May 23, 2018 marks exactly one year since the inaugural meeting of Mission's Cycling Route Task Force. As one who served on this task force, I'd like to provide a timeline of events and offer my commentary on what's been achieved. The quick, and somewhat flippant answer is: nothing, in that cycle lanes do not yet exist in Mission and there is nothing on the drawing board. The more hopeful answer is that the experience of the last year will at least be useful in the next phase of planning. I want to emphasize that the following are my personal views and do not necessarily represent those of the former task force as a whole.
The background to Mission's recent “cycling initiative”, as I’ll call it, is the District's Transportation Master Plan (TMP). The TMP was created in 2016 and provides long-range (25 year) goals and objectives pertaining to all aspects of travel, including cycling. A stated “key objective” of the TMP’s “Cycling Plan” is creation of “a safe and cohesive bicycle network” in order to “encourage cycling for recreation, leisure or commuting.” (p. 4-1) The authors of the TMP see an obvious connection between safety and encouragement, and these two themes run throughout the cycling section. If the objective is to grow cycling, and it clearly is in the District of Mission’s Transportation Master Plan, cyclists need to feel safe. In the words of the TMP: “care should be taken to protect physically vulnerable road users from motor vehicle traffic” (p. 4-9) through construction of a designated right of way. There are a variety of options, depending on existing speed limits in the adjoining vehicular travel lane. For 7th Ave., which both Mission's Bicycle Task Force and the TMP agree should be a priority, the recommended design is for a “buffered bike lane [or] cycle track”. A “buffer” is a 0.6-1.2 metre space (according to diagrams in the TRP) that separates the bike lane from a travel lane. A cycle track differs from a bike lane in that some form of protection is provided in addition to the buffer. In the simplest case, parked cars are located outside the buffered bike lane. Somewhat more complex is the placement of flexible bollards in the buffer. Even more elaborate track designs use a curb to separate the bike lane. The importance of a buffer, according to the TMP, is that it moves cyclists away from the “door zone” of parked cars, which is “the most common type of reported collision” between bicycles and automobiles, according to a City of Vancouver study (p. 4-15).
The Cycling Route Task Force (CRTF) was created on May 1, 2017. The CRTF was proposed by Council as a strategy to resolve divisions that occurred over the plan for bicycle lanes on 7th Avenue. The cycle-lane plan entailed the loss of parking on the north side of 7th and some residents and merchants were incensed. Their opinions were aired at a raucous and rowdy public meeting in April 2017. Cycle lane plans were put on hold pending a report from the CRTF which was submitted on November 6, 2017. A copy of this report is available for download at the bottom of this post. An abridged copy of CRTF's PowerPoint presentation to council is also available below. In brief, the task force endorsed the Transportation Master Plan's vision for 7th Avenue to function as a bicycling arterial with provision of buffered cycle lanes.
Following submission of the report, the work of the Cycling Route Task Force was formally completed. However the group remained informally involved and was periodically consulted by Engineering in the ensuing months whilst they worked to design the cycle lanes. The goal was to have a plan approved by Council in time to meet the Nov 9th deadline to apply for provincial funding. Communities are eligible to receive a grant of up to 50% to cover the cost of approved bicycle infrastructure. Engineering's report to Council occurred on November 7, 2017 and is available for download, below. They presented four design options and listed advantages and disadvantages of each. The option favoured by Engineering ("Option 1") was for two separated bike lanes on either side of 7th, adjacent to sidewalks and terminating at Grand St. Parking on the north side of 7th would be eliminated and the parking lane on the south side was placed between the cycle lane and travel lane. In addition, cycle lanes were separated from auto lanes by a 0.5-0.6 m buffer strip and installation of bollards. Although this was different from what the former CRTF favoured (presented in the Engineering document as "Option 2") we accepted the compromise and wrote a letter in support of Option 1, following the vote to accept it by Council.The vote was 5 in favour and 2 opposed including Mayor Hawes and Councillor Hinds. The purpose of the endorsement was to assist with the application for funding. While we were generally impressed with the proposed buffer and bollards, we were disappointed with the fact that the route would extend less than half way along the 7th Ave corridor. Engineering was proposing a phased plan, with the remainder of the route, extending west to Wren, to be built "3 or 4 years" in the future.
Exactly one month later, on March 5th, Mayor Hawes asked Council to reconsider the cycle route plan that it had approved one month prior. Mayors are granted the right to require reconsideration under Section 131 of the Community Charter. Given that the Mayor voted to oppose the original plan, this turn of events was perhaps not surprising. But what was surprising was the revised plan that Engineering staff, at the request of the Mayor, revealed to council. The new plan called for the retention of cycle tracks, but with bollards removed and the re-location of the south side track, from its original location between the curb and parked cars, to run outside the parking lane, adjacent to driver doors. The Mayor argued, ironically, that this new plan was “safer” than the previous. Although he was never asked, “safer for whom?”, he implied that he was concerned about motorists. It definitely wasn’t cyclists. The provision of a measly 0.5 metre buffer between the cycle lane and parking lane is smaller than anything suggested in the TRP, and given that the cycle lane was moved to the driver side of parked vehicles, the likelihood of dooring collisions was in fact increased for those cycling east on 7th. The original plan, as noted above, also included 0.5 metre buffers also, but the addition of bollards meant much more substantial protection. All in all, the revised plan was a thoroughly awful replacement for what had originally received council approval, four weeks prior. What’s worse is that the Mayor’s new plan had at least the appearance of a rearguard action, given that it was sprung on the public, including by all indications, his fellow Councilors, at the last minute. In the end, Council voted to approve the new plan. In short, the action was a textbook example of how not to design cycling infrastructure.
The greater irony with the revised plan was that there were no winners. Cyclists, especially novices, would not feel safer and therefore not be encouraged to get out on their bikes. Without cyclists using the lanes, the naysayers, especially those that lost parking on 7th, would feel justified in saying that they told us so, and they would be right. And Mission taxpayers would feel short-changed, especially given that this plan would have likely been ineligible for BC Bike funding. The frustration and disappointment at this unexpected turn of events was obvious among CRTF members in attendance at the March 5th Council meeting, myself included. We were afforded an opportunity to briefly speak about our concerns with the revision at the meeting and followed up in meetings with staff and Councillors in weeks following.
The outcome of this lobbying was a motion presented at the May 7th Council meeting, moved by Councillor Plecas. The motion rescinded the revised plan of March 5th which (and I know its getting confusing here) itself rescinded the original plan. The motion essentially calls for a return to the drawing board and pushes for the design of a comprehensive cycling network - a great improvement over the piece-meal approach taken in the original. Completion of a route along the entire length of 7th Ave is also identified as a priority. Unfortunately, there are no time lines included, and this is a potential fatal flaw. Effort must now be directed towards getting a design and costing for 7th Ave in time to be included in the fall 2018 budget.
So there you have it. A year ago, Mission embarked on a journey to design bike lanes. Since then, two different designs were accepted by Council and almost as quickly, two designs were rescinded. Ultimately, of course, we've got to get this right or it will be a huge waste of money, or worse, unsafe.