What would it take to make our Island a cyclists’ heaven? We have a relatively flat landscape and an all-season climate; but for most cyclists, our roads are still a relatively dangerous place.
There are roads that suddenly narrow, tempting the driver to whip by, squeezing you far too close for comfort. There are motorists who open their doors or pull out in front of you without looking. What did they ever read about cyclists in their training manuals? There are roads where a cyclist has to believe herself invincible to ride without fear.
There are schools, of all places, which don’t have safe bicycle lock-ups. How can we encourage our youngsters to cycle, if our schools treat cycling so poorly? No wonder the students want their parents to drive them to school, and demand their own cars as soon as they are sixteen.
We’ve got to shake out of it once and for all, and understand that cycling is an essential means of transportation. What other means of transport (aside from walking) produces no CO2 emissions? When did you last hear of someone being killed by a cyclist?
What other means of transport increases your health as you travel? The research shows that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the accident risks by 20 to 1, when the longer life-span due to the extra exercise is factored in.
When it comes to decisions about roads, buildings and land-use, every planner, engineer and councillor should be asking the question "Does this promote and encourage cycling?"
In Oxford, England, the council provides bicycles for its staff, not cars. In Saanich, there’s a bylaw which says that all new developments must provide showers and bicycle parking.
Imagine being able to cycle all over the region on long-distance trails, safe from the noise and danger of cars. Imagine being able to get across town on a network of priority bicycle boulevards, using quiet streets where many of the roads were closed to through traffic.
Imagine knowing that every major road had marked bicycle lanes, where cyclists had a space they knew was theirs. The region is full of 4-lane roads, where two lanes are used for parking. Let’s remove the parking on one side, to create two new bike lanes. Some residents will complain – but a road is a public facility paid for by all our taxes, not a private parking space.
"This will all cost money", someone will say. Of course it will! We spend money every year making roads nice for motorists – now it’s the turn of the cyclists. Maintaining a road system for motorists is far more expensive than doing the same for cyclists. Every $1 invested in cyclists and pedestrians saves $2 invested in motorists. This being so, are our councillors being financially negligent, if they fail to make the cycling investment?
Each new parking space costs $12,000. If a network of safe cycle routes persuaded 3,000 commuters to trade their cars for bicycles, that could save $36 million.
Let’s have free bicycles on all the ferries, giving the signal that we’re a cycling province. Let’s deliver more goods by bicycle.
Let’s see those glorious baseball and soccer leagues encourage their youthful members to cycle to their games, instead of expecting their parents to drive them there. Let’s see long-distance bicycle trails and greenways all over the Island.
The bicycle is a glorious machine – the most elegant and energy efficient ever invented. At a time when our planet is beset with danger from greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution fills the air, when we yearn for a simpler life, it’s time to celebrate the bike!
Guy Dauncey is author of "Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Climate Change” and President of the BC Sustainable Energy Association. Visit his website at: www.earthfuture.com