Kitchener-Waterloo

From 'asinine' to full support, Cambridge's temporary bike lanes getting mixed reviews

Temporary bike lanes on Coronation Boulevard in Cambridge are getting mixed reviews from residents. Some people are complaining about traffic congestion and have concerns about access to the hospital. Cycling advocates say they're a much safer way to travel between Preston and Galt.

Regional councillor says some emails show people are ‘actually quite angry this time’

The region has set up temporary bike lanes in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. The ones along Coronation Boulevard in Cambridge, though, are getting mixed reviews. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Temporary bike lanes on Coronation Boulevard in Cambridge are receiving mixed reviews.

In the Cambridge Neighbourhood Watch Facebook group, critics of the pilot project called the new bike lanes everything from an "epic failure" to a "nightmare" to "ludicrous and asinine" in a recent post. Drivers complain on social media of long lineups at the streetlights.

Helen Jowett has heard many of the concerns. As one of the regional councillors for Cambridge, her inbox has been filling up with complaints. She says she does get a few emails from people who support the bike lanes, but the majority are anti-bike lanes.

"They're actually quite angry this time," Jowett said.

"They're like, 'Why would you do something so stupid?' They're that upset. So, people are just really not happy with that at all. And a lot of people who otherwise would appreciate bike lanes, people saying, 'Yeah, I love to ride my bike but [the bike lanes] shouldn't be there.'"

Are lanes being used?

Jowett voted against the temporary bike lane pilot project when it came before regional council in June. So did fellow Cambridge councillor Karl Kiefer while Mayor Kathryn McGarry, who also holds a seat on regional council, voted in favour of it.

City officials did not respond to a request for comment from McGarry, although McGarry has tweeted photos of herself using the bike lanes. She responded to Waterloo Region District School Board trustee Jayne Herring who tweeted she saw her first cyclist using the lanes on August 3, "after a week of not seeing anyone on our daily trips."

McGarry responded saying, "You missed seeing me then. I am also out" and she posted a selfie of herself.

Lanes improve safety

Avid cyclist Tom Strickland is supportive of the new bike lanes. He said it can be difficult to cycle in Cambridge and things like bike lanes and route-finding maps will help. 

"There really is no easy way to get from Preston to Galt by bike. The safest way other than these lanes is about 50 per cent longer and it isn't as safe as the lanes by any means," he said. "I'm certainly hopeful we can get a fair amount of people doing some commuting … there's lots of people who would want to commute from one to the other."

During the first few weeks, Strickland cycled along the bike lanes to see if people used them. He noted for the first bit, it was "brutally hot" so that may have kept people off the lanes. But with nicer weather, Strickland hopes to see if more people use them.

David Trueman, interim chair of CycleWR, says Cambridge hasn't seen the uptake in cycling that Kitchener and Waterloo have, but that doesn't mean the city shouldn't have bike lanes.

"Traditionally we've always said build it and they will come and I think more accurately, it's build it and they will start to come. It's like any social movement that has a very slow start and then takes off," Trueman said.

"We're starting from smaller numbers in Cambridge and it will take longer to build up, but one thing we know for sure is that if we don't provide safe infrastructure, it will never happen."

Concerns about hospital access

Jowett and others have raised concerns about the impact the bike lanes have on people accessing Cambridge Memorial Hospital, including ambulances.

Rob Crossan, deputy chief of the Region of Waterloo Paramedic Services, said in an email that "to date there have been no concerns brought to us or to the operations supervisors by any paramedics regarding the segregated lane areas in the 3 cities, including Coronation Boulevard in Cambridge."

"We have also done some call reviews on responses through these areas and found no delays or additional response times," he added.

He said the region agreed if there were any problems for paramedics, "the lanes would be adjusted or removed as needed."

Crossan said much like getting used to the new LRT lines, maneuvering around construction sites and varying traffic situations, paramedics are adapting to the bike lanes and the congestion they cause.

'Unfair to judge these right away'

The project is a regional one, not one by the city. It was approved at the end of June by regional council as a way to provide more space for people to physically distance themselves from others while taking part in active transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Council set a limit of $550,000 to cover the costs of putting the temporary bike lanes in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge.

Thomas Schmidt, the region's commissioner of transportation and environmental services, says he hopes people will give the bike lanes a chance.

The region has heard the complaints about traffic congestion, the cost of the project and emergency access, he said. They've also received positive feedback from people happy to have bike lanes on Coronation Boulevard, which may have seemed inhospitable to cyclists before.

"People have commented that they would never have ridden on this road before and now they're able to," he said.

Schmidt said it's too early to determine how many people are using the lanes although the region is using technology to keep tabs on cyclist numbers to be able to assess the pilot at the end.

"I think it's also a little bit unfair to judge these right away. These just were put in place a few weeks ago. It takes a while for people to even be aware that they're there to figure out how to use them in their routine," he said. 

Schmidt also said it's a temporary project that is going to provide the region with a lot of information.

"It already has provided us with data. We have made modifications based on comments and things we've seen ourselves," he said.

Region seeks feedback

Schmidt also said people can offer feedback on the bike lanes. If there's something immediate for changes that could be made, he suggested calling the region's call centre or sending a note through the region's website.

For thoughts on the project as a whole, there's a survey on Engage WR under the region's section. The title of the survey is: rapid re-allocation of road space for active transportation to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bike lanes are scheduled to remain in place until the end of October.

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