It’s been four years now since Halifax passed its Blueprint for a Bicycle-Friendly HRM and progress has been, well, like riding a one-speed straight up Duke Street. That is to say, slow and painful. There’s a handful of bike lanes, curiously placed around the region with little-to-no continuity for practical, day-to-day cycling. There’s a bike map, which serves primarily to highlight the patchwork nature of any viable bike routes. And there are bike racks on the new MetroLink buses, although still no sign of a plan to get racks on the rest of Metro Transit’s growing fleet.
But councillor Sheila Fougere, cycling’s main proponent at city hall, is still optimistic. “Halifax is not a totally unfriendly cycling city,” says Fougere. “I know a lot of people feel that way because we don’t have bike lanes, but I would say there are a lot more people riding their bikes as commuters than there have been for a long time.” Of course, that doesn’t mean Fougere isn’t interested in seeing some improvement for her two-wheeled constituents. “I’m happy, but from now on I’m looking for more visible evidence of things like marked bike lanes and bike parking,” says Fougere. “A lot of the background work has been done. That’s really what’s taken up the last couple of years. Actual bicycle facilities are the next logical step.”
Roddy MacIntyre, the city’s transportation demand management coordinator, can’t say for sure what we can expect in terms of new infrastructure this season. Bike projects don’t stand alone in city budgets, they ride side-saddle to other roadwork priorities. Construction of a new bike lane or a paved shoulder depends first on the need for general roadway repaving or line painting projects. This explains the strange existence of things like the tiny stretch of marked bike lane coming out of the Bayers Lake Business Park heading up to the 102 overpass, or the sudden appearance and disappearance of a marked bike lane on Main Street in Dartmouth.
“When they give us a list of streets we compare it to the bike map or the active transportation map. We say, OK, well, this is one of the identified routes, so we’ll see what we can do,” says MacIntyre. Often what can get done is a tiny fraction of what’s needed to provide continuous routes for cyclists. The Bedford Highway is a perfect example. It’s extremely inaccessible from Halifax due to the troublesome Fairview overpass, and it’s a hair-raising route to cycle because of the road width and speed of traffic. The highway has been on the priority list for bike lanes since 2002, and last year finally saw some progress: about two kilometres of paved shoulders from Larry Uteck Drive to Southgate, done in conjunction with other road work. Unfortunately, for someone making the commute from Bedford, that’s really a drop in the proverbial bucket.
Despite the lack of progress in dedicated bike infrastructure, cyclists abound in Halifax. And there may be strength in numbers. According to statistics tracked by the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation, the city is becoming a safer place to cycle. In 2000, there were 100 reported accidents involving bikes in Metro. By 2004, that number had dropped to 64. Trouble is, the lion’s share of those accidents involved injuries, and in three cases over the past 5 years, fatalities.
But beyond the statistics, how do bikers see the city’s progress? The Coast decided to check in with eight different cyclists to get the view from behind the handlebars.
The long distance rider
Matt Reid is an avid recreational and long distance cyclist who’s on his bike most days in the spring, summer and fall. Several years ago Reid was seriously injured when a driver crossing Chebucto Road hit him from the side.
The farthest I’ve biked is to Truro in a day, and then the next day to New Glasgow. That was before my accident. The longest I’ve biked since then was out to Peggys Cove.
wasn’t related to infrastructure, it was just somebody failing to yield. I guess in a way people aren’t looking for cyclists. Obviously it’s a lot harder to miss seeing a car with headlights. I always thought it would be a good idea if cycling lessons were a part of getting a driver’s licence. That would be the thing to address the challenge that people have with each other, with the sort of motorists vs. cyclists mentality.
The bike cop
Joe Fougere is one of two bike cops patrolling downtown Dartmouth and Halifax on cycle since October, but he’s not new to the experience. Fougere was part of Halifax’s original bike patrol team from 1989-1992, and after that often opted to use a bike for his regular beat. Halifax beat cops have the option of riding instead of walking their beat. On a given day, there could be as many as five police officers cycling around the city.
Last year we started the separate bike detail, so we biked all winter long. Part of our mandate, since we’re on cycles, is to try to enforce cycling laws, but we enforce everything. We can do the same as anyone in a car, and we’re environmentally friendly and a lot cheaper.
There’s been a couple of times I’ve approached vehicles and told people to pull over and they don’t realize I’m a police officer. And before I have a chance to tell them, they tell me to bugger off or something. It’s kind of funny when that happens.
Eric Southey is on his bike just about every day, either riding with his 9-year-old son to school, BMXing at the Common bowl, trail riding or simply getting around town. Southey has a long list of injuries acquired over the years. He’s been doored once, swerved into twice and tumbled down a flight of stairs on his BMX.
