How many cities would love to be in the position of Victoria, BC, when it comes to encouraging alternative transportation, especially cycling? The city already enjoys the highest bike ridership in Canada and is poised to improve on that status.
The west coast Canadian city benefits from a mild climate that encourages year-round cycling. The city core is situated on the tip of Vancouver Island, where surrounding seas have prevented the easy sprawl that strings out cities on open plains. Some key pieces of infrastructure, including a 60 km trail converted from former rail use, are in place. A cycling culture is evident in the active Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, the proliferation of excellent bike shops, and popular cycling events.
A major tourist destination already, Victoria could position itself to capture a wave of interest in active, low-impact, vacations by becoming even more of a biking-friendly city. A recent, gushing review of the destination in SF Gate shows how attractive Victoria can be to visitors on two wheels.
Now, the city is launching a update of its bike plan, which was last updated in 1995. The question is: will Victoria be bold and become a place where cycling becomes a natural, rather than an ‘alternative’ transportation mode? Will the community see its economic opportunity? Or will it settle for modest tweaks that fail to capitalize on local strengths and world-wide changes?
A demographic transformation is underway in North America. Younger people are driving cars less while walking, cycling and taking transit more. At the same time, vehicle congestion in Greater Victoria, surrounded by water, cannot be solved by building more lanes, overhead viaducts and wider intersections. Larger cities have gone down that route and discovered it’s a dead end.
If Victoria can entice another 10% of travelers to cycle, the community will achieve a massive reduction in congestion. Less vehicle congestion is a win for everyone on city streets.
The new bike plan needs to work for all our uses of the road. Like many Victorians, I walk (most of the time), cycle, drive and use transit depending on the situation. Whatever means of travel I choose, I want predictability. If we know what each car, bike, pedestrian and bus is likely to do on the street we can choose safe options to accommodate one another.
Whether I am driving a car or riding a bike, I feel much safer about what might happen if bikes and cars have clear, separated, spaces. I don’t like surprises or collisions – and I know other travelers feel the same.
Victoria currently enjoys a good infrastructure for cars and walkers, a mediocre infrastructure for transit, and a decent-to-downright-dangerous infrastructure for daily cycling.
In cities where cycling has grown beyond the road warriors who will cycle in almost all conditions, it is thanks to a cycling infrastructure (think separated lanes, dedicated signals, secure and ample storage spaces) that makes it inviting, safe and normal for everyday citizens to hop on the bike and head to and from their daily activities.
Victoria has an opportunity to become known as one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities. What if the many visitors who arrive by ferry and cruise ship had the option of jumping on easy-to-use bikes and using dedicated cycle tracks to tour the area, instead of traditional tour buses?
What if the region encouraged pop-up local retail kiosks on its lovely meandering trails? What if it was faster and safer to cycle to a downtown store than it is to drive out to a suburban big box? What if bikes had priority lanes and parking spaces at local schools? What if every new downtown building had ground level secure bike parking?
The 2014 City of Victoria Bike Plan is an immense opportunity for Canada’s island urban gem to reposition itself for a new era.
Award-winning urban engagement consultant Lorne Daniel lives in Victoria, B.C.