Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Pilot Project

Last night I headed down to the Dalhousie Community Centre (confusingly, nowhere near Dalhousie Street) for the first of the city's four planned public consultations on a pilot project to put in a segregated bike lane running east to west through the downtown core. The area being looked at runs from Elgin to Preston, and from Wellington to the Queensway:

The bike lane would run down one of about 12 possible corridors in this area. Part of the point of these consultations is to get an idea which one would be preferable. And it would look, at least so far, a little like this:

These lanes, if I understand, are meant to be separated physically from the motor traffic, by pylons or a guard rail or something. It's the physical buffer that is the main point; these lanes would simply be inaccessible to cars. (And yes, this would mean losing at least a lane of car traffic on whatever street is chosen.) This is just a pilot project so far - the city wants to know if the lanes would be feasible, if they would be used, and what impact they would have on traffic and business. It will be maintained for at least a year so they can evaluate whether it's worthwhile, and if it is, they're looking at extending the segregated lanes to places like Carling, Scott, and Island Park Drive. (Those three streets were identified as the areas the planning team were keen to tackle next.)

The plans and a lot more information are up at the City website, and there are two more consultations next week - Monday and Thursday night. There's also a questionnaire on the website that they're encouraging all and sundry to submit. The participants last night were a mixed bag, from die-hard cyclists, to recreational cyclists, to people who live in the neighbourhood and were curious, to at least one business owner, who seemed convinced that putting in bike lanes, thus removing car parking, would strangle all the businesses in Chinatown. Despite the planning committee's study results, which indicated that increased bike traffic is actually good for business, since cyclists are more likely to stop and shop on impulse than drivers. I have the feeling that the resistance to this plan, in any form, will come from the various BIAs - any change will feel to them like they're risking losing business, rocking the boat, messing with the status quo. Here's hoping the city sticks to its guns on the project - because you'll never know if bike traffic does increase sales unless you get a workable, successful bike solution in place.

I don't know if any useful information came out of the 'table session' I was in, in which we debated a lot but didn't actually come to any firm conclusions about which street would be best to remove a lane of traffic from. But it was interesting being there, being involved, meeting some other engaged cyclists (and even doing a sound bite for CTV) and it's certainly going to be fascinating to see what happens with the project. I know that what I really wanted to make clear was that I don't need a segregated bike lane on a quiet street like Cooper or Gilmour. Where I want it is right down Somerset or Laurier - down a main artery, where I need and want the protection. And to be honest, putting it on the commercial streets will give the city the best idea of its impact on business.

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