Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hey Look, More Thoughts on Bike Lanes

You'd think by now I'd have hashed this through.

First and foremost I need to issue an apology to the Association for Bicycle Commuting in Red Deer. In my last post I called them myopic. In hindsight, that was an unfair assertion by me because at the end of the day, the Association didn't go out and paint the lanes on the road by themselves. As has been pointed out - and I did know this but my crankiness got in the way - the bike lanes are the work of a huge planning group that the Association is a part of.

So John, Steven, Grant and the rest of the committee, please accept my apologies for throwing you under the metaphorical bus.

There is a bigger issue at stake here, beyond whether or not I like the 40Ave bike lane (my stance on the lane itself hasn't changed). Two days ago in the Red Deer Advocate, former Councillor Vesna Higham  wrote that the bike lanes will be a disaster because parents like her need to drive their kids to school at Lindsay Thurber.

Therein lies the crux of the problem. Right now we don't have that much traffic on the roads. The summertime bike commute is comfortable largely because we don't have parents taxiing their kids to and from school.

My question to Vesna Higham and to other parents is this: Why can't your kids walk or ride their bikes to school?

Full disclosure: I have two kids. One is in middle school and one in elementary school. They are daily walkers and bike-riders, year-round. One gets picked up from school on Mondays. The middle schooler takes the bus or rides his bike from our house in Anders to Central. If the temp falls below -20 the youngest one still walks - she just wears a thicker scarf and warmer mitts.

I understand that the first day is different. Kids have a mountain of supplies to bring, there are first-day jitters,  and inquisitive parents want to be on hand to find out who their kids' teachers are going to be. However, by day two of school things are back to normal. Beyond physical disabilities or the fact that some kids live outside of bussing range or outside of their designated school's boundary, there is no good reason that a kid needs a ride to school every day.

I'll address the counter arguments.

1. It's too dangerous for my kid to walk/ride to school.
     Dangerous in what way? If you're talking about traffic safety, that's an issue for you to deal with. Teach your kid to look both ways, to push the button at the crosswalk, to wait for the cars to stop and to use the crosswalk. This is not hard.

     If on the other hand, you think it's too dangerous because the streets and alleys are crawling with weirdos waiting to steal your child, then I suggest you stop watching TV. I won't trivialize the pain that a family goes through when their child is abducted nor will I minimize the trauma to an abducted child. However, every jurisdiction in North America shows a decrease in their statistics of random-stranger child abduction over the last 30 years. Kids are as safer walking to school today than they were when I was a kid, growing up in the 1970s. Kids are assaulted - statistically - by the people they and their parents know and trust. What has increased in the last 30 years, is the amount of coverage that news outlets (mostly TV) give to stories of abducted kids.  Yes, you hear about it more. That's because it's covered more, not because it's happening more often. Fear and sensationalism bring in viewers.

2. We live too far for my child to walk/ride to school.
     How far is too far? 30 years ago kids were walking upwards of a kilometre each way. Today (and this by no means a modern thing) there are bussing options for kids who live beyond a certain distance and Transit bussing options for those going to out-of-boundary schools. And, guess what, the Transit busses even have bike racks on the front of them so your kid has multiple options.

The reality is that exercise won't kill your kid. In fact it'll likely help them.

Getting themselves to school does wonders for a child's sense of place in the world and for their self confidence. They learn navigation skills, they learn familiarity with their neighbourhood, and they gain decision making skills they need in order to thrive as adults. Walking to school makes your kids familiar to the people in the neighbourhood. I've never told my kids "Don't talk to strangers." I have taught them, "Don't go with strangers". This way, they learn through their interactions with people how to judge character and who lives where in the neighbourhood.

So, to Vesna Higham and the other helicopter parents, do your kids a favour and let them get themselves to school. If you're worried about your children's safety, organize a number of kids to walk/ride together, find a stay-at-home-parent in the neighbourhood and see if they'll do a "Walking school bus"; do whatever it takes. But don't just take what you perceive to be the easy way out and drive the kids to school everyday.

