The final draft of the St. John’s Cycling Plan has been completed. It gives a detailed description of how we can set the city on a more bike-friendly path, from the simple (putting up signs on the road) to the more complicated (outfitting bike racks on buses) to the why-didn’t-we-think-of-this-when-we-originally-made-it? (modifying the Grand Concourse trail to accomodate both pedestrians and cyclists) the plan spells it all out with maps, diagrams, and numbers.
It’s estimated to cost just over $6 million to implement, which is a modest sum, considering it is stretched out over the next 20 years. Compared to similar plans in other cities, it’s almost nothing. Halifax, for example, is implementing a similar plan estimated at $100 million over 20 years.
The recent federal government’s budget has given Canadian municipalities a deadline of March 31 to apply for funding to improve rapid transit, buses, and bike lanes. $500 million is up for grabs.
This kind of money is out there. Pretty much all St. John’s has to do to get moving is hop on.
Elling Lien spoke with Bicycle Newfoundland and Labrador president Leon Organ about some of the details.
So, the bike plan is on the city website, but what stage is it at officially?
Officially, our final draft of the plan is on the website. Now we’re waiting. We did a formal presentation to some of the councillors at one of their Parks & Recreation meetings recently, and they requested some additional information, like taking a section of the trail and providing a cost estimate of what it would take to, say, take part of the Grand Concourse trail and upgrade it to becoming a multi-purpose trail. Then basically the weather kind of set in before city could get out and survey certain sections of the trail, and do measurements and surveying and stuff like that. So basically what you see on the website is going to be the final presentation in addition to what the city staff puts together in terms of cost-analysis.
This plan isn’t calling for that much money—$6 million over 20 years…
Yeah, and that’s one thing we’re trying to tell a lot of the councillors. We are not looking for six million dollars up front. This is a plan that is designed to be spread out over 15 to 20 years. I think, though, that a lot of the councillors—especially with an election coming up pretty soon—they are really trying to stay away from anything that’s going to cause any controversy.
And the budget isn’t exactly in super shape. Where is the money going to come from?
Part of the report illustrates that there are plenty of avenues for funds. We just had the federal government come out recently and say, “here are millions of dollars to use for initiatives for public transportation, cycling plans, doing bike routes…” That’s out there.
The provincial government has expressed some interest too. They didn’t get involved up front but they are keeping a close eye on this. They want to see what the final plan looks like. They want to see how it plays out. They also look at it this way: there is a lot of money out there for green initiatives. And you can’t get any greener than having people get out of their cars and ride a bike.
What are some of the key items in the plan?
Well, the way the map is worked, is that we’ve kind of highlighted three key routes to link east to west, and north to south. The first major route would use the existing trailway, which runs from Paradise all the ways to downtown St. John’s. It would also use one of the sidewalks on the crosstown arterial, because right there we have two very large sidewalks on both sides of the arterial, going from Kilbride all the ways to the east end.
And the one that will probably cause a little bit of controversy and probably would have some opposition from some of the people would be the plan to use part of the upper Virginia River trail, the Grand Concourse trail, which would connect from north to south. It would bring people from Airport Heights all the way downtown, right down to Quidi Vidi.
Those would be your three major routes.
From there we would have various interconnected routes to link all those up. That would be one key point.
Another important part of the plan is, simply to install bike racks and bike lockers in various locations in the city. You know, if you go downtown right now, there are no bike racks anywhere. There’s nothing there to entice people to ride their bikes downtown… Where are you going to store it? You’re going to have to lock it to a light pole or something like that.
The other idea is to look at having Metrobus put bike racks on some of their buses. This is something that is used out in Vancouver and Victoria, and it is being discussed in other areas as well. If you want to take your bike to work, but you don’t feel like riding in the morning, you only want to ride home at the end of the day, you can put your bike on the bus, taking it to work, and when you get off work in the evening you just hop on your bike and you ride home.
There is something in the plan that says—I don’t know if is a typo or not—but “100 million dollars over 20 years is being put into active transportation by the Halifax Regional Municipality.”
That’s real. They’ve already started.
Why is our plan estimated at only $6 million?
Well, we have a great trail system, and with some minimal maintenance and a bit of upgrading it can be used for walking and cycling.
I know there is going to be some opposition against that, but if someone were to say 20 years ago St. John’s would have a great trail system like the Grand Concourse, people would have laughed at you. There was opposition to having walking trails go through the city when they first came up with that idea. But now, twenty odd years later, we have one of the best city trail systems in the country, and people use it.
When you look at providing citizens with different things to do, and especially when you are trying to attract people to move back to St. John’s and back to Newfoundland, active transportation [walking, cycling, roller-blading, skateboarding] is a big attraction. People who have been living in Ottawa, people that have been living in Calgary, in Vancouver, where bike trails have become part of the everyday life, they expect it. But all of a sudden when they move back here and they ask, “where can I ride my bike?” The answer is “uhhh, pretty much nowhere.” You aren’t allowed on any of the trails going through the city, and only recently you’ve been allowed to ride your bike in Bowring Park.
What can people do to support this plan?
Well I guess the big thing is that people can still go onto the city’s website and sign up for the cycling e-newsletter. That’ll provide updates now for when they are planning on having some public meetings and those things. And when public meetings are held, to show up, and show their support. And as the various councillors get ready for the upcoming by-election for the mayor and the deputy mayor and various councillor positions… get out and ask those people what are their ideas on this.
Highlights from the proposed Cycling Plan
At full build out, the cycling network—including painted lanes, dedicated bike lanes, converted trails, and roads with bike signs—will encompass 226 kilometers.
Estimated cost for the construction of the network is $6.5 million over 20 years.
The proposed route includes 54 kilometers of paved shoulder facilities (lanes), 73 kilometers of signed routes, and 56 kilometers of multi-use trails.
“It is essential that future planned development areas in St. John’s include bicycle planning from the beginning of the planning and regulatory approval process, and that new growth areas are identified in the Cycling Plan.”
According to NL Department of Health and Community services, the province has among the highest rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke in Canada.
“According to the Public Health Agency of Canada […] general well-being is somewhat greater and depression much less frequent in people who exercise regularly as opposed to those who get little or no exercise.”
You can find the draft of the plan and pdf maps online at www.stjohns.ca