Friday, December 19, 2014

Column The News: Cycling: Develop with two wheel transportation in mind

My latest column in The News is about the development proposals on Brown Ave (for a highrise) in downtown Maple Ridge along the 121 bike route, and the proposal for 21 homes along the 123 bike route at McKenney Creek in west Maple Ridge. Here is the unedited version:

Barely two weeks after Maple Ridge Council's inaugural meeting, Mayor Read and her team had some discussions that gave us a pretty good indication that our new Council intends to get more serious about cycling.

On the agendas for the Public Hearing and Council meeting of December 9 was a development proposal for an 18-storey tower on Brown Ave. in the town core. This proposal is part of a plan for a number of highrises, all along Brown Ave., north of Dewdney. This is a real game changer for our town. There are already 3 other towers in the pipeline, two of which are also on Brown Ave., and the third will be right around the corner from the other three on Dewdney and Edge, all built on a large podium with a commercial component and multiple floors of under- and above ground parking.
In another five years or so, it is expected that another development of five more highrises will move forward, also along Brown, but on the west side of 224th.

So we're going from a quiet single family home neighbourhood to highrises. You can imagine the kind of traffic we're going to see on Brown Ave.

Brown is one of two designated bike routes that help cyclists get to and through the town core. So far the car traffic on Brown hasn't been very busy, and sharing the road with cars hasn't been a problem.

It's clear that going from low to very high density will have a significant impact on car traffic. Proper cycling facilities will have to be included in the road design, so that cyclists can continue to safely navigate the roads.

According to the present plan, space is provided for parking on either side and one car lane in each direction. Cyclists will have to "take the lane" (ride in the middle) to avoid getting "doored" by someone opening a car door in their path. That means they'll have no choice but to get in the way of cars. Drivers won't be too happy about that.

Many cyclists will end up having to ride on the sidewalk. Neither pedestrians nor cyclists are going to be happy about that.

Wayne Bissky, the developer of this property, a 25-year resident of Maple Ridge, has a very strong desire to help Maple Ridge become less reliant on cars, and to make it more feasible to get around on foot and by bike. He says that if the standards for Brown Ave. included bike lanes, that's what he would have planned to build.  The Multi-modal Transportation Plan for the towncore, the cycling component of which has not been reviewed as part of the new 2014 Transportation Plan, does not call for bike lanes.

Council took a strong position that a solution will have to be found. It's so refreshing to see this Council take cyclists' concerns seriously. It's in the interest of anybody who drives, bikes or walks in and around town to make safe cycling part of the plan.

Another development proposal that concerns cyclists is on 123 Ave., at 207 Street. A 21 single family home development is proposed to be built between two tributaries of McKenney Creek.

Cycling along this narrow stretch of 123 Ave. is rather daunting, with cars speeding by and some giving cyclists very little space. According to the City's road standards it is considered "substandard", and the City can ask the developer to widen it as a condition of the development. At the public hearing, significant concerns were raised by residents of the area about the impact this development will have on the fish bearing creeks and the forested land, due to significantly reduced setbacks, as well as a potentially dangerous intersection being added to an already dangerous stretch of 123 Ave. Council asked staff to come up with possible solutions.

I'll be watching with great interest what happens with these two proposals. I think we just may be on a path to better cycling in the future.

See also my recent posts about the Brown Ave. proposal and the 123 Ave. proposal.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Development along 123 bike route: cyclists don't matter, again?

At the Council meeting on Nov 25 (starts at about 57 minute mark), the following development application was discussed by (outgoing) Council: 2013-041-RZ, 20738 123 Avenue. This is on the 123 bike route.
I sent the following e-mail to Council:
"At the Development Information Meeting on Dec. 11, 2013, one of the concerns raised [by Dave Rush, HUB MR/PM committee member] was:
"3. The existing 123 Avenue is narrow along the development site, which results in speeding and is a concern for cyclists."
This concern was (not) addressed in the staff report as follows:
"3. The Engineering Department is in support of maintaining the existing road right-of-way width on 123 Avenue although it is less that the standard for a collector road. A Development Variance Permit is required. The narrower road right-of-way is to reduce the impact on McKenney Creek, which has two tributaries that cross 123 Avenue in this location."
I appreciate that the reason for not widening 123 Ave. in this location is to reduce the impact on McKenney Creek. However, the substandard width means significant safety issues for cyclists (of all ages and abilities), especially as car traffic increases significantly in the coming years.
I would like to point out that 123 Ave. is not only a major corridor for car traffic, but it is also one of the few east-west corridors for cyclists. It is, in fact, the only east-west bike route north of Lougheed between Skillen and 206th Streets and as such cannot reasonably be avoided. The only other east-west neighbourhood bikeway is the 117th route south of Lougheed.
Here's the description of a neighbourhood bikeway (from the Maple Ridge Transportation Plan):
123 Ave. is not a local street, so actually it's not really a "neighbourhood bikeway". It's a major collector road (according to the Transportation Plan), so it is a "shared use lane". Traffic calming can not be used to slow traffic. As explained above, a "shared use lane" should be minimum 4.3 metres wide. The lane presently is too narrow for a shared use lane (I believe it's about 3.3 metres) - definitely too narrow for a car/truck to safely pass within the lane. That means that the safest thing for cyclists to do would be to "take the lane"  ride in the middle of the lane), to ensure that drivers can only pass by moving into the oncoming lane.
There are some problems with taking the lane:
  • a cyclist may or may not be allowed to do this (although ICBC and certified cycling instructors all over North America teach cyclists to take the lane in this situation, as to the legality of it the MVA is actually rather vague in this respect. Local RCMP officers may not allow it. I know at least one officer doesn't...I may actually get fined for it myself, as well as for "impeding traffic" if I decide to pursue a recent complaint against the driver of a tow truck who dangerously cut me off. This could very well happen to other cyclists here if the road width is not adequately increased); 
  • cyclists may or may not be required to take the lane in this case to ensure their own safety (again, the Motor Vehicle Act is not conclusive here, but I know a judge in one case decided that a cyclist was at fault for NOT taking the lane to ensure his own safety); other words: the cyclist can be found at fault in either case.
  • It is also a practice that many cyclists will not feel comfortable doing on a road like 123 Ave.
  • It is also a practice which tends to infuriate some drivers, possibly resulting in road rage and at least terrified cyclists, and potentially catastrophic consequences.