Barrington and Spring Garden are two streets that suck, but I still ride them. I wind up spending half my time on the sidewalk, and even then, I swerve on and off. A lot of it is the BMX mentality, where it’s a small bike and you jump a lot, so nothing is an obstacle. But I feel bad for people on road bikes on those streets.
The drivers are crazy here. You’ve still got drivers on the road who got their licences from gas stations. It’s a small city, so you can get away with a little more slack on paying attention. There’s a lot less checking blind spots. Just the basics, I find, don’t happen as much here.
Michael Kryzalka-Neumaier has been a bike courier in Halifax for three years. As if working full time on a bike in the downtown core isn’t challenging enough, Kryzalka rides a fixed gear bike, with a single speed direct drive and no manual brake, controlling his speed directly with his pedals.
Pretty much 8:30am-5:30pm I’m obligated to be on the road for work. And then even after work, I’m still biking around. The only thing that has really stopped me is when HRM shuts down the city. Riding around downtown, conditions are pretty terrible. I’ve done a lot of damage to my bike that isn’t necessary. Cracks, potholes, raised drain pipes and storm grates that are parallel to the road…I’ve sunk into those and just gone ass over teakettle.
There aren’t really enough bike lanes. It would take a lot of time to do it, but it would just be a matter of finding which streets are already wide enough. And they could remove some of the areas where they allow cars to park during the day and free up some of that space.
Thea Meeson grew up cycling, and wants her kids to as well. Meeson used to transport her kids in a bike trailer, but now even her youngest daughter insists on riding her own bike (with training wheels) along the sidewalk beside her mom.
It’s quite amusing, Sometimes there will be three girls biking, myself and my dog running alongside us. We have a specific route we take to school, along side streets. I want them to know how to feel comfortable and confident on the road on a bike. It’s such a wonderful freedom to be able to get places. The exciting thing is that the older my kids get the less I will rely on the vehicle. I can commute them on bike versus having to use my car.
We need promotion, education and encouragement. It took us almost a year to get a bike rack at my daughter’s school. The school board does not provide them, so we had to find one. Even corporate buildings should have bike racks.
The career commuter
Jack Godfrey has been commuting by bicycle for 30 years. He’s had a few accidents over the years, mostly due to evening visibility problems. To make his 17-kilometre, round-trip commute safer and easier, Godfrey relies on a well-planned route to reduce traffic and avoid hills.
There are more people biking now than there were 30 years ago. To exaggerate a little bit, I was pretty much it, biking to work in the mid-’70s. Now I’m seeing men and women and the age range is all over the place. The big change for me is the bike lane on the bridge. Also, more bike racks.
Expanding bike racks on buses would be a good thing. Because then, if it’s late at night or terrible weather, at least you can get your bike home. And just more bike racks around town, where you can easily secure your bike and go do whatever you need to do. A friend showed me a bike parking lot in Europe, with hundreds, if not thousands, of bikes at the train station or ferry dock. It will be nice when it gets that way here.
The civil servant
Roxanne MacInnis is HRM’s Transportation Demand Management (TDM) planner, which puts her in charge of things like the city’s new Active Transportation Plan. MacInnis rides recreationally a few times a week during the summer, but drives to work from her home in Tantallon. (Her heroic husband sometimes makes the 70-kilometre round-trip commute by bicycle.)
I live way too far out to commute. But we do have stuff within biking distance—a library, a community centre and a plaza. And if it wasn’t off of Hammonds Plains Road, it would even be a doable distance for the kids to bike to school. But they would have to cross the overpass, and Hammonds Plains Road is really busy for kids.
What’s best for me is the trails—the rails to trails, the BLT and stuff like that. I think they can be really good not only recreational routes, but commuter routes once we have them finished.
The reluctant cyclist
Krise Jones-Quinlan cycles for fun on HRM’s regional trails, like the Beechside-Lakeside-Timberlea (BLT) trail and the Atlantic View trail in Lawrencetown. But when it comes to commuting and getting around the city, she opts for the slower but safer Metro Transit.
I wouldn’t dare cycle in the city. There’s no place to cycle. I don’t think the roads are wide enough and I’m not comfortable. If there were bike paths, I would definitely ride to work. I think more people would be apt to use bikes if there were safer routes.
Multi-use paths are the ideal, but we also need social marketing to protect the cyclists that are already out there. If the public was made more aware of the fact that this is a great thing…. People in cars should be saying, “Hey, that’s great, he’s using a safe form of transportation. Clean air! Give him some room on the road.”