By Martin Bauman
Waterloo Region’s cycling network is getting a tune-up.
Regional councillors have given the green light to a pilot project that will implement a separated bike lane network in the coming two years.
The driving force behind the project, which will see temporary protective barriers put up between cyclists and traffic on a still-to-be-determined series of roads, is to encourage cycling amongst a large percentage of the population that is uncomfortable with cycling in traffic, and determine whether something longer-term would be a good fit.
“It is very important,” says councillor Jane Mitchell, “because of the population that would like to cycle, 60 percent are not comfortable in mixed traffic or with bike lanes on busy streets, but they will go on a separated bike lane.”
The pilot project would be implemented by the spring of 2018, after undergoing consultations to determine the best location for the network of protected lanes. After that point, the lanes would stay in place until the end of the fall season in 2019.
“That way, we’ll have two summers of usage,” says Jeffrey Keyworth, the Region of Waterloo’s acting manager of transportation planning. “We’ll also have a winter of usage, so we can test out snow clearage, and [whether] people like them in the winter… that kind of stuff.”
Keyworth adds that ideally, the lanes will connect with other off-road trails that are already popular.
“If you’re familiar with cycling in the region, the Iron Horse Trail, the Laurel Trail, or the Spur Line Trail, those are examples of off-road trails that have really good usage, and so I think the users would appreciate if we could connect the network up to those,” says Keyworth.
Similar projects have been tried in other Canadian cities. Both Hamilton and Saskatoon have ongoing pilot projects, and Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton have all approved past pilot projects for permanent installation.
In Toronto, the project saw a 36 percent increase in cycling volume. In Calgary, the number climbed to 40 percent.
The initial project has a price tag of $100,000, which Mitchell says will come from the development charge reserve fund.
Additional funding will be required in 2018 for construction and maintenance of the project.