October is the final month of a temporary bike lane program introduced earlier this year by Waterloo’s Regional Council Members to address space needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Regional Council should be applauded for such a bold move. They pledged about 30 kilometres of temporary lanes at a cost of approximately $500,000. In the end, the portion in Cambridge was relatively short-lived under pressure from some residents, but the rest remained, including a large portion of Westmount, Erb and Frederick among others.
Additionally, Waterloo and Kitchener also identified some streets as “quiet” streets for which signage indicated that roads should be a shared space. This is in addition to a pilot project already underway in uptown Waterloo, testing separated bike lanes.
With these efforts, the Region has helped get people out of cars and given them more ways to get around safely. We already know that if you build safe infrastructure, people are more likely to use it.
Although, the greatest need for additional space may have been during the height of the lockdown in May and June, there was a tremendous opportunity to use the reduction in cars to test a new approach for some roads.
After all, transportation is about half of our carbon footprint in this Region, so it is an important thing to address.
The pilot project has not had a serious impact on traffic congestion. Traffic has only slightly increased within acceptable limits.
One unintended benefit of the placement of temporary bike lanes is that it works to equalize the existing uneven distribution of cycling infrastructure for our less affluent areas.
Brian Doucet (a Canada research chair and associate professor in urban planning at the University of Waterloo) commented in a piece in The Record entitled “Westmount Road Bike Lanes a Path to a More Equitable Community”:
“The bike lanes installed by the Region of Waterloo have created new possibilities and opportunities in neighbourhoods that lacked the kind of transportation alternatives my neighbours and I take for granted.”
Since two of the major lessons of COVID-19 have been the issues of systemic racism and institutionalized disadvantage, this is at least a tiny step to build back better.
Looking at the overview of cycling infrastructure across the Region (there is a map on the Region’s website), it identifies a hodgepodge of solutions.
I continue to be dumbfounded about some of the missing pieces — a number of times while cycling, I have had a bike lane end abruptly, and some of the temporary lanes address that.
My experience is that cycling now feels significantly safer, and can be a much faster way to get across town. There are some challenges in getting into and out of the bike lanes, and pylons are too tightly placed because of their temporary nature.
By having these lanes for so short a time, we decrease the opportunity to transform how people traverse the Region. But I believe these lanes are evidence that we may be moving forward in a positive direction.
Ideally, we will start to see a shift from car-centric design to one that is built around people, active transit and strengthening local communities. Our mental, physical and environmental health all stand to win.
If you have enjoyed the bike lanes, or even just like that they were implemented — please share that feedback with Regional councillors through EngageWR.ca.
The lanes are there until the end of October, so if you haven’t already tried them, you definitely should! Challenge yourself to ride your bike the next time you run an errand, visit a friend or just go out and see where you end up.
Stacey Danckert is co-director of Waterloo Region Environment Network (WREN)