The future of cycling in Greater Victoria

With official community plans in place, region could create a collective transportation authority

The region has a fragmented cycling network. A recent study suggested that 82 per cent of Candians support spending to create dedicated bike lanes.

A fragmented cycling network has long been an issue of contention for two-wheeled commuters in Greater Victoria.

Ridership sits at 3.2 per cent in the region, a proportion that could increase to 15 per cent with proper infrastructure upgrades like separated bike lanes, according to research from municipalites where cycling investment has occurred.

“Studies seem to show confident cyclists are fine on the road,” said Victoria Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe. “But to get beyond that core ridership, you really do have to provide a greater sense of safety for more hesistant cyclists.”

A University of B.C. study confirms this belief, showing 82 per cent of Canadians support government spending to create dedicated bike lanes.

Last year, the CRD completed its Pedestrian and Cycling Masterplan. It identifies $275 million in needed infrastructure improvements to create an integrated cycling network, including 329 kilometres of separated bike lanes.

“It’s a steep hill to climb, but I’m someone who likes to approach these things incrementally,” said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, discussing the possibility of creating a regional transportation commission to oversee such projects.

Ryan Mijker, board member of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, said the benefits of cycling facilities far outweigh the initial costs. Dedicated trails like the Galloping Goose attract tourism dollars and can revitalize dead zones along the routes.

“You can also move a lot more people a lot cheaper by bike than you can by car,” Mijker said. “The most important thing is to fix the gaps now. If we look at the cycling network in Victoria, it’s fragmented at best.”

Municipalities always consider cycling upgrades as streets are dug up to replace aging infrastructure, said Brad Dellebuur, manager of transportation and infrastructure design for the City of Victoria.

But with a 2013 budget of $250,000 for cycling improvements, Dellebuur said the city can only build a skeleton network as opportunities arise.

Right now, those works include Craigflower Road, and the city is waiting to hear back from the province about sharing the cost of a bike lane down Johnson Street.

“If the CRD goes through with sewage treatment, there may be some works happening along Dallas Road,” he said. “But that won’t be next year.”

Earlier this month, Victoria passed its official community plan, which guides planning decisions for the next 30 years. It identifies major arteries of the city as “multi-modal transportation corridors,” and puts a greater emphasis on cycling and transit considerations.

But a regional plan with clear and stable funding could still be a long way off.

The CRD’s upcoming Regional Transportation Plan – which factors in the pedestrian and cycling plan – is only just getting underway and due to be completed in December 2013.

“Right now, we’re in a wait-and-see mode,” said Leonard, who along with Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, is advocating for CRD control over Greater Victoria transit. An independent advisory panel recommended Aug. 14 that the province create legislation to allow greater local government input in B.C. Transit decisions.

B.C. Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom will announce the provincial response to the recommendations at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in September.

“If the province gives the CRD transit, that’s the first step,” said Leonard,  adding a complete transportation commission could take two years to create.

Rather than forcing each municipality’s council to lobby for provincial and federal cash independently, the CRD could then present stronger business cases and decide upon a steady funding model for transportation upgrades.

A regional model requires all 13 municipalities to sign onto the agreement, which is a significant hurdle. Leonard argues those hurdles are a necessary evil.

“Taxpayers should be relieved that the CRD can’t get into certain functions without the municipalities agreeing to it. … There’s a check and balance here,” he said.

In the meantime, the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition will be lobbying four municipalities in the fall – Victoria, Saanich, Esquimalt and Oak Bay – with the hope of convincing them to dedicate 20 per cent of their transportation budgets to cycling facilities.

“I think we’ll see changes to how transportation is funded in the region. I think we’ll see a move towards a district-wide funding model,” Mijker said.