Places to ride trump safety in the cycling world

Prior to the 2011 municipal elections, Cycle Cowichan polled the candidates of Duncan and North Cowichan to find out what the number one issue was facing cyclists in the Cowichan Valley.

The prevalent response was safety.

Candidates, regardless of political bent, said if we want to encourage cycling, we need to make it safe.

And they are not alone in their thinking.

Throughout cities across North America, safety has been touted to push investment in cycling infrastructure, such as separated bike lanes, traffic calming tools and bike specific traffic light triggers. These are all excellent investments and numbers of riders have increased as a result.

In an area where cycling has become a top priority — the Mayors’ Council in Metro Vancouver just recommended spending $15 million a year on cycling infrastructure over the next 10 years — the increase in riders is no surprise. But it’s hard to be certain safer roads are driving the cycle boom.

Studies have also found if you try to deal with vehicular traffic flow issues by building more roads or expanding existing ones, more people simply use their vehicles. Make driving easier and driving increases.

It makes sense the same would happen for bikes. If the infrastructure exists to make cycling more enticing, than we will have more cyclists.

Here in Cowichan, our planners are just preparing to slip a toe or two into the cycle sea of opportunity, and we are still in the very early stages of seeing any uptake or significant changes.

We have a chance to change the conversation and make cycling infrastructure improvements about creating a more enjoyable community.

We’ve officially now made it to summer, which means the constipated corridor that is Duncan’s Trans-Canada Highway is going to be tip-to-tail loaded with trucks, cars, vans, motorhomes, and vehicles towing boats, trailers, and fifth-wheels.

For the drivers, it will be tiring.

For the cyclists, it will be exhausting.

Steeped in the smoky, lung-coating clouds of fumes, pinched between the curb and hot metal, you won’t see many pedal people heading along the highway.

It’s just not an enjoyable place to be.

If we make cycling appealing, rather than focusing simply on something as sanitized as safety, we are going to get more people to participate.

Many of the changes that make cycling more appealing also make cycling seem safer,  but not all of them.

By focusing the message on making cycling safe, it enforces the erroneous belief cycling will get you killed, and that could result in less riders. Cycling truly isn’t unsafe, though the message bikes and cars don’t play well together has been pushed for so long people believe it blindly.

Yes, whenever there is a cyclist versus vehicle collision, the cyclist usually gets the worst of it. And, yes, when a cyclist crashes and smashes into the ground headfirst, a helmet comes in handy. But these are rare occurrences.

I am a proponent of wearing a helmet, but not making helmet wearing mandatory. I am also a proponent of building separated bike lanes, because they are enjoyable to ride on.

We don’t need to use safety as the main messaging to justify building better bike infrastructure. We need to get more people on their bikes.

Aaron Bichard writes for newspapers and recycles them.

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