Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bikes, Bike Parts, Bike Lanes, and Why I'm Ranting Against a Group I Should Be Supporting

Not all of those three things are directly related, although they have connections between them.

I've mentioned before that I love my bike. With the upcoming Ride to Conquer Cancer weighing heavily on my mind, I recently made a couple of improvements to my bike. They're small improvements but they've transformed the experience of being on the bike.

The first one was swapping out the tires. After a winter of riding on wide, low-pressure, studded, knobbies, and years of deep-tread, down-hill tires, I made the move to some high-pressure, low tread rubber. The new tires are reasonably thin (1.95") WTB All Terrains. While listed as a hybrid tire, they're more properly a cyclocross tire. They're still a little wide and a little overly-treaded to be a hybrid. However, I can run them at super high pressures and the centre tread knobs are placed close enough together that the rolling resistance is unbelievably low, for a mountain bike tire. I'm not a product-review guy, but after two months on these, I'm sold and I'd tell anybody to pick up a set; preferably from Tim and the good folks at WipeOut. Remember, support your local bike shop.

The other recent upgrade I made was the saddle. This is the best $50 I've ever spent on my bike, bar-none. Again, it's a WTB product - specifically it's a Speed-V. While I've still got to play with the front/back and nose up/down alignment, after a day of riding on it, I can't believe how long I put up with the old rock-like, Bontrager saddle. The idea that I was going to spend two days and 234 km on the old saddle fills my rear with dread.

Ok, enough product endorsement - like the companies care how anonymous me feels about their stuff. On to more important things.

The Association for Bicycle Commuting in Red Deer has released their draft map of where they'd like to see bike lanes in Red Deer. First and foremost I will disclose that I love the idea of bike lanes. I commute almost daily, year-round. Anything to make the ride safer, is great with me.

By and large the bike lane plan is a good one. With one glaring problem. The association is calling for a bike lane running north on 40 Ave from 39th Street into downtown. See map: 
View Larger Map

It was mentioned at the last Association AGM that this is a terrible bike lane route, for a number of reasons. The long and short of it is this: 40th Ave is a terrible road for a bike lane due to school traffic, car traffic, a terrible road bed, an off-camber corner going down Michener Hill, a narrow road with high curbs along 55th Street, and the forced left-turn at surface intersections (with no dedicated turning lanes) across oncoming traffic to get into down town. Any one of these factors should be enough to make the idea of a 40 Ave bike lane, a non-starter. Taken together they spell disaster for cyclists.

I'll elaborate on most of the problems.

  • 40th Ave, north of 39th Street is narrow and rutted. Travelling north, as soon as you cross 39th St, 40 Ave feels noticeably narrower. As a cyclist you really feel like you are getting pinched in. Add to this, the lack of an escape route immediately north of Eastview school (no side walk to hop up on if cars get close) and the unbelievable amount of cars dropping kids off at school at Eastview. This alone should be enough to make this route untenable. But, that's not all. The road bed on 40 is nothing short of terrible. It's rutted, cracked, and full of depressions, potholes and lumps. It's a cycling horror-show. By putting in a bike lane on 40, you're asking the City to re-surface from 39th to Ross street - 10 blocks.
  • Drivers on 40 Ave already dislike cyclists. Because we're so close to cars (given the narrow road), drivers already feel like we're holding them up. Putting in a bike lane is going to aggravate the hell out of already cranky commuters. Road rage, the need for vengeance and bikes is a bad combination.  
  • Michener Hill can get you killed. Michener Hill is at best, a flat corner. In some places it's actually off-camber. Centrifugal force is already pushing cars to the outside of that corner. Add rainwater or winter to the mix and you're asking for a driver to slide into a cyclist. Putting the lane on the inside of the corner is just as bad because then you'll have cyclists moving at high speed towards on-coming traffic. 
  • 55th Street doesn't go into down town. I don't commute to down town Red Deer so I don't have a vested interest in this one, however is bears elaboration. In order to get into down town from 55th street you first have to navigate down an even-narrower street. 55th on a bike is tight. Then, choose your intersection. Both 47 Ave and 48 Ave do have lights. But they don't have a turning lane or an advance green. So, you're forced to turn across on coming traffic, all while hoping you don't get rear-ended by a driver rushing up behind you who can't tell that you're waiting to turn.

Now, I don't complain about something without offering a solution. So, here's what I recommended back at the Association AGM:

By far the better route would be to run a lane straight up 43Ave from 32nd to Ross and then turn left onto  Ross, head down the hill and ride into the down town core. Here's the map:

View Larger Map

  • 39th Street runs right to 43 Ave.  I didn't highlight it on the map but the plan calls for a bike lane down the North side of 39th Street. Rather than bending the lane around the corner onto Ross, it could continue to run straight west, right up to 43 Ave. This is the best of both worlds for north/south-bound and east/west-bound commuters.
  • 43 Ave is quiet and wide. From 32nd street all the way to Ross, 43 Ave is a wide residential street. It's quiet, doesn't get a lot of traffic and the cars that are there, are moving slowly. There is a school zone at the north end of the street calming an already-calm road.
  • 43 Ave and Ross is a huge intersection. With a light, and darn near zero on coming traffic, 43 and Ross is a very safe intersection. It's also extremely wide, giving cars and bikes lots of room to share. 
  • Ross street is wide. From 43 Ave to down town, Ross is extremely wide and the road is in great shape. It's a fantastic place for bikes to be.
  • Easy access to trails. For cyclists who need to get off Ross to go North or South down toward the Arena, Ross affords a great jumping off point (a right turn into Woodlea at the bottom of the hill) to where you can get onto one of the Waskasoo Park trails.

I think it's ironic that if the 40 Ave bike lane goes in, one of the most regular cyclists from the south end (me) won't be using it. I ride my bike close to 200 days/year. I ride in all seasons, all conditions. Unless I actually need a vehicle at work or to complete work, I cycle commute. I think it goes without saying that I am unbelievably in favour of bike lanes in Red Deer. However, this one particular route won't ever see my bike travel it. It's too narrow, the road is too poor, the hill is potentially deadly in bad weather and it's inconvenient for people going to down town.

That's my $0.02. The nice thing about the internet is that if your voice isn't heard live and in-person, you can always tilt at your windmills to the whole dozens of people who read your blog.

Ride safe folks.


Red said...

I agree with your $.02. I go further. I don't like bike lanes unless they are physically separated from traffic. To just paint a bike on the road and call it a bike lane is nuts.
40 th and 32 nd are both very rough.

Haloranch said...

I like your blog! It's been years since we cycled and though I never communted to work, I did a lot of long-distance cycling like Banff to Jasper and vice versa. And the Golden Triangle. We had touring bikes so our tires had a raised ridge in the center,similar to what you were descring, reducing road friction for an easier ride.

Ted Hutchings said...

Well said, Todd. 43 Avenue is far more cycle friendly than 40 Avenue (and it goes right by my favorite elementary school in Red Deer.) We are a cycle friendly school and would welcome any bike communters who need a place to rest, fill a water bottle or simply take in the great playground at Grandview!

Scott Raabis said...

Great stuff Todd!
The steep decline where 43 Ave meets Ross poses some risk in the winter (but the white paint will be covered with snow anyway). You are absolutely correct about how narrow 40th Ave is. It is uncomfortable to walk on the sidewalk, so I often use the alley on the West. One good thing about the Associations proposed route is it brings Michener Center into play, and I almost always plan my trips to include use of a Recreation facility.
Also, it's very nice to hear words of welcome from you Ted, and I will consider filling my water bottle at Grandview (or any school for that matter).