Saturday, January 31, 2015

Column Maple Ridge News: Bike centre makes it easy to ride

My latest column in the Maple Ridge News of Jan. 31, 2015 is about Vancouver General Hospital's Cycling Centre.

Here's the unedited version with some photos (the link to the actual column is added below):

I often wonder why health authorities and cities are not more actively working together to encourage and promote active transportation, since the benefits of active transportation, both to individuals and to society as a whole, are overwhelmingly clear.
Where cities provide safe and convenient alternatives to the car,  individuals tend to be healthier and happier. That means huge savings to the health care system. More people walking and biking leads to lower health care costs both through a reduction in diseases related to a sedentary lifestyle and through a reduction in car crashes resulting in severe injury or death. Physically active employees also tend to be more productive employees.
Sometimes, the health authorities get it. Last Summer, hubbie Ivan (chair of our HUB committee) and I were given a private tour of Vancouver General Hospital's brand new, state-of-the-art Cycling Center. Our guide was Arthur Orsini, VGH's Active Transportation Facilitator. The Cycling Centre, which offers secure bike parking for hospital employees, is the brain child of VGH's HR Manager Kevin MacDuff, who also joined us.
VGH's state-of-the-art Cycling Centre
After extensive consultation with cycling employees, the old laundry building was converted into a bike parking area with space for 182 bikes. A significant amount of thought and effort went into designing, equiping as well as marketing the facility.
Arthur and the bike lockers
The Cycling Center offers showers, and lockers that are well ventilated, so that wet rain gear is dry by the end of the employee's shift. Bike tools, bike stands and pumps are available for needed maintenance or repairs. For those leaving the Cycling Center late at night, a monitor by the door helps to make sure that no creeps are waiting right outside the door.
The monitor by the door offers extra security for cyclists leaving late at night
Some finishing touches have proven to be quite popular. Any cyclist knows how handy it is to have some tissue at hand after a ride, especially on a cold day. A box of Kleenex is strategically positioned by the door. The bike lock storage rack is useful too; you don't need to carry a heavy lock back and forth between home and work.
Free monthly workshops are held for employees, such as a Streetwise Cycling Course and various bike mechanics workshops by HUB, bike yoga, as well as bike festivals and social gatherings. Arthur mentioned that one doctor who participated with the mechanics workshop afterwards proudly mentioned to him that she had successfully changed her tube.
Arthur plans to start with a buddy program this Spring, which partners a beginning cyclist with a more experienced one living in the same area, to help build some confidence and learn routes.
The low membership fees are flexible and cover the maintenance and operation of the facility. 
The Center now has over 180 members. Actual usage goes up and down, mainly depending on weather conditions. Last summer, 55 members were using the facility on a daily basis. The majority of hospital employees are female, which is reflected in the majority of users being women. We spoke with several of  them.
Melanie, who bikes from UBC to the hospital, loves the Cycling Center. She said she used the outdoor bike cage before, but didn't feel it was all that safe. Sometimes bikes got stolen from it. She had to pay for a membership to the gym to take a shower. She said the lockers in the new facility are great, because by the time you've finished your shift, your bike outfit is all dry and ready to go. It's also nice to be able to leave all your stuff overnight.
Elinor, a nurse, loves the feeling of community at the Cycling Center. She has a coordinating function, and hers is more of a desk job, so the exercise that her 20-minute commute provides is very welcome.
Elinor, ready for and looking forward to her trip home
Meilan, a business analyst admin, lives by Stanley Park. She appreciates the convenience of being able to change into her work clothes at the facility. She started biking, three times a week, soon after the Cycling Center opened. She used to only bike in the winter because of lack of shower facilities.
As companies and health authorities clue in to the many benefits of catering to and even pampering cyclists, hopefully more end-of-trip facilities such as the VGH Cycling Center will start popping up.

The link to the column: 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Update development proposal 20738 123 Avenue; 2013-041-RZ

This proposal is on the agenda for tomorrow's Council of the Whole meeting. The developer proposes to let less confident cyclists use the sidewalk as a solution to the dangerously narrow road, instead of widening of the road as a condition of this development application, which is what HUB would like to see happen.

I just sent the following e-mail to Mayor and Council:

Our HUB committee does not agree with the suggestion of the developer to officially designate the sidewalk as a multi-use facility for pedestrians and somewhat less "strong and fearless" cyclists. Even if some cyclists prefer to use the sidewalk in this area, many cyclists would rather avoid the sidewalk. But the narrow road does present significant challenges and should be widened as well as traffic-calmed.