East-west traffic is expected to increase by 100% in west Maple Ridge over the next 20 years, and with that, potential conflict between cyclists and drivers will increase. We're not just planning for the present, we're planning for the future.
I believe it's important to adhere to the minimum road width of 4.3 metres in this case, to ensure adequate safety for cyclists and to reduce the very real potential for road rage."
Note that Coun. Bell and Coun. Masse brought up some of my concerns during the meeting. Coun. Bell asked about the actual impact that widening the road would have on the creek.
I think the development itself, the impact of the 21 homes, the road, parking and driveways that will be built as part of this development between the two creeks is way bigger than the widening of the road.
During this same meeting, Council approved a development of 91 1-acre luxury homes on pristine land with various creeks running through it north of Dewdney at 269th Street . Coun. Bell voted against. Why no concern from the rest of council about the impact on the environment in this case, and widening a short stretch of road to ensure the safety of cyclists cannot be done?

Staff report on this development application, dated November 17, 2014, can be found attached to the Council agenda of November 25 on page 190.
Several comments were received by Council from cyclists. Presentation by city planner Chuck Goddard starts at 32:00. Speakers comments start at 38:00.

Council meeting was right after public hearing on Dec. 9:
123 Ave. starts at 20:00. I'm really happy that Council is listening to cyclists' concerns! We'll have to wait and see what staff will bring back to council in January.

Another highrise planned for Brown Ave; let's plan for cycling now before it's too late!

An 18-storey tower is being planned for 22576 and 22588 Brown Avenue (just east of Edge St.), which is a designated bike route. The file # is 2013-019-RZ. There are several more towers planned for Brown. It is expected that, in another 5 years or so, a developer will move ahead with 5 more towers between Brown and Dewdney west of 224th. It looks like Brown will be a busy street!
Before the Council meeting on Nov. 25, I sent the following e-mail to Coun. Masse (and alerted Coun. Bell to this issue on facebook):
"From a cycling perspective I'm concerned about the towers and further densification planned for Brown Ave. This is a designated bike route, but no bike lanes are planned according to the recently adopted 20-year Transportation Plan.
There will be on-street parking, which can make on-road cycling rather challenging for the average cyclist as traffic increases. If at a later stage the decision is made to add bike lanes, will the street be wide enough to add bike lanes WITH A BUFFER between parked cars and bike lanes? Bike lanes in the door zones of cars are some of the most dangerous types of bicycle facilities.
It's important to plan for this now. Especially since cyclists don't have a whole lot of safe east-west options. Some day in the not too far future we won't be allowed anymore on the sidewalk either, which will further limit our options (it's just a matter of time. There is no doubt in my mind that'll happen).
I also mentioned the need for bike lanes in my e-mail to Council of November 10, 2013 regarding the other tower (2012-115-RZ): "Since Brown Ave. is a bike route, I expect that the Engineering Department will at some point be planning to add bike lanes, since over time, with increased density, traffic volumes will increase. Perhaps it may make sense to make added bike lanes part of the rezoning requirements for this development."
The present road design requires cyclists to take the lane. Definitely not AAA (all ages all abilities) infrastructure...I actually saw an artist's rendering attached to the staff report with a cyclist riding on the sidewalk...

See agenda November 25 Council meeting, staff report on page 144: 

Council discussion at the Council meeting of November 25, 2014, starts at about 48 minute mark:

This development is on the agenda for the public hearing on Dec. 9.

All that's planned for this road is some bike symbols to alert cars that they should expect bicycles on the road. I think we need to start setting our bar a little higher than that, if we ever want to be successful encouraging more people to bike for short trips in and around the town core. It's obvious that if this design is according to city standards, these standards are not adequate for a designated bike route on a high density street right in the town core. 

It would be much appreciated if you could send your comments to, or speak to Council at the public hearing on Dec. 9 (the meeting will start at 6 pm).

Great to hear that several e-mails were received by Council from cyclists! 
Presentation by city planner starts at about 2:25. 
Presentation by HUB committee Ivan Chow starts at 17:00. 

Council meeting right after public hearing on Dec. 9:
Brown Ave. starts at 3:00. Great to see strong support from most Council members!