Victoria breaks ground on first protected bike lane
Two-way lane will let cyclists travel in both directions on one side of the street
Dedicated traffic signals. Refuge areas for making turns at intersections. A barrier to keep cars at a distance. These are the amenities cyclists in Victoria will soon enjoy — at least on a few blocks of a downtown street.
Construction has started on the city's first two-way protected bike lane on Pandora Avenue in the city's downtown. While the lane itself is only a few blocks long, it's part of a larger plan dubbed Biketoria that aims to vastly improve cycling infrastructure in the Vancouver Island city.
"The whole Biketoria network of corridors is transformational for the city of Victoria," said Brad Dellebuur with the city's engineering department. "It is going to fundamentally change how you move around in the city."
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The bike lane on Pandora Avenue, which is three metres wide, will allow cyclists to travel in both directions along one side of the street. The entire cycling lane from Cook Street to Store Street will be separated from vehicle traffic by a physical barrier.
One lane of traffic will be eliminated on parts of the street to make room for the cyclists. In other sections, vehicle lanes will be narrowed or on-street parking will be removed.
The goal is to persuade more people to use cycling as a main mode of transportation by providing a safer space for bikes on city streets, Dellebuur said.
Lanes address safety concerns
"People want to ride their bikes, but there's a large percentage that don't feel safe riding with moving traffic," he said.
"The physical separation will provide just one more incentive for people to try biking as a way to get around town."
That's been the experience of other cities that have moved ahead with protected bike lanes, said Edward Pullman with the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition.
"When it gets you to your destination without having it end abruptly, so a complete network, certainly when we see those built, you do see large increases in the number of cyclists," Pullman said.
But persuading more people that cycling is a safe and efficient way to get around may not happen until there is a full network of protected bike lanes in Victoria, he said.
"While Pandora is an excellent first step, we will need a bit more time to build out the rest of the route, and routes going not just into the downtown core, but going into the various communities around Victoria."
First phase to cost $8 million
The first phase of the Biketora plan calls for a minimum of 5.4 kilometres of protected lanes in the downtown area by the end of 2018, and comes at a cost of nearly $8 million.
Some parts of the plan have met with stiff resistance from from local businesses. However, the city says the new bike lanes will put Victoria's downtown on par with Vancouver.
The City of Victoria has received some provincial funding to help cover the cost of building protected bike lanes, but funding for cycling infrastructure remains a challenge for communities across the province, said Gord Johns, the NDP MP for Courtenay-Alberni.
Johns has introduced a private members bill calling for a national cycling strategy that would create safety standards and set targets for improving bike infrastructure in all communities.
The bill was inspired in part by the uneven distribution of safe cycling routes in island communities, Johns said.
"There's been a lot of piecemeal work in terms of building safe bike trails in my riding," he said. "Other communities in my riding are just getting started."
With the federal government planning to roll out major infrastructure spending, Johns said a national cycling strategy could help ensure federal funds are earmarked for bike-related projects.
In Victoria, cyclists can expect to take their first ride on the new protected bike lane on Pandora Avenue next spring when construction wraps up.