Cyclist says Duncan’s ‘bike-friendly’ ideas don’t work

Cyclist Warren Chapman beside a bump-out and sharrow along Cairnsmore Street. He says city bike lanes could have curbed his safety concerns. - Peter W. Rusland
Cyclist Warren Chapman beside a bump-out and sharrow along Cairnsmore Street. He says city bike lanes could have curbed his safety concerns.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

City hall's drive to slow speeders, boost bike use, and bust carbon along Cairnsmore Street has fizzled with rider Warren Chapman.

The dedicated bicyclist appreciated Duncan's intentions, but by building curb bump-outs, the city narrowed the residential road to vehicles and bikes — creating potential accidents at those pinch points, he explained.

Chapman said Cairnsmore should have been left straight, with bike lanes built on both sides, and street parking on one side.

Cairnsmore now has smooth blacktop — that fixed the stretch's crumbling pavement — but no bike lanes.

Instead, big white sharrows tell drivers and riders to share Cairnsmore after its $540,000 makeover.

It wasn't money well spent, in Chapman's view.

"No sane person in the Cowichan Valley is going to ride down the centre of the car lane confident drivers are going to willingly share the lane with them, without road rage or worse, because there is a silly marking on the road," he wrote.

"You increase bike use by having bike lanes and making people feel safer.

"I wrote the city before any of this started, saying 'If you add bike lanes, that also provides a narrowing, with the same effect. They ignored me."

But Chapman couldn't ignore what he saw as council's fumbled chance to accommodate safe bike lanes, motorists, speed calming, and parking — albeit less of it —  on Cairnsmore.

"For me, it's a shame. It's a beautiful job but it doesn't serve my purposes very well," the pedaling commuter said.

He recognized council got design input from area residents, and Cycle Cowichan.

Cycle Cowichan also basically backed straight bike lanes on Cairnsmore.

CC's Alex Haddad called the configuration "reasonably comfortable," but cited safety issues.

"It's good the city put numerous sharrows on the pavement.

"It does require all road users pay attention; there's the potential for a problem at a bump out concerning a bike and a car."

He echoed Chapman's dismay city hall didn't install bike lanes shown in a public option two.

"I'm a bit disappointed, probably because of the precedence — it would have been the city's first bike lanes.

"There seems to be a psychological hurdle for the city to construct their first bike lanes. It would also have been cheaper to build the lanes than bump outs."

And council did the road renos before Duncan's active transportation plan (ATP) was complete, he claimed.

Peter de Verteuil, city administrator, explained the neighbourhood's main concern was about curbing speeding.

Council also aimed for a green design for riders, while keeping parking spaces.

"We wanted to make the cycling environment better than it was," he said.

"It was a saw-off as to what's better.

"There wasn't enough width to do bike lanes on both sides without eliminating parking on the south side."

Not so, said Chapman.

He measured average parking practices, and found no more than four or five vehicles curbed along Cairnsmore at any given time.

"Anytime people try and put in a bike lane, people complain about parking (loss). There was still room for bike lanes on both sides, and parking on one side.

"In the end," de Vertueil said, "it was decided to use shared lanes, rather than full bike lanes and eliminate parking. It wasn't an off-the-cuff decision."

But it was the wrong decision to Chapman.

"If I, as a bicyclist, get hit by a car I am probably dead."

But de Verteuil said turning room around Cairnsmore's bump outs is deceptively ample.

"The bump outs make people move slower around corners. The bump outs don't stick out as far as a parked car does."

The designs were reviewed and accepted by an ICBC safety engineer and the city was satisfied the plan is safe for its intended use "providing all road users obey the law and use good common sense," de Verteuil noted.

But Chapman was unconvinced.

"I hope they don't do bump outs in other places. Cairnsmore's opportunity is passed; I don't want them to make the same mistake for bike lanes on other streets.

He and Haddad noted bike lanes would have spelled extra mileage.

"Cairnsmore was the last hope of having bike lanes linking with North Cowichan's bike lanes on Old Lake Cowichan Road," said Chapman.

The project's $540,000 tab — spanning tree planting, brick work, repaving and more —  included $193,471 from general gas-tax funds. The rest came from Duncan's current general and sewer capital funds, explained de Verteuil.

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