I've been a resident of North Vancouver for a little over a month now. I spend a lot of time up in the mountains on my bike, and despite the risk of injury from riding off-road, it feels much safer than urban cycling in many instances. Last night after another fun mountain bike ride, I decided to extend my ride and take a cycle tour to see how the District and City of North Vancouver cycle network holds up.
The trails on Mt Fromme are world famous in mountain biking circles, they are a big part of what brought me to Canada and why I moved to North Vancouver. Many of my friends also immigrated here for the same reasons. One example of cycling facilities attracting tourism dollars and in many cases resulting in new tax paying residents.
Anyway, onto the more serious business of urban cycling facilities. The joy of being so close to the off-road trails living in Lynn Valley is soon replaced with terror as you try to find a way out! I joke somewhat, I consider my self reasonably confident on the road, but there were several times where cars passed too close! For less confident cyclists, I imagine they just wouldn't bother! There are basically two choices to cross Highway 1, Lynn Valley Road or Mountain Highway. Below is the Lynn Valley Road bike route, it looks like there is reasonable space here but many cars pass extremely close.
As we approach the Highway, things get worse. To stay on Lynn Valley Road you have to merge across into the narrow outside lane as we see these cyclists doing below (or use the sidewalk). Notice the space is not sufficient even for sharrow markings in the curb lane below.
Now granted I don't travel along Lynn Valley Road during the peak times but I'm not convinced of the need for this to have two lanes in either direction. I rarely see significant volume on this or Mountain Highway.
After passing under Highway 1, and crossing from the District of North Vancouver to the City of North Vancouver we can breathe a momentary sigh of relief as we are treated to a short painted bike lane on Boulevard Crescent. This feels like heaven in comparison to the efforts to get there and you can ride in a relatively relaxed manner.
Upon reaching 19th Street a short while later, you are forced to share the right turn lane with vehicles, if you stay on the road along Grand Boulevard you are faced with sharing a very narrow lane with vehicles.
I've done that a few times before so I took a detour onto the gravel trail along Grand Boulevard which is a much more pleasant experience, although maybe less so on a bike with skinny tires. The marked crossings at 15th St and 13th St allow for smooth progress and generally priority over observant drivers. I'm unclear why these same crossings haven't been installed at 9th St, 11th St and 17th St. Where on a bicycle in particular you must bump up and down the raised curbs. Hopefully the City will remedy this in the near future.
I turned down 13th St where I had heard about the City's new buffered bike lanes. As you turn off Grand Boulevard, the length of 13th St is signed as a bike route but there is very little accommodation other than relatively low traffic volumes and the very occasional painted bike symbol.
However, on approach to Lonsdale Avenue we come across the buffered bike lane on the westbound side. The comfort this offers, having even just a small amount of painted space between the vehicle lane and the bike lane is I feel quite significant step up from the traditional bike lane with very little space required.
On the eastbound side the bike lane is buffered (with a door zone) and protected by parked cars. This is definitely a significant step up from even the buffered bike lane, and the general feeling is that of safety with the though of passing vehicles not even entering my mind. The only problem with both the above sections is that they are currently so short! Hopefully the City has plans to expand upon these in the near future.
Moving on, I continued west. Passing Lonsdale Avenue there are essentially sharrows, but the live on a green painted lane in the middle of the travel lane. This certainly makes the lane appear more orientated towards cyclists and again a step up above conventional sharrows.
I turned onto Chesterfield Avenue, a designed cycle route which was a tale of two bike facilities, the upper part offers no cycle facilities and cyclists must negotiate parked vehicles, while further south there are formal bike lanes and again, you have a feeling like that is your peice of the roadway and you have a right to be there.
Part of the benefits of cycling over taking the car, you can stop and take in the view.
Heading back to Lynn Valley I checked out the Spirit Trail, A lot of this is relatively new and part of the Low Level Road construction project, which itself I believe was to move Low Level Road north to provide additional rail capacity on the North Shore.
The Spirit Trail is a segregated multi-use paved trail offering safe routes for east-west trips. In the image below you will see there are still on-street bike lanes for those who prefer, with green paint indicating cyclist priority at the conflict zones. Most crossings along the Spirit Trail also feature the unique circular markings shown below, helping to make drivers aware of the crossing and give the trail some identity.
It is often said that pedestrian and cyclist bridges are a sign of poor urban design, design focused on the automobile, and show a lack of consideration for pedestrians and cyclists in the original planning process. In this instance, the bridge over 3rd St seems like a pretty natural flow and works well in my opinion.
Besides, I think cyclists have the better deal here, drivers seem to have a tough time getting onto the North Shore in the morning and getting off it in the evening. Image below shows the lineup of vehicles merging at 3rd St. and Low Level Road intersection and heading for the Second Narrows Bridge, rather them than me! Also note the green painted conflict points in the westbound bike lane.
After riding back up 3rd St, it's eaither that or Mountain Highway, neither is an attractive option in terms of grade, it time to take a break on Grand Boulevard and enjoy the sun.
Heading back towards the highway and the bike lane to nowhere, I figured the safest option is to move onto the sidewalk and cut across into the curb lane.
Heading back under Highway 1, three westbound lane for vehicles, not a single thing for cyclists.
Travelling back along Lynn Valley Road, this section although a bike route has no markings as it is not sufficiently wide enough to technically be a shared lane I assume, its difficult to see from the photo below, but the road widens slightly and we are back to the sharrow markings, it still feels like drivers are travelling to close as they pass and definitely not 8-80 compliant! That is, its safe enough for your 8 year old child and for your 80 year older grandparents.
And back to where I started, as an impromptu performance is starting in Lynn Valley Town Centre.
In conclusion, I wished there was a safe route in and out of Lynn Valley by bicycle, something that is 8-80 compliant. In terms of infrastructure sampled along this ride, no surprises, shared lanes do not feel safe, even a paint stripe provides a sense of having your own space that vehicles are not allowed to enter, providing a painted buffer to that space makes it feel safer yet. Protecting that space, whether it be planters or parked cars offers a truly segregated space where cyclists can forget about vehicles entirely. We need more of these facilities everywhere if we are to get more people cycling.