The upside to cycling in Halifax is that drivers are so scared and confused by bikes, they cut you a wide swath. The con: a lack of infrastructure. Bike lanes are few and scattered, and there's almost no designated bike parking.
When I bike downtown to a meeting and have to wander the block looking for a parking meter to lock to, it makes me cranky. Steve Bedard, co-chair of the Halifax Cycling Committee, sympathizes with my plight. "It's a barrier to biking to work," he says. "If you're in for a typical eight- to 12-hour workday, downtown Halifax doesn't offer the volume and safety of parking options."
And so we see bikes locked pell-mell to trees, handrails and stop signs.
The Halifax Regional Municipality hasn't prioritized cycling. As a result we have only one staff person responsible for cycling issues, and it's only part of her job. That person is Hanita Koblents, a transportation-demand management coordinator, and a passionate cyclist making a heroic effort.
Koblents agrees with my assessment of bike parking in the city. "There's a lot that can be done," she says. A couple years ago she started buying bike racks and planning locations for them, but when she went on maternity leave the city didn't replace her. The racks sat in storage for a year.
She's back in action now and has plenty of ideas. From the time she took the job, Koblents realized that she needed to promote bike parking to businesses. Most business owners don't realize that bike racks are provided by the city on request. That information is now available in the cycling section of halifax.ca. With a slightly bigger investment, other media could take the message a lot further.
Koblents is busy identifying ideal locations for bike racks downtown and in business areas like Quinpool Road. The Quinpool streetscaping plan hit a hitch when the feds rejected it for funding, but Koblents struck a cost-sharing deal with HRM's streetscape coordinator, and promises there will soon be "plenty of high-quality, stainless steel bike racks" on Quinpool.
Her plans for downtown, on the other hand, are "held up by my workload. I'd love to a do a survey of biking needs downtown." Barrington Street, a veritable dead zone for cyclists looking to lock up, presents unique challenges. The narrow sidewalks and rules about pedestrian accessibility to shops leave little room for bike racks.
"And we're not to interfere with bus stops, parked cars and loading zones." Cyclists take a back seat. Again.
In January the Halifax Cycling Coalition conducted a survey about the best and worst bike parking spots in Halifax. The big loser was the Halifax Ferry Terminal. Steve Bedard says the results show an opportunity to make the ferry terminal a hub for a healthy mix of walking, cycling and public transit.
When HCC released its survey results, Koblents called Bedard. "She asked what they could do about the situation," Bedard recalls. Koblents is still planning a site visit, but hopes to replace and relocate the low-grade bike rack.
In recent months, much of Koblents' time has been focused on Bike Week planning. As in past years, the event will provide cyclists with some overdue pampering: valet parking. "We want to encourage people to take alternative transportation to special events like concerts and the Tall Ships," Koblents says.
To do so, secure bike parking, en masse, is provided on a temporary basis. Koblents is experimenting with two kinds of bike racks---a massive "glorified sawhorse" and individual stands that lock the bike in an upright position---that can be moved from site to site. They can be staffed by a non-profit organization charging nominal fees as a fundraiser.
Valet parking for cyclists---talk about a pro-cycling Bizarro World! But to create that world beyond Bike Week, Koblents could really use help. She's excited to be hiring an environmental science student with a community design background for eight hours a week in September.
Bedard thinks the full flip in cyclists' favour will take more time. "Trends move west to east," he says. "Biking is huge in Vancouver and Victoria, and we're late picking up on it."
Hopefully HRM won't wait too long to catch on, because when it comes to cycling infrastructure, a small investment goes a long way.