For many years, the issue of safe cycling in St. John’s has been hotly debated, and it seems like progress stalled once several contentious bike lanes were installed in 2012.
Well, there are changes afoot: we’re getting a permanent Cycling Advisory Committee, an updated Cycling Master Plan, and we’re making some trail upgrades while we design and install new bike racks. And it’s all going to be capped off with a big “Car Free Day” event next year!
Council Approves of Cycling
After a year of work reviewing and engaging on what St. John’s does, doesn’t, and should do with cycling, the ad hoc Bike St. John’s Task Force presented a final list of recommendations to Council, who agreed to fund and move forward on them.
The recommendations begin with committing to a strategic direction that goes like this: "That the City commit to developing safe, comfortable, and convenient cycling infrastructure, policies, and programs." This is a very clear statement that Council sees safe cycling as a priority.
Turning those words into action, Council also agreed to some major initiatives and smaller, short term projects called “quick wins.”
Major Initiatives and Quick Wins
The first, and in my opinion “biggest” initiative is that the City establish an ongoing Bicycle Advisory Committee. This committee will be made up of cycling advocacy groups and residents, along with City staff and at least one Council representative (ooh! pick me!!).
Why is this a big deal? It’s because an advisory committee directly advises Council. We don’t have too many advisory committees, so to have one specific to cycling speaks volumes. And in the future, it’s possible this committee could evolve to speak more broadly to “active transportation.”
You’ll get a chance to apply for the committee in November.
One key task for the committee will be to direct the other major initiative, which is the preparation of a Comprehensive Bicycle Strategy and Master Plan. We already have a Bike Master Plan, but after our review and consultation it was clear that it needs an update.
These things are certainly taking longer than I’d like, but there are a few “Quick Win Projects” that will be rolling out over the coming months.
Making Trails More Bike Friendly
It’s one thing to have bike lanes on busy streets (and Council agreed to keep the ones we currently have, despite a few complaints), but trails present a major opportunity to enable safe cycling for both recreation and transportation.
To get the ball rolling on this, the City is going to upgrade the T’Railway -- which already allows for bikes -- with improved signage and some repairs to make cycling easier and more appealing. We’ll also setup automated usage monitoring equipment so we can really see how these trails are being used.
Parking Your Bike In Style
Many people already cycle to get from point A to point B, but having a place to securely lock their ride can be a challenge. So adding more bike racks around the city is important.
The Task Force identified the need for racks early on, and in fact we have already placed some around town. The problem, however, is that the racks are designed for kids’ bikes, so they’re too small to be useful for most people!
Instead of simply looking to buy other models, we’re going to engage our arts community with a competition to design beautiful, functional bike racks.
We’ll be announcing the details soon, but basically there is a budget of around $10,000 to fund prizes for the winning designer(s) and construction or purchase of the racks. Our schedule is to promote and run the competition in the fall and winter so that we’re ready for spring to install the functional art around town.
Celebrating Cycling and Educating the Public
Two other quick wins are to organize a "cycling education event" and hold an awesome "Car Free Day" where we close of a section of a street (probably downtown) to have a celebration of getting around without a car.
I think this is a very exciting prospect, and we’ll be engaging community organizations, artists, performers, and local businesses to make this huge event a reality next year!
So, it’s clear that we’re about to take a major step (pedal?) forward with cycling in St. John’s. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m excited to get the community engaged to make it all happen.
If you’d like to keep up on the developments, please get in touch or join my mailing list!