By Andrew Patrick

A new bicycle route will connect James Bay to downtown, but detailed design options will depend on future public consultations, according to City officials.

On May 12, city councilors voted unanimously to adopt plans for Biketoria, a network of protected bicycle lanes and greenways that will connect city neighbourhoods to the downtown core. 

City Councilor Margaret Lucas said the plan is a positive investment in safer bicycle infrastructure that will help meet the needs of the city’s changing demographics.

“I think there is a trend that is moving forward, especially with young people. They’re not thinking the same way as myself. I grew up in a different generation and I think we have to meet these needs and we’ve got to get started now,” she said.

“You’ve got young people moving into this city in the tech industry. They get around on their bikes and they walk. So we need to take a look at both of those issues in the city and really start to address how we’re going to manage that,” Lucas said.

The Biketoria network will proceed in four phases. The first phase will create a grid of protected bikeways throughout the downtown core by the end of 2018, and expand to further neighbourhoods in phases two and three. Plans to develop a James Bay connection will proceed in the fourth phase, with potential for a route down Menzies Street.

Lucas said James Bay consultations will need to consider a diversity of road users and developments in the neighbourhood.

“The difficulty is meeting the car-centric generation with the non-car-centric generation. How do we blend that so that we’re meeting everybody’s needs?” Lucas said.

“That’s difficult in James Bay with a very large demographic of seniors there. What are their needs? I think we can do it, I think it’s possible, but it requires really solid planning on the part of the neighbourhood, City staff, mayor and council,” she explained.

In 2015, the City hired consulting firm Urban Systems to develop the initial phases of the Biketoria network. Those plans included city-wide consultations and recommended a protected bike lane along the Inner Harbour connecting to Ogden Point via Belleville Street.

A report from City of Victoria staff in April recommended City Council reconsider the Belleville route in light of public feedback, which suggested a new route should connect to the village centre and the Capital Park development.

Marg Gardner, president of the James Bay Neighbourhood Association (JBNA), said she has concerns with the City’s Biketoria consultation process and would like to see land-use bodies like JBNA given a bigger role in future consultations.

“We were excluded on the first phase of Biketoria. We didn’t even know that it was coming to James Bay until November,” she said. “The original route was named Harbour Road and Wharf Street, neither of which are in James Bay. We didn’t know to look at those streets to see the James Bay routing because it was mislabeled.”

Gardner said she was pleased the City committed to more consultations for the James Bay route.

“We’re glad that it slowed down because it gives us the opportunity to try and get something really good for the community and that’s really what we all want.”

Gardner also commented that Biketoria has focused too heavily on cyclists at the expense of other road users.

“We’re going to have a great increase in scooters and walkers and we have to be able to accommodate that. We have to be worried when you start to carve off a roadway for one use, be it bike lanes or a pedicab or a bus or a horse, you are therefore restricting other users. So we need to find a balance,” Gardner said.

Edward Pullman, president of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, agrees that more investment in pedestrian infrastructure is needed, but said that safer bicycle routes do not have to restrict pedestrians.

“The idea that by installing cycling facilities you’re somehow undermining pedestrian safety, or safety of any other road users, I’ve really got to challenge that and say that really doesn’t speak to the research and the practice,” Pullman said. “Without question the two go hand-in-hand. If you’re installing cycling facilities and undermining the pedestrian experience, you’re doing it wrong.”

Pullman said the Biketoria plan is meant to encourage a greater diversity of people to ride bicycles.

“We’re creating better cycling facilities, not for the people that already ride bikes, not for people that have no fear and go out in pelotons around Dallas Road, but for everyday folks, for seniors, for children and youth, for people that are less comfortable riding in traffic to give them that ability,” he said.

According to 2011 Statistics Canada data, 10 per cent of James Bay residents biked to work, while 27 per cent walked, 13 per cent used transit and 48 per cent used motor vehicles. Currently four per cent of all trips in the City of Victoria, including commuting and non-commuting trips, are by bicycle. The City’s goal is to increase the percentage of people cycling for all trips to 25 per cent by 2038.

City staff say more updates on Biketoria plans will be provided to Council during the 2017 budgeting process in October.

Disclaimer: Andrew Patrick volunteered for the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition from December 2010 to June 2011.