Pushing Pedal Power

Comox Valley Cycling Coalition looks to change the future of local transportation…

He cites as an example the Fifth Street Bridge, which is narrow and drivers often try to pass cyclists. “The signage that’s there now, drivers interpret as if the cyclist has to be on the sidewalk, which is not the intention,” Schum says. “The cyclist should only dismount and take the sidewalk if they decide not to ride in the traffic lane.” The current signage causes much friction between motorists and cyclists. Ideal signage, Schum says, would state ‘Drivers should not pass cyclists on bridge’.

On the 17th Street Bridge, the metal grating is a hazard for cyclists. “There are ways to fix it— different types of decking that can be put on the metal grating, or fill the outside portion with concrete, like the sidewalk,” says Schum. “The problem is, it’s a drawbridge, it has to be raised because the river at that point is a navigable waterway, so any additional weight would make it more difficult to raise. The Ministry of Transportation has told us that they are working on it; they realize it is a hazard for cyclists, but it may take as long as four years to get it done! I personally know of three people who have been hurt on that bridge—all very accomplished cyclists, not risk-takers. How many more cyclists will be injured, or worse, before something is done to make the bridge safe for cycling?”

Schum sees an alternative, ideal for cyclists. “For me it would be logical to have a connection from East Courtenay and Comox, behind the Superstore, just on the edge of the farmland: crossing the bypass Highway 19A with a bridge, crossing or going around the Slough, and then put a bridge over the river—for cyclists and pedestrians only.” The proposed route would connect to the popular Courtenay Riverway and into downtown without crossing any busy intersections.

This idea was included in a recent presentation to Courtenay Council by the CV Cycling Coalition. “There were a lot of supporters there for greener and cleaner transportation,” says Schum, “and the response from Council seemed encouraging. They asked some very good questions.”

The Coalition is advocating for an entire network of safer cycling routes, along many commuter roads. “There are a lot of people commuting to the base, for example,” he notes. For connections between Comox and Courtenay, “We can’t expect that everyone will come to a centre spot, so we have the Veteran’s Memorial Parkway in the north, we have Ryan Road, we have Comox Hill and Dyke Road, then we will have hopefully a new connection behind Superstore—we need all of those.

“We have 1,600 more people moving to the Valley on average every year,” Schum adds. “They bring 1,000 more cars—a huge challenge to deal with. And what has happened, here as in the rest of North America, the reaction has been widening roads, building new roads, building another bridge across the river, building a bypass around Courtenay with Highway 19, creating more parking… but there is now no more room!”

“When you look at an aerial photo of Downtown Courtenay, it is one-third buildings, one-third roads, and one-third parking. If we want more parking, we would have to build parkades, and they [cost] around $30,000 a stall. If we want to build more roads, we would have to double-deck the roads. If we were to build another bridge for cars across the river, where would the cars go when they get across? Traffic lights are almost $250,000—and that is only for the light, not for the road infrastructure. And all this is planning for more and more cars.”

To the Coalition, transportation modes need to be viewed from a different perspective. “We don’t see this as an ‘us versus them’ situation between cyclists and motorists,” Schum says. “Most cyclists also own and drive cars, and even drivers who don’t ride a bike now might change their mind some day. So if we start making conditions for cycling and walking safer and more convenient, we would get more people walking and cycling. For every person who is riding a bicycle, there is more space on the roads for the people who have to drive. There are times when you have to use your car and other times when you can do it by bicycle. We have to start investing and making it safer and more convenient for people to get out there.”

In the survey done by the Coalition, an overwhelming 99 per cent of those who responded said that they were in favor of more tax dollars being spent, or a significant increase in investment, for safer and more convenient cycling and walking infrastructure.

Some simple tasks for improving safety include basic housekeeping improvements such as regular sweeping of the road shoulders to remove debris, and re-painting of lines to show both cyclists and drivers where each belong on the road. Colored paving for bike lanes is another effective safety measure, widely used in Europe and even used in Victoria and Campbell River.

The Coalition is working closely with the Cycling Task Force, made up of representatives from all local governments working together to develop a comprehensive cycling strategy. The task force mandate mirrors that of the Coalition—making cycling safe, enjoyable and efficient, improving health and leading to a clean environment and community.

Schum feels strongly that the efforts of a group will be more effective than individuals. “The Cycling Task Force is a wonderful group of people, all the jurisdictions in the Comox Valley sitting together at one table,” he says. “They are welcoming what we are doing, collecting information from all the cyclists in the Valley. The coalition is trying to represent all cyclists in the Valley—the more members we have, the more our voice will be heard. We are meeting with the task force on a monthly basis and they seem very pleased with the work we are doing—politicians have so many other things to do, and we are happy to do the groundwork for them.

In the Coalition’s first meeting with the task force, Schum asked how much money was allocated in the budgets for cycling infrastructure. “The answer was zero,” he says. “That was such a disappointment! We cannot say that we want to get the population healthier and the air cleaner by encouraging people to ride their bikes and walk, and then not spend any money on it.”