Once, there was a time when one of Vancouver’s most influential cycling advocates felt trepidation about taking her bike on a main road. In an interview with the Georgia Straight in her office at HUB: Your Cycling Connection (formerly the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition), executive director Erin O’Melinn revealed that she primarily took her two-wheeler onto trails while growing up in Coquitlam.
The thought of cycling on Lougheed Highway filled her with fear. “There was no way that I would ride on that road,” she recalled.
Eventually, she signed up for a VACC cycling course, not knowing at the time if she was permitted to ride on sidewalks. Students practised on busier streets, boosting her confidence. “I never would have ventured out on my own,” O’Melinn admitted.
Nowadays, O’Melinn is devoting her energy to making cycling safer across the region by trying to persuade provincial and municipal officials to create an integrated cycling network. She described Vancouver as the leader in looking at how cycling routes can be connected to enhance security.
“Cycling happens to be the most affordable way of moving people beyond the one or two kilometres they can walk,” she notes. “It’s a great investment for them economically to get more people moving around for the least amount of money.”
One of the most pressing issues in Vancouver, O’Melinn added, is the Stanley Park Causeway, where a 61-year-old woman was killed last year by a bus when her bike fell off the southbound sidewalk into the road. She said she’s pleased that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is working with the Vancouver park board and First Nations to create a barrier that will prevent this from happening again.
O’Melinn explained that this is the only road connecting Vancouver to the western half of the North Shore. She also said that there are several factors that make this an especially dangerous area: fast-moving traffic, a higher-than-average sidewalk, poor lighting, and the fact that pedestrians share the sidewalk with cyclists moving in both directions.
“It’s very loud,” she added. “If you’re trying to communicate with other users, they can’t hear you.”
Another HUB priority is connecting the end of the Central Valley Greenway to the northeast sector. O’Melinn said that large numbers of people use this greenway because it’s relatively flat with few lights and it’s mostly separated from motor-vehicle traffic.
“Then it gets to the edge of New Westminster and there’s no
connection over to Coquitlam,” she stated. “There’s this big gap, which has been called the death trap of United Boulevard.”
That’s been a long-standing concern of HUB, but it’s become even more pressing with the likelihood that improved cycling facilities over the Port Mann Bridge will be in place by the summer of 2015.
“There is nothing that can take you east to connect you to the Poco Trail or any of the Mary Hill connections there,” she said.
Meanwhile, HUB would also like cycling improvements between the Queensborough and Pattullo bridges. That would link this area with the B.C. Parkway, which goes through Burnaby and into Vancouver.
Speaking of bridges, O’Melinn described the Pattullo as “very dangerous” for cyclists because they must share a narrow lane with pedestrians. The same problem plagued the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing for decades, but the provincial government is taking action there. “The sidewalks that are shared with bikes and pedestrians are being widened to allow people to pass on both sides, which is really important.”
Unfortunately, connections on the north side of the Ironworkers bridge and the North Shore are not ideal, she added, in part because of a lack of good signage directing people as they cross between different municipalities. O’Melinn praised the City of North Vancouver for recently approving a plan to create a “triple-A all-ages and abilities cycling plan”.
“They haven’t approved construction of any particular projects, but their cycling plan says: ‘Here’s the network; we want this to be accessible to all these people,’ ” she said. “That’s a really big and important step.”