Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cycling: The other public transit

Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

Cycling has the potential to be an incredibly huge role in an automobile-free city. They serve to complement bus or light-rail systems, allowing for commuters to get from their homes to transit corridors without having to resort to automobiles. Fittingly, it has come up in transit discussions a few times recently.

Right here on TransitOttawa, Nick published part of his interview with prominent Ottawa-based environmentalist and former Green Party Deputy Leader David Chernushenko, focussing on the role that bicycles can play in city transit planning. Chernushenko suggests a rent-a-bike program with drop-off points around the city, so bikers could get to the bus, drop off their bike, and then pick up a new one once they're off the bus. First off, though, Ottawa's got to become a bike-friendly city. (Make sure you read the rest of Chernushenko's thoughts on cycling--it's a great read--as well as the rest of the series on public transit in Ottawa.)

As an effort to get Ottawa's transition kick-started, just last week the Ottawa Citizen reported that the city's transit committee suggested that council's cycling plans get underway in five years, rather than ten (as originally planned). The committe also suggested a bike rental system, similar to Chernushenko's proposed rent-a-bike program. The article offers some insight:

The city's $24.6-million plan for cycling includes about $8 million for more bicycle lanes, $9 million for paved shoulders and $6 million for multi-use pathways.

Bay Councillor Alex Cullen proposed spending $5 million a year on cycling, rather than the proposed $2.5 million, as a modest acceleration, given the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on roads each year. Mr. Cullen said the city needs to improve riding conditions for both commuters and recreational cyclists as a safety measure and to encourage more residents to cycle.

Cullen's suggestions are certainly progressive. Cycling is beneficial for the city not only for resident's health reasons, but it's also significantly easier on roads and general transportation infrastructure. Considering we're prepared to accept plans to spend $4B over 30 years (or roughly $133M per year) to convert to a light-rail infrastructure, I think that upping our expenditures to encourage cycling to $5M per year is pretty justifiable.

Finally, Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath has recently introduced a private members bill into Queen's Park amending the Public Vehicles Act to allow buses with bike racks to cross municipal boundaries--which is, apparently, not allowed now. This seems like a pretty straight-forward amendment, although I'm uncertain how Ottawa system (which often has buses moving from Ontario into Quebec and vice-versa) is affected.

Ottawa is already a pretty good city for bikes, the Alcatel-Lucent Sunday Bike Days along the Parkway being one prime example, but there is still much that can be done to foster a cycling culture in the city. And there is a lot to gain for doing so.

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