Ask Pat: bike lanes on bridges.

Matt C asks—

My bike commute has got me thinking lately…thinking about bike lane design on bridges. I’ve had some close calls on the Queensborough Bridge with cigarette-wielding, headphone wearing pedestrians travelling in the same direction, totally oblivious to their surroundings. I also had an accident on the same bridge while passing a fellow cyclist who urged me to go around him. And I’ve never understood the unwritten rules of passing etiquette on the Pattullo Bridge (“I’ll stop if going up” or is it “I’ll stop if on the inside”, or maybe it’s just a game of chicken).

So, what is the best design of cyclist/pedestrian shared pathways on bridges? Is bigger better? Is there a secret formula for success?

New West will soon have two new shared bridge pathways: the new Pattullo and the drawbridge from the Quay to Queensborough. I am curious if these will be built to ensure a pleasurable experience for all.

I feel qualified to answer this, because the Queensborough is on my regular commute, and indeed, a little sidewalk etiquette would be in order. The only real conflict I have ever had was with a defensive dude on one of those electric fake-mopeds which I ranted about previously. However, I am commonly bothered by two things: inattentive pedestrians with earphones that are impossible to pass, no matter how much you ring a bell, slow down, say “ahem” or “excuse me”; and downhill-travelling cyclists who have a distorted trust in our combined ability to prevent collision as they blow by me at high speed.

I would generally suggest we need a bit of common courtesy here, and two sets of rules seem to make sense to me. Those established in the early years of mountain biking by advocacy groups like IMBA, where cyclists *always* yield to pedestrians:


A second suggestion would be the old skiing standard that lower traffic always has right-of way. Meaning if you are going downhill and approaching someone else also going downhill, you slow down and only pass if they wave you through. If you are going downhill and someone is coming uphill, the person going down always yields (makes sense as it takes more energy to stop and start while climbing than it does while downhilling).

That would deal with 80% of conflict, common courtesy with another 15%, and the last 5% are jerks you just gotta put out of your mind – there’s no helping them. At least you only have to deal with them 5% of the time. Imagine how hard it must be for them being jerks 100% of the time!

In my experience, the best bike-path-on-a-bridge is on the Canada Line Bridge, and yeah, the secret is width. There is enough room that people can get out of each other’s way, without having to squeeze over next to an irregular fence that is as likely to catch your handlebars than stop you from falling into traffic. Even there, common courtesy is needed, but I have never had anything close to an uncomfortable experience on that bridge. Given adequate room, people just seem to stay right and chill:CLbridge

The new Q2Q bridge is initially being designed to accommodate a police vehicle or ambulance in the event of emergency, so I am pretty sure it will be wide enough to be comfortable (like the Canada Line Bridge). Initial design of the eventual Pattullo Replacement hasn’t even started, to my knowledge, but considering the Canada Line Bridge is the last piece of water-crossing cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure that TransLink has designed and built, I hope for as high a standard.

Until then, just be careful and courteous, and recognize that although the Queensborough crossing is not “state-of-the-art” or quite wide enough to be perfect, it is a pretty well designed pathway as far as access at each end. Maybe we just need to think about some basic courtesy signs at each entrance establishing yield rules/suggestions. I’d love to see a design that might work that we could take to the Ministry of Transportation for approval…

Leave a Reply