I Want to Ride My Bicycle

Since 2015, Copenhagen has claimed the top spot on the list of bicycle-friendly cities in the world. Their cycling infrastructure cost them €134 million over the past 10 years. That’s a butt-load of money, you might say, but when 62% of your city’s population uses cycling as a method of transportation (and only 9% drive cars), it makes sense. I cannot find a percentage of commuting cyclists for The Region of Waterloo; the number must be very low considering I see very few fellow cyclists on my commute.

Please keep in mind, this is an opinion piece and I am not a professional city planner or a specialist on bicycle infrastructure. Before I talk about what frustrates me about cycling in Waterloo Region, because you know it’s coming, let me first talk about what I like.

Okay, moving on… In all seriousness though, I am happy to ride my bicycle in Waterloo Region despite some of the challenges that I face. Cycling to work minimizes stress as well as starts and ends my work day on a positive note. Also, cycling is excellent for one’s gluteus maximus… “See dis ass… ain’t a rental” (Lizzo, Fitness).

The reconstruction of Uptown Waterloo is an $11 million streetscape project. They put in bike lanes. In my opinion, they put in bike lanes without thinking about anyone’s safety.

Uptown Waterloo Bike Lane Flaws

  • The bike lanes run between either the sidewalk and the road or the sidewalk and parking spots for cars. Pedestrians are always walking or standing in the bike lanes and those stepping out of a city bus have no choice but to step right into the bike lane. Car doors are constantly opening up into the bike lanes.
Source: Australian Cycling Forums
  • If you are wanting to cross or turn left on King Street (to get to the other cycling lane), it is risky business because it is busy and cars always block the intersection. The only option is to weave through the cars which equals danger.
  • Large planter boxes block visibility from vehicles and other cyclists trying to turn out onto or cross King Street. In order to see if it is safe to pull out, the vehicles and cyclists have to pull into the bicycle lanes to check for oncoming traffic.
  • The bike lanes are so short, if you have not crashed along the way, it will be over before you know it. And, when the bike lanes end, the cyclist has to immediately decide whether to veer onto the sidewalk or veer onto the road.

Uptown Waterloo reconstruction aside, we do have some handy multi-use trails. The Spur Line and Iron Horse Trails are great for cycling from the Kitchener Core to the Waterloo Core, but they do have some troublesome points of crossing along the way. Not everyone is going from Core to Core; a lot of cyclists still need to use a combination of road, trail and dedicated bike lanes and most often these are disjointed.

Do we have poor cycling infrastructure because we have very few cyclists on the road or do we have very few cyclists on the road because we have poor cycling infrastructure? What I think we need, not just in Uptown Waterloo, but in our Region as a whole, is better education. Ignorance is usually the culprit when things go awry. We need more educated city developers making decisions about commuter cycling infrastructure. We need city planning based on desire lines. We need instruction for all drivers, cyclists and pedestrians so each group knows how to safely flow together.

My Personal Cycling Challenges in Waterloo Region

  • When I approach a stop sign on a trail, I stop when cars are coming and then proceed when the way is clear. Some cars stop and tell me to go (even when cars are still driving through from the other direction) and they get upset if I do not go. Other cars keep going. Sometimes the road is so busy (Union Street on the Spur Line Trail) that it is nearly impossible to cross.
  • Many cyclists constantly switch from road to sidewalk, cutting off corners wherever they can. This is very confusing and dangerous for drivers and pedestrians.
  • Many pedestrians wander aimlessly down the multi-use trails and do not want to make room for a cyclist.
  • Dogs on long leashes are not properly controlled by their owners using multi-use trails and can jump out in front of cyclists.
  • There are many potholes and danger zones to watch out for when cycling on our roads.
  • Only an assertive personality will dare venture out onto our roads. You need a thick skin in order to put up with disgruntled drivers.
  • The City of Waterloo spent $659,843 on Uptown lights when that money could have been allocated toward supporting local businesses through the reconstruction or better city planning.

Tips from Copenhagen

Source: Berlingske
  • Danish children learn the cycling rules of the road before they begin school at age 6.
  • The Green Wave: Traffic lights are coordinated to allow continuous flow on most major arteries. The flow allows cyclists to move into the city without having to put a foot down. The flow is reversed after work so everyone can move home efficiently.
  • Prioritize separated infrastructure throughout the city. Disruptions within bike lanes and/or automobile-focused infrastructure will encourage cyclists to find alternate (sometimes illegal) routes.
  • Health and Financial common sense: The cost of 1km of cycle track is paid off in five years by the health benefits of users getting more exercise. Car traffic drops by 10% on these stretches and cycling increases by 20%.
  • Good design improves cyclist behaviour.
  • Cyclists must follow a set of strictly enforced rules of the road.
  • Citizens must feel safe in order to embrace cycling.
  • Experiment: Skeptical citizens are enlisted as test participants and instead of letting ideas get squashed by public protest and ignorance, citizens can see a good idea actually working (or not working and then another idea is presented).
  • Do not block desirable lines of cyclist traffic – use them.

Potential Reasons for Not Cycling in Waterloo Region

  • It’s too dangerous
    • Valid point – talk to your city councillor about your concerns. Try and Google map a route avoiding busy roads.
  • A helmet will mess up my hair
    • Try styling your hair at work.
  • I will sweat
    • It’s not the Tour de France, commuter cycling should not cause an excess of sweat. Perhaps your body needs time to adjust to the new physical activity which will only bring positive health benefits.
Source: Sonota
  • My commute is too far
    • Why the hell are you living way over there!? Consider investing in an e-bike. My partner cycles 44km (round trip) and he purchased his e-bike from Rad Power Bikes Canada. He started with one bicycle trip a week and is now up to two.
  • I’m too lazy
    • Don’t knock it ‘til you try it. Cycling to work is a great way to slip some physical activity into your busy life. Don’t feel like it’s all or nothing; start by introducing a cycling commute once a week.
  • I have children/pets
  • The weather is bad
    • Try shopping at Adventure Guide or MEC for weather-appropriate cycling attire. Cyclists in Copenhagen commute all-year-round; it helps that the city makes sure clear bike lanes are a top priority.
Source: flickr
  • I don’t know how to ride a bicycle
    • Ask a family member, friend or take a lesson with Born to Ride.
  • I don’t own a bicycle
  • I cannot afford a bicycle
  • I live in the country
    • The Mennonites do it – so can you!
  • I can’t ride a bicycle
    • If you are physically unable to ride a bicycle, you could always try public transportation (but that is another contentious issue for Waterloo Region!)

My Reasons for Cycling

  • Exercise
  • Reducing my carbon footprint
  • Improved mental health
  • I only want one car in our household

TED Talk: Bicycle Culture by Design