Mayor John Dooley and MLA Brittny Anderson officially opened Nelson’s new bike route on Aug. 6.
The route has altered traffic patterns, speed limits, sidewalks and signage on Third Street, Nelson Avenue, and High Street to create a bike-friendly corridor from the bridge to downtown.
“It’s a very positive step forward,” Dooley told the Nelson Star. “It is Nelson’s first attempt at having a mixed-use corridor.”
The route introduces a 30 kilometre per hour speed limit as well as speed bumps and upgraded crosswalks.
On these shared streets, bicycles are not expected to crowd over to the curb to let cars pass from behind. Rather, the cyclist occupies the full lane and cars approaching from behind must slow down to follow the bike or change lanes to pass.
The route is intended not just for the benefit of hard-core cyclists, but for families and cyclists of all abilities, city planners say.
“If we see success with this, it will give us an opportunity to learn from this experience,” Dooley said. “And we want to continue connecting our community in any way possible to allow people to have an alternate mode of transportation in and out of our neighbourhoods. Cycling seems to be pretty popular in the Nelson area, but it’s going take a little bit of time for people to learn to cooperate on the road.”
He said the lowered speed limit on High Street will not noticeably affect the length of time it takes for drivers to move across town.
“You’re talking about seconds, maybe a minute difference, in the time it would take to drive all the way through there, if you drove the speed limit or less.”
He said drivers will have to adjust but so will cyclists, who need to learn the rules of the road.
“Everybody has to learn new ways of managing. And if we end up with three or four of these corridors through our community, we still have hundreds of kilometres of streets that are not cycling corridor, so the least we can do is come up with a few that would connect our different areas.”
Planning and construction work including more bike parking downtown has cost the city $207,000, with a further $483,000 provided by a provincial government grant.
The project is mandated by Nelson’s Active Transportation Plan, one goal of which is to get people out of cars and onto their feet or bikes.
Anna Lamb-Yorski, president of the West Kootenay Cycling Coalition, says she feels more comfortable riding with her young daughter on High Street now.
“I definitely noticed people slowing down a lot more when they’re driving there. It feels a lot quieter. So I think that it definitely has the potential to be a success.”
But she is skeptical about the Third Street section, which she thinks will be used by cyclists who live in Fairview but not by those coming off the bridge heading for downtown, whom she thinks will use Nelson Avenue rather than turn left to reach Third Street.
She says the amount the city spent on the project is a small fraction of the city’s road construction and maintenance budget, especially considering that it is a global priority as well as city policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by getting cars off the road and making it easier to cycle or walk.
Lamb-Yorski offers some perspective to drivers following, perhaps impatiently, a cyclist on High Street.
“You can have your opinions about a cyclist taking up space on the road, but on High Street they have the right to be in the middle of the lane. You can be as upset as you want about it, swear in your car, complain to your friends.”
But don’t let it affect the way you drive or the way you treat the cyclist, she says.