Maple Ridge is one of perhaps only a handful of cities that has the dubious distinction to allow cycling on the sidewalk. I've heard that New Westminster allows cycling on the sidewalk only on some streets. I don't know of any others that do. Pedestrians and cyclists are generally not a good mix in urban areas. On urban streets with frequent pedestrian traffic, even if only during certain times of the day (e.g. on streets with schools), providing shared facilities for cyclists and pedestrians is not a good idea. It's also important to look ahead. In areas where densification and increased traffic is expected in the future, and on school routes, we should not mix cyclists and pedestrians on sidewalks.  

Dave Rush, an avid cyclist, who served as a member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee for quite a few years, and also acted as its Chair, and is one of the original founders and continues to be a member of our local HUB committee, provided this comment: "I ride through the 123 dip at least 10x per week and it is not for the faint of heart. It is just a matter of time before there is a head-on collision from a car going around a cyclist or a serious injury to a cyclist. There was a near fatal accident involving a scooter here about 2 years ago.
How the cycling issue is dealt with will be an excellent indicator of MR's desire to make it a cycling friendly community. Dave Rush"

Paul Scanlon, another experienced cyclist who has also sat on the BAC for several years and is presently still listed as a member, was one of the two people who did the assessment rides for this area in 2011, which was a joint effort of HUB Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows and the Bicycle Advisory Committee:"I believe you are talking about the hollow area on 123Ave that crosses the bush area at the bottom of the hill.  I agree that that area is a very hairy area to ride and already makes me nervous every time I ride it due to cars going by too fast and too close. Paul"

Our HUB Committee Chair, Ivan Chow: "Engineering at City Hall needs to take leadership in putting in proper infrastructure for cycling when there is an opportunity and not take the easy way out by just telling the cyclists to go on the sidewalk, in the process creating another set of conflicts with pedestrians and resulting in more calls for getting cyclists off the sidewalks".

Another one of our members, Tracey Eide, commented that it was her understanding that this Council wants to do away with sidewalk cycling and that Mayor Reid would be in favour of a Complete Streets program and that the rest of Council will be with her on that.

I would like to comment myself on the multi-use sidewalk along 122nd Ave (by Maple Ridge Secondary School), as I suspect that the intention of the Engineering Department to "redesign" 123 Ave. will probably lead to a similar design. When I bike along 122nd Ave., I hardly ever use the "multi-use" sidewalk. It slows you down significantly, since you really need to slow down and pay more attention at every intersection where you cross, as well as driveways, especially when you're going in the "wrong" direction (which is legal by the way where cycling on the sidewalk is allowed). When pedestrians walk in front of you, they never walk on the side, but always in the middle. If there are several people walking together, they'll block the entire width of the sidewalk. I find it more convenient and pleasant to ride on the road, which is faster, you can ride in a straighter line, you don't bother pedestrians and they don't bother you, and it's easier for drivers to see you. I might ride on the sidewalk and slow down to a crawl as needed to deal with all the pedestrian traffic during school start and finish times when the car traffic on the road is very busy. I consider myself an "enthused and confident" cyclist, to a point. I still don't feel that comfortable among cars driven by impatient parents picking up or dropping off kids at school. At any other time of the day, though, I ride on the road. 

"Accommodating" cyclists should be more about truly accommodatingcyclists than just about getting cyclists out of the way of cars. The goal should be to increase cycling participation. The main reasons why people choose to bike in successful cycling cities are that it's fast, convenient and safe. There's nothing fast and convenient about cycling on the sidewalk. Pedestrians don't like us to be there either. There are also significant concerns about safety at intersections and driveways (as I mentioned above), since drivers generally do not expect cyclists on the sidewalk, especially going in the wrong direction. People will bike on the sidewalk if they have to out of concern for their safety, but many will probably choose to drive or be driven instead if they are able to make that choice.

As to the feasibility of moving the sidewalk and widening the road: according to Dave Rush, who is a civil engineer, this is quite doable. He estimates the cost should be about $300,000.

Unfortunately I only had less than two days to consult with other cyclists, and I've only been able to get feedback from some on our committee, and I believe some people provided feedback directly to you as a result of a post on facebook which was 'seen' by 19 people as of time of sending this e-mail.

Thank you for your consideration of our comments.