Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A first look at Whitehorse's Newest (and Last?) Bike Lanes

After a summer of work, the entire length of the rebuilt portion of 6th Avenue downtown has opened back up.  It was rebuilt from Ogilvie Street at the north end to Jarvis Street at the south.  Folks may remember that this section of 6th Ave had a lot of potholes, gravel boulevards, no curbs and sidewalk only on one side.

But now the rebuilt 6-block long section of street has been developed as a "Complete Street", that means it is supposed to be inclusive of all road users, not just cars.  It has sidewalks on both sides, BIKE LANES and two car travel lanes.  The City of Whitehorse consulted with  Whitehorse Urban Cycling Coalition (WUCC) in the design of the street back in 2016.  At that time, the Coalition felt that 6th Ave was not the priority for a major investment in cycling infrastructure and as such was supportive of use of basic bike lanes on the street.  From the looks of the completed project, the City pretty much fully implemented the
recommendations of the Coalition at that time.

But why might these be the last new bike lanes in Whitehorse?  In 2018 the City, at the urging of WUCC, developed the Bicycle Network Plan.  This is a long-range planning document that envisions a fully connected cycling network for the City.  A key component is the adoption of a more contemporary approach to cycling infrastructure:  recognizing that cyclists of All Ages and Abilities need separated, safe cycling spaces when road speeds exceed 30 km/hr.  Under such a model (which is adopted by progressive cycling communities and countries), on-road bike lanes are not used because they recognize the incompatibility of high-speed motor vehicles and an inclusive view of cycling.  The Whitehorse Bicycle Network Plan largely recommends a network of "protected cycleways" and separated cycle spaces.  So, if implemented as planned, there are unlikely to be any new un-protected cycling spaces (aka "bike lanes")
Note disconnected nature of bike infrastructure today.
Proposed Bicycle Network for downtown Whitehorse (from Bicycle Network Plan)

None the less, it is always great to have new cycling infrastructure, so let's take a look:

The bike lanes are a full 1.5 m wide, which is wider than some of the older bike lanes in town, such as Lewes Blvd or 4th Ave north of Ogilvie.  The bike lanes appear to be demarked according to the current Canadian standards (which are okay, but certainly not to the progressive standards such as used in Netherlands and other cycle-leader countries).  This includes the cycle symbol painted on the roadway on either side of every intersection and signage noting the bike lane at every intersection.  The bike symbol itself is in a raised "paint" that is quite rough to ride over.  I wonder how these marking will survive winter plowing?  The lines-marking lines themselves are recessed into the asphalt, such as what was done on the south half of 4th Ave, so hopefully they will last longer.

The roadway was designed to slow motor vehicles and make the road more community friendly.  Of course, this includes the roundabout* at Black Street.  The re-build has "tightened" the turning through the roundabout, so it does slow you down to drive a motor vehicle through it.  Interestingly, the bike lane itself goes almost straight through the roundabout, making it pretty easy to ride through (single file as the sign says!)

Other elements to "slow" motorists down include:
  • Parallel parking along the street (parking spots are 2.4 m wide plus an extra 0.6 m as a "door zone" to reduce risk of door-ing on the bike lane; parallel parking is good because it causes motorists to be more alert and cautious)
  • Note space between parked car and bike lane to help reduce risk of "door-ing"
  • Curb extensions at intersections to narrow the roadway, making a shorter crossing distance for pedestrians; and
  • Narrow travel lanes, only 3.0 m wide, which makes the road feel "skinny".  Again it will be interesting to see what happens in the winter.

So that is the good, but what are learning for improvement for the next project?

End of bike lane at Jarvis St.
  • Well, it is a bike lane. As I discussed above, that is a bit of an antiquated type of cycle infrastructure now;
  • It is a bike lane from nowhere to nowhere.  It is not connected to a bike network (as is currently the problem with almost all of our City's bike infrastructure), at least for now.  At minimum it would be good if the bike lanes stripes could be extended southward past Main Street to the south end of 6th Ave at Lambert St. (I think that is a reasonable ask of the City); and
  • Lip at curb-cuts makes for some unnecessarily rough riding. 
  • All of the curb-cuts (where the curb drops down, for example at ally-way entries) have a terrible inch-high "lip" that makes for an unnecessary hard bump/hit on your bike when you roll over them. I don't know why they didn't make them smooth like their accessible curb-cuts at cross walks.  Perhaps this is something we can get the City to address in their Servicing Standards for future project.  

Go for bike ride and check it out before the snow comes!

* the roundabout at Black was built a few years ago.  My elementary-school age son has been walking through this intersection since kindergarten, some years before the roundabout was built.  Since it was built, we've seen crossing busy 6th Avenue has been much easier and safer for him.  These mini-roundabout really do work for making safer streets for all road users.