Garden City, Granville. All of these roads have decent cycling lanes, well marked and cycling-appropriate controls, so no complaints there. Of course, I often have to deal with the erratic behaviour of Richmond drivers, but that is a whole other post…
But mostly a good ride. Most days.
This Friday something interesting happened, though. I came across a guy riding an electric bike up the Queensborough Bridge pathway as I was coming down. I was apparently exuding attitude, as the pilot first swung his fist at my face while passing, then yelled at me while demonstrating his finger-extension skills.
I stopped and gave him the universal symbol for “WTF?!”, which is kind of a shrug with both upturned hands out front and an incredulous face. This caused him to stop, get off his bike, pull off his motorcycle helmet, and approach me yelling a long string of things about how he had every (expletive)right to (expletive)be on (expletive, expletive) the bike path, and (several expletives on the theme of me not being a very good person). I paraphrase.
Now I hadn’t actually said anything to this fellow, nor had I (knowingly) offered any hand signals or other indications prior to the post-fist-and-finger “WTF!?” gesture, as I was busy riding along the bridge. Perhaps he was irritated that I didn’t immediately pull right over and stop so he could pass me going the other way at 30km/h (likely a more comfortable passing speed for him, on his motorcycle with impact shields and a full-face motorcycle helmet than me with my lycra pants and legally-compliant beer-cooler helmet). Or perhaps he had received so much bad attitude and opinion from cyclists that he is constantly brushing past on bike lanes with his motorcycle. So whatever – I refused to engage, and politely suggested maybe he should just head his way an think about why he is so defensive about things – and move his motorcycle as he was currently blocking the entire pathway and there were two cyclists standing there waiting for him to move it so they could get past.
I had to get out of there quick, as I was in serious risk of laughing out loud, and in his state, that might not have been constructive. But it got me to thinking about this new trend- encountering electric motorcycles on bicycle routes. What’s up with that?
There are two types of electric motorcycles on the roads of BC, according to ICBC, electric scooters and electric-assisted bicycles. The first need to be licensed and insured and you need a drivers licence to use them – they are for all intents and purposes motorcycles. The second are legally bicycles, and require no licencing, insurance and are (apparently) legal on bike paths.
Here are a picture of each, see if you can spot the differences:
That’s right, the first one has little pedals sticking out. There is actually more to it than the pedals: the motor cannot be more than 500W, and the top speed must be limited to 32km/h when you are not pedaling. That isn’t fast enough to win the Tour de France, but it is faster than most casual bicycle riders maintain. The second can be up to 1500W, can pull 70km/h , and you require a licence, a motorcycle helmet, and insurance.
Should these be on bike paths? I have my doubts. They weigh around 200lbs (without a rider), are wider and less agile that a bicycle, and move faster than most cyclists. It seems they ramp up the risk-to-third-persons equation closer to motorcycles than bicycles and pedestrians. If nothing else, they blur the region between human-powered and machine-powered transportation, and the more blurry it gets, the harder it is to think about where to draw lines. Why was the line arbitrarily drawn in 2002 at 500W and 32 km/h?
Alternately, their safe operation (much like bicycles) rely on the responsible behavior of their riders. Just people on bikes need to be extra-courteous to slower users like pedestrians when sharing a multi-use path, users of e-bikes have an extra onus to be courteous to bicyclists and pedestrians.
Something my punchy and profane friend on the Queensbrough wasn’t doing on Friday.