Yesterday we decided to go for a ride to a new(ish) pizza place on Hastings in Burnaby. Sopro Sotto if you're interested, great pizza! But this is a tale of comfort (or rather discomfort), level of stress, and and unfortunately coming home to the news a that someone riding their bike had been killed by an errant driver. Could this have been prevented, could safer infrastructure have saved a life?
Does the image below look like a 60 km/h roadway or a highway? Would you feel comfortable cycling alongside traffic either freewheeling down the hill or accelerating up it? Hold that thought.
It was a really nice day weather wise, so we decided to work up an appetite and head past the pizza place, through downtown Vancouver, back over the north shore, quick stop at the megabench, and then we should plenty hungry for pizza.
the route started through Burnaby Mountain Park, I always take this route to and from work every day to avoid the discomfort of Gaglardi Way or Burnaby Mountain Parkway. I'll take my chances with an aggressive bear (one swiped at some picknickers last week) over a distracted/speeding/drunk driver (delete or don't as applicable). From there I take the sidewalk down to the pedestrian signal, onto Curtis, and then the Francis/Union neighbourhood bikeway and Adanac neighbourhood bikeway. Mostly comfortable and stress free, other than the odd driver trying to squeeze by, but relatively low speed.
Reaching downtown we take the viaduct (Concrete barrier protected bike lane - very comfortable) to Dunsmuir and Hornby protected bike lanes (planter protected - also very comfortable), then do a bit of the seawall (less comfortable due to number of stray pedestrians, but no risk to life) , take the Lions Gate Bridge (mostly comfortable, except those bumps at the expansion joints) and come back via the Spirit Trail (very comfortable - not many pedestrians), all stress free, until we get to Main Street in North Vancouver, a very short section of bike lane, which is noisy, where cars seem to want to stick closer to the bike lane than the left of their lane, just a completely different and less comfortable experience. We duck out onto the parallel street as we pass Cove Bikes and from their hit the Ironworkers Bridge. I forgot how unpleasant that is, yes its separated and safe, but the volume of traffic and noise isn't the nicest experience.
From there we take some local roads just north of Hastings, and some big hill climbs to work up the rest of our appetite, and we arrive at our destination, Sopro Sotta. We leave there and head back to the Frances neighbourhood bikeway, all good! FYI, this is my usual commute from here back, I was on my regular bike, not the e-bike this time. This must be what superman feels like when he loses his powers. The rest of the ride, I never thought about it, but when riding something I ride most days on the e-bike, you can't help but feel how much slower and how much harder it is. At first I thought my brakes were dragging, but I think it was just gravity.
Anyway we avoid the steep hill on Curtis, turn left on Duthie and take the still steep but more gradual incline on Burnaby Mountain Parkway. Just like Gaglardi Way, we have two wide vehicle lanes and a painted bike lane, cars are mostly doing much more than the 60 km/h speed limit, again, its not comfortable. We jump up onto the sidewalk, few people rarely walk there, and the separation with curb and about 2 metres of grass boulevard feels immediately more comfortable. I'll take my safety over the legality of cycling on an empty sidewalk.
We cross at the same lights, ride the sidewalk up to the Burnaby Mountain Park road, and take the gravel trail from half way up there, debating with my wife the merits of the faster smoother on-road route compared with steeper gravel trails and chance of wildlife encounters. Again, i'll take my chances with wildlife over a distracted driver.
We get back onto the road at the top, loop around to Nesters grocery store and see University High Street taped off, one car sitting there, police examining it and taking photos. I grabbed a few things from the store and asked the checkout person what happened, she heard a drunk driver had hit a cyclist. I assumed it happened there at the scene.
Looking at the news when we got home, sadly that was the case, but it happened many kilometres to the south on Gaglardi Way, the driver then fled the scene and I guess was apprehended at the top of the mountain. A sad end to the day for us, but the end of a persons life! RIP!
What can be done? Or what needs to be done? There are all sorts of cultural issues that could be at play, whether distracted, drunk, or speeding that demonstrate a lack of respect for the rules of the road. But people will always break the rules. We need infrastructure that prevents deaths when those accidents do occur, call it safe systems or vision zero, we need to separate and protect vulnerable road users. Let's look at the brand new British Columbia Active Transportation Design Guideline Facility Selection Guide below to see what safe infrastructure for active transportation might look like on this road. Above 50 km/h, protected bike lanes or multi-use pathways are recommended.
Gaglardi Way has a 60 km/h speed limit, but the steep grade, and runway like appearance mean drivers rarely do that, it feels like a highway, and many people drive like it is a highway. Two wide travel lanes, a painted median, painted bike lanes. It's one big expanse of asphalt with little consequence for the driver if you make a minor mistake. A minor mistake for a driver though can be a fatal mistake for a person on a bike.
It's never comfortable on a bike, painted bike lanes provide no protection, and I never ride there anymore. I take the slower more comfortable routes through the trails. The graphic below shows the preferred protected bike lane design, its wide enough for passing (important on grades where people have different abilities and as e-bikes become more popular) or side-by-side conversational cycling with a friend. There is a physical curb which might not prevent a driver entering the bike lane, but will sure focus their attention more than a paint line.
Of course the buffer space can be supplemented with various barrier treatments as shown below. Personally on a road with speeds frequently reaching 80+ km/h, I'll take the concrete barrier every time. Something that will greatly reduce the likelihood of vehicles entering the bike lane.
Gaglardi Way appears to be about 18 metres from curb to curb. With minimal construction and to reduce costs, a lane would have to removed to make space for protection. It's easy for drivers to reach the posted speed downhill, while buses struggle uphill, so it makes sense, if going with this approach to keep two lanes up hill and one downhill. Would it really be that much of an inconvenience to drivers to be stuck behind someone obeying the posted speed going downhill? It might look something like this in cross-section below.
If it looks familiar, that's because its very close to the vehicle area cross-section down the other side of Burnaby Mountain (Burnaby Mountain Parkway) and people seem to manage just fine here with one lane downhill. What are our priorities? Safety or letting driver pass downhill where most already exceed the posted speed?
The west side of the mountain (above) could also do with safe cycling facilities. With less road width to work with, it would require some new construction, but there is what appears to be an existing but overgrown gravel trail bed to the right in this image. A simple multi-use path over the top of it would connect well with the paths above the traffic signals, then the existing sidewalks could be widened and repurposed for active modes.