British Columbia

Surrey bike lanes catching on slowly with commuters

"Car city" is how Surrey resident Loretta Bogert-O'Brien describes what she thought when she first moved to Metro Vancouver's fastest-growing city.

City expanding bike lanes by 12 km per year, but still few commuters are cyclists

A cyclist travels through Surrey's expanding bike network. (City of Surrey )

"Car city" is how Surrey resident Loretta Bogert-O'Brien describes what she saw when she moved to Metro Vancouver's fastest-growing city.   

"Basically, the infrastructure is suited for a car and it was a little bit difficult to find an area which was good for transit," says the former Toronto resident.

Surrey resident Loretta Bogert-O'Brien takes public transit and her bicycle to work near the Surrey Central station. (Michelle Eliot, CBC )

Bogert-O'Brien alternates between taking transit and her bike to work, near the Surrey Central SkyTrain station.

The health data analyst says since moving to Surrey three years ago, she has seen an increase in bike lanes — but not a corresponding increase in commuters using their bike to get to work.

"In the bike cage here, there's maybe 12 bikes, and it's a huge tower here of people who work here. On my route, I really don't see that many commuters. I see a few people who are leisurely riding to get their exercise and that kind of thing."

Less than one per cent of commuters in Surrey travel by bike, but the city's cycling plan aims to attract more commuters by expanding infrastructure, including adding 12 kilometres of of bike lanes each year and increasing bike racks at destinations.

The vicinity around Surrey Central Skytrain station is one area where the city is concentrating bike lane infrastructure (Michelle Eliot/CBC)

About 12,000 new residents move to Surrey each year and concerns about road congestion and carbon emissions are pressing the city to invest in alternative modes of transportation.

According to Surrey's manager of transportation Jamie Boan the goal is to create a vibrant cycling community in 20 to 30 years. The city conducts education programs, including adding signage, creating new bike maps, and bicycle-training for students in Grades 4 and 5.

But Surrey's bike lane expansion has seen less conflict than Vancouver. Boan says that's because Surrey is still building new roads that allow for cars, bikes and pedestrians, while Vancouver has to retrofit existing roads to accommodate bike lanes.

Still some hurdles along the road

Connectivity in the bike network is a significant issue, according to Boan, because there are currently gaps in bike routes that force cyclists to divert on to roads.

"We have been focusing on trying to fill in those gaps. You then have to try to provide alternatives for people to divert. It's certainly not ideal, but we don't really have any choice."

Surrey also still has many rural, privately-owned properties, meaning the city tends to wait for developers to acquire the land, in order to require bike paths to be built as part of the new development.

"Rather than expending significant money to try and acquire those connections in advance, our approach has been to maximize what we can do by waiting for development to occur," says Boan.

Still, the avid cyclist is encouraged by what he sees on the road. Compared to when he first started cycling 16 years ago, Boan has seen more people on bicycles.

"Now, every time I ride, I see a number of other cyclists out there. I also have seen greater awareness from other drivers and a more cautious approach towards cyclists, which has been great to see."

Catch Michelle Eliot with On the Move, a segment on commuter issues, Tuesdays at 6:50 on The Early Edition, CBC Radio 1, 88.1 FM / 690 AM in Vancouver


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