3. It's too cold
    I'm sorry but in all honesty - bullshit. Those days where you are driving your kid to school, guess what. they're playing outside at recess and lunch. The school will keep them in if the temp falls below -20 (actual or with windchill). Most days, even through the winter, your kid can walk. Drive 'em on the really cold days if you must (if they're not on a school bus plan).

How does all this relate to bike lanes; that topic that we're all abuzz over here in Red Deer. It's easy. Many of those lanes exist to help kids get to and from school on their bikes and to help encourage commuters like me to get to work alive. Vesna and others, need to look beyond their steering wheels and dashboards and understand that if they didn't drive their kids and if others didn't drive their kids, those cars wouldn't be choking up the intersection of 55th Street and 40 Ave. If our kids rode their bikes, took the Transit busses, took the school busses or God-forbid, walked, then all those parents driving their kids to Thurber (and Camille J LeRouge) wouldn't have to go anywhere near there. Problem solved.

The Red Deer bike lanes are an amazing addition to the City. They demonstrate a real commitment on the part of Council and the involved departments to give us sustainable commuting choices. Are the lanes for everyone? No, of course not. But they can be for more of us.

The arguments being presented against project are mostly along the lines of "I'm not a cyclist, why am I paying for this waste of time?" can be applied to almost every infrastructure project in any community. I could well ask "I'm not a soccer or lacrosse player, why did we need to build a field house in the Collicut Centre?" The answer is that the City needs to cater to its entire base. They need to not only run the City day-to-day but they need to have a vision for the future. Part of that vision right now, is a more sustainable, lighter impact way of getting about town.

That vision, requires bike lanes.


White Egyptian said...

Very well said- nice apology as well, rage has a way of getting in the way... or something like that. I used to LOVE walking/biking to school! It gave me freedom from my parents and let me spend time with my friends before class time. We would meet each other in the easements and would all walk together- my friend and I even used to leave early for school just so we could hang out longer.

Instead of complaining, complaining, and complaining some more about bike lanes, we should try and adjust our habits and the habits of our children.

I am committed to buying a bike this coming spring and trying out the bike lanes for myself- my boyfriend has agreed to do the same. We are both keeping an open, and positive mind, of what commuting to work (in industrial areas) will do for our lives.

Maybe it'll help me capture that early morning easement fun I loved as a child!

Appreciate your thoughts as always,


Blogger profile said...

Good stuff Todd. As usual, a new process or initiative is met with skepticism and revolt.

I believe you have addressed the excuse of weather conditions here quite well. If the only other reason for a person's dislike for bike lanes is traffic, I do disagree with that notion when one can get across the entire city in under 20 minutes easily, even during the thickest 'rush hour' in Red Deer. I am also curious as to the actual level of congestion by reducing traffic to one lane will cause, and will it compel people to use bikes or to complain more?

Although I like the spirit of the program, I hope to see an educational aspect included somehow. I would like it to involve educating drivers just as much as cyclists, as we have all encountered misguided/miseducated drivers in our city. I, myself am a little concerned about handling a left turn from the bike lane from both a driver's and a cyclist's perspective.

As for the cost of the project, I don't believe that skeptics understand that there were also costs to paint over and grind off conflicting lines in many cases. Also, there is signage in many, if not all areas affected by the changes.

Besides, these are probably the same people that often complain that there is not enough effort spent in creating jobs. And, before I see responses as to what type of jobs are more sustainable or crucial to society, please remember that they are still somebody's job, and that your job, like mine, probably does not involve saving the world either.


Red said...

Well said. So far things seem to be working even though I see some weird bike and traffic lanes. Saw four kids riding side by side down Spruce Hill.

Dan said...

The best takeaway for me was the fact that very few municipal projects are actually for EVERYONE. That's why they have so many initiatives. Any city that people view as user friendly or as a beautiful destination has features that could be considered frivolous. Or that, while nice to have, likely cost more than many might have preferred to spend. The challenge planners have is that they have to take a calculated risk to judge what will actually make our town desirable to newcomers, as opposed to forgettable. And I think the bike lanes are memorable.