Imperial Drive

The most dangerous road conditions on my Mackenzie Heights to UBC bike commute are on Imperial Drive. I use Imperial Drive as the continuation of the 29th Ave bike route to reach 16th where I head West to UBC. It is a very attractive part of the ride because it crosses through Pacific Spirit Park and the curves in the road mean that cars are not racing through here as they are on 16th, for example.

However, the road surface is becoming worse and worse. As is often the case, it is wearing out from the outside, i.e. exactly where I would be riding my bike. Cracks, developing holes and – especially hazardous, I find – chunks of asphalt breaking off at the edge.

These road conditions are especially treacherous coming home in the afternoon/evening as there is no street lighting on this stretch of road. Given the condition of the roadway, I feel compelled to ride in the centre of the lane which obviously works well when there is no car traffic behind me. Should a car come, however, I move over to the side where the road conditions are scary and I’ve already pitched off the roadway onto the soft should once. The lack of light is exacerbated by on-coming traffic that doesn’t alway recognize a bike light as a signal to switch to low-beams. My Gotham Defender bike light does give me some light on the road at the speed I’m going, but this is no use (no fault of the light) in on-coming high-beams.

Bike Hazards on UBC Campus

Our campus has clearly become more bike-friendly and specifically more bike-commuter friendly over the past 4 years that I’ve been commuting by bike daily. The most concrete (literally in some cases) markers of this are the secure bike lock-up facilities and the great number of bike stands on campus.

Yet in striving to set an example for other employers and commuting-destinations, there are further improvements that could be made, mostly to do with roadways to/across campus.

1. The traffic circle at Wesbrook and 16th is a biking disaster even though it is of recent provenance and has presumably benefitted from careful planning given the decision for a traffic circle over traffic light.

Why a disaster? Markings on the road indicate that bike riders should go up on the sidewalk (presumably dismount) to cross roads. That is significantly worse than having to wait at a traffic light.

However, HUB discussions have suggested to me that the road signage here only refers to the option of walking across roads, not an injunction or even expectation. So, I ride through the traffic circle in the appropriate lane as any other vehicle would. I’m sure many drivers see the road markings and think to themselves, “What’s the bike doing in my lane, he’s supposed to be over there.”

Solution? Get rid of on-the-road markings, add signs “Share the Road”.

2. Passenger drop-off on campus roads. I usually enter campus on Main Mall, turn down on Thunderbird Blvd to head North on West Mall. The section of West Mall between University Blvd and Crescent Rd seems to be a particular favourite for parents, partners to drop off their loved ones. However, since this is a one-lane (in one direction) road, a car pulling over inevitably represents a hazard, particularly when slow-moving drivers (dropping off) seem especially prone to cell phone use.

The solution? Enforce “no stopping” gently and either mark entrances to campus with “no pedestrian drop-off on campus” or clearly mark locations that move a vehicle dropping off out of traffic, for example one spot in the Memorial Rd parking lot.

3. Tour bus traffic on campus. I see no reason whatsoever why tour buses should drive on campus roads. Yes, VERY occasionally a group of students may be getting picked up, but for the most part these seem to be tourist operations. Again, this is particularly common on the Northern end of West Mall, close to the Museum of Anthropology.

Solution? Outreach to tour operators that campus is not a place to be driving, nor stopping.

4. Main mall. This has turned into a real attractive feature in part because car traffic is gone (see 2. and 3.). However, tiling the road way has also meant that while bikes are meant to be allowed to use Main Mall, pedestrians are not paying much attention to bike riders, creating a real hazard.

Solution? Tough one. Even as a bike rider, I’d probably have to say, “Ban bikes on Main Mall”. This would be palatable if parallel routes were expressly dedicated to bike traffic. How about the Northern end of East Mall? There’s no through traffic there now anyway and the roadway still offers the opportunity to mark this as a space where pedestrians need to pay attention. This could also address 2. and 3. above as it would concentrate North-South bike traffic.

5. Bus loop on University Blvd in front of War Memorial Gym. This has been quite a saga from the original bus loop to the hard-to-fathom underground bus station plan, back to a bus loop. Clearly it’s all looking much more attractive now (along with improvements to Main Mall, these visual appearances do matter on campus, I’m convinced), but the arrangement with busses by the curb and the bike lane next to them, then another lane for rolling bus traffic (presumably) seems less than ideal. This is compounded by the anarchic pedestrian patterns and large numbers around here.

Solution? Again, this seems like it’s an area where a clear separation of different modes of transport might have been better. Maybe a centre bike lane demarcated by a curb of sorts? At least application of the bright green bike lane colour used in the city?

The Athletic Challenge of the 8th Ave Bike Route

Every once in a while I change my route to the UBC campus, particularly when my son decides to ride a bike to his school in Kitsilano.

Today I thus headed down the hill with him and turned back up the hill on the 8th Ave bike route. This is by far a greater athletic challenge than my usual route via the 29th Ave bike route and 16th Ave. The only incline that I usually face is the hill up to Dunbar Ave. While this is somewhat steep, it is fairly short (one block) and thus tackled quickly. Beyond that are only some minor inclines.

On 8th Ave by contrast the section from Highbury to Sasamat has some rather steep bits and lasts quite a while. Today, some athletic/cardiovascular competitive bug must have bitten me as I powered up the hill about as fast as I ever have. The good things is that the remainder of the way from the steep section to UBC is level, so that I can catch my breath and stop sweating too much before I arrive at my office. Nice workout occasionally though!

Grit Accumulating in Cycle Lane

One of the aspects of commuting by bike in Vancouver in the winter where insult is added to injury is the fact that grit, wetness, leaves, etc. all seem to accumulate in the bike lanes on big streets.

Take 16th, for example, as I’m heading to UBC. Last week we had some days that were somewhat dry, but followed on wetter days. The road was either dry or just wet as passing cars were drying it off.

Trees are obviously dropping lots of leaves onto roads (though less so on the stretch through Pacific Spirit Park) and the amount of rain seems to wash a fair bit of gravel and grit onto the road.

All this grit seems to accumulate in the bike lane. My shoe covers and the bottom of the forward-diagonal tube on the bike look like they’ve been gently sandblasted by the time I arrive on campus.

The fix for all of this? Obvious! More people riding => more grit gets thrown up and out of the cycle lane.

Bike Routes and Bike Lanes

Obviously, we’ve been gaining many dedicated bike lanes in Vancouver for some years. Most recently, the focus seems to be on making these lanes more visible by painting them a bright green. That’s great!

But why stop there?

How about intersections on bike routes?

One of the greatest danger spots on my commute through Dunbar is the traffic circle at 29th/Blenheim. Blenheim is a very convenient and reasonably fast N-S connection for many people from Kits to Kerrisdale or even on through to Richmond/YVR. While this is not a highway and people aren’t going crazy fast, it’s also not a back street.

The intersection has been changed to a traffic circle in the past two years or so where traffic in the circle has the right of way. What that means to me is: if I’m in the intersection as a car approaches, I have the right away. Or, if I arrive at the intersection when a car is approaching, I’m entering the circle first and would have the right of way.

There are signs that signify that one should yield when entering the traffic circle and this is also how the circle further down on Blenheim (37th, I think, also a bike route) as well as the larger traffic circle at 16th/Wesbrook operates.

However, the notion that cars should yield to a bike that’s in the circle already does not appear to be very clear to drivers.

As I’m about to enter the traffic circle, all too often a car is approaching at great enough speed and with not apparent intention to slow down to keep me from actually entering the circle. Yes, I’m stubborn and self-righteous but not so much so that I will hurl myself in front of traffic.

For a while I thought that a traffic education campaign with police posted near the circles and stopping “offenders” to educate them would be the best way to go, but I wonder whether a green stripe across the circle marking the bike route wouldn’t also be quite effective.

With the preponderance of bright green downtown to mark bike lanes, why not keep going with that theme?

My Typical Weekly Commute

Oct 29 – Nov 2 was Bike to Work week in Vancouver.

Pathetic geek that I am, I carefully log my commute during this bi-annual event.

This Fall, this was a very typical week for me, i.e. I rode to work in the morning and home in the evening. The daily 17.8km that I log is a bit of an underestimate because the map measures as the crow flies, so let’s call it 18km as a round number. That means 90km per week. Which in turn – given travel for work and vacations, otherwise I bike every day – probably between 3,000-4,000km per year. Who would have thought?

For many summers, I drive the family car up to Alaska for a one way 4,000km door-to-door drive. I wouldn’t have guessed that I bike that same distance every year.

All good news as far as I’m concerned.

Leafblowers

Yes, leafblowers are clearly the cyclist’s enemy.

Generally, I would say that gaspowered leafblowers are the devil’s invention when it comes to gardening tools. A task that is replaced by a very loud, stinky machine that people have been finding all kinds of uses for to bug city services who are left with leaf/grass clipping piles in the gutters. Ugh!

In the Spring they are especially dreadful when people (mostly professional gardening services which are – unfortunately – very active in our neighbourhood) are using them to blow grass clippings off their lawns. This is somewhat painful when you have some grass allergies. Fortunately, my allergies have been receding over the past several years, so I’m not getting all heyfeverish anymore, but grass clippings blown into the air along with dust are sure to get my eyes itchy for the next hours. So, I’ve taken to wearing riding glasses mostly to keep dust/allergants out of my eyes or to keep them from tearing up too much on cooler days.

At least in the fall now, leafblowers are actually blowing leafs that tend to be wet so that there’s not so much dust involved in the blowing, but still…

Rain Has Arrived

It is toward the middle of October and the rain has arrived in Vancouver. Of course, a blog must also talk about the weather as blogging mimicks the conversations we might have in our community (otherwise).

So far, it is a mere drizzle. Not really anything to deter anyone seriously from riding. But it portends what is to come in the coming months, namely the nearly incessant rain from November through March. And we’re not talking about drizzle for most of the time here. Not like the UK, for example, where (at least in my experience limited to 1 1/2 years of living and happily cycling in Cambridge) the air is generally moist, but hard rainfall seems fairly rare.

Rain is one of the reasons I have bought glasses for riding my bike (the other reasons are allergies and leaf blowers). On some days in the winter, riding downhill in Vancouver means that your face is blasted with rain drops. If the downhill is steep enough it actually fells like you’re being blasted.

But, as we all know and remind ourselves at this early point in the rainy season, there’s no bad weather, just bad gear.