Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saskatoon Bicycling Paths

At Jan Gehl's talk in Saskatoon recently the city was handing out a brochure on "Spaces and Places to Ride in Saskatoon".

It's nice to see the city thinking about bicyclists. Saskatoon does have some good paths, along the river and a few other places.

Saskatoon has two "Exclusive-Use On-Road Cycling Lanes" - along part of Preston and part of Spadina. I use both regularly and it is really nice to have a separate lane for cyclists. Of course, because the lanes are "just" for cyclists, and because they're at the edge of busy roads they tend to get full of gravel, which doesn't make the nicest (or safest) cycling.

On the map in the brochure the most prominent network, outlined in red, is "Shared Use On-Road Cycling Lanes". It also has the most "Proposed" sections. This is the one type of "path" that is not explained in the brochure. As far as I can tell, it simply means a road that bicycles are allowed to use. In other words, a regular road. Having cycled on many of the outlined streets, I don't recall anything special about them - no signs or markings.

In other words, the big red network is hype. Bicyclists will realize this. The problem is that non-bicyclists (most people) will see it and think "what are these bicyclists whining about, look at all the cycling paths they have".

And that's not the only part of the brochure that's hype. The map in the brochure shows the Spadina section extending from 33rd to College Drive. This is pure fabrication. Spadina on this part is barely wide enough for one lane in each direction plus parked cars on one side. And on top of that, it's full of potholes. As far as I'm concerned the only time it's safe to bicycle on this section is when there's no traffic (e.g. when Shelley goes to work at 5am). There's certainly no "exclusive use cycling lane". They are currently resurfacing this section (which should at least fix the pothole issue) and maybe they plan to add a cycling lane, although I doubt it because there's no room for it.

I don't think this hype is conspiracy or malicious or even deliberate. I just think most of the people involved are out of touch. I bet they haven't even looked at most of the paths in person, let alone cycled on them. The other symptom of this is discontinuous paths - bike lanes that suddenly end and sections of path that don't connect. They look ok on paper and add to the stats, but they're not so good for actual use. (Check out the path along Whiteswan, it's a crazy collection of discontinuous pieces.)

I think, at least unconsciously, there's this image of cycling as being something you go out and do on a sunny Sunday afternoon along the riverbank. Not something as mundane as trying to do your shopping or commute to work. That's pretty obvious when you look at where the good trails are - along the river. Where the shopping is it's almost impossible to cycle. This is true even in areas that are supposedly more "enlightened" like Broadway. Try maneuvering between stores on 8th Street on your bicycle.

It's also obvious when there is absolutely no provision for pedestrians or cyclists, only cars. For example it's almost impossible to get from my house in Richmond Heights to the restaurants and shops very close by on 42nd Street. You have to play Frogger and dodge traffic across 6 lanes of busy Warmen Road, then get across the train tracks (ignoring the no trespassing signs) scramble up and down the embankments, and then cut across a car sales lot. And it's even more fun in the winter with the snow and ice.

Studies show that traffic expands to fill the available space. Enlarging roads or parking to reduce congestion almost always has the opposite effect - it just increases traffic. The best way to reduce traffic is actually to shrink roads and parking. So on Broadway, for example, where people would say there's no room for a bike lane, we could just convert the parking lanes into bike lanes, at least for the summer. Of course, the drivers would complain and they have a bigger lobby so it's unlikely to happen.

It would also be nice if the city demonstrated a little more interest in input from people. Deliberately or not, the brochure did not give any way to contact anyone. No phone number, no email address. Only the web site for the city as a whole ( There is an advisory committee for cycling in Saskatoon, but from what I hear, the city primarily uses it to announce what they plan to do, not to actually get input.

Oh well, I shouldn't complain, it's nice to see some attention to cycling.


  1. There are many of the same problems in England although the cyclists here have a louder voice.

    In London there are many green-painted cycle lanes, on the traffic side of the parking lane (if any). A recent study shows them to be more dangerous than the roads cycles and cars share. Camera photos show that cars drive close up to the narrow green lanes giving less clearance for cyclists than on other roads where the cars have to do an overtaking manoeuvre.

    The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, rides a bike and before his election was photographed ignoring red-lights as cyclist do. The Leader of the Opposition and likely nedt Prime Minister David Cameron rides a bike - good for the image as well as for the figure. Such politicians are followed by a car with their papers, bag-carriers and security men. I note the US President out for a run has or had security men who run too - I have not seen pictures of any cycling security men.

    In the country here there are some cycling lanes reasonably separated from main roads but shared with pedestrians, if any.

    In my village of Broadmayne some 10K from the town of Dorchester cycling along the winding busy main road carrying big trucks to the port of Poole is hazardous though Charlie Talbot in his nnineties survived, in his later years mostly pushing his bike laden with garden produce for the market.

    He was an eccentric of course who refused to have an electricity supply on the grounds that he used so little it did not justify paying a standing base charge. He died rich and lamented.

    There is however a network of rural footpaths which if upgraded could provide a completely separate cycle path into town and I and others are advocating this.

    There are problems. A footpath may have stiles to climb over, making it impracticable for cyclists who anyway have no legal status on it. A footpath is not the same as a bridle path which must be open to horses and so cyclists but not motorised vehicles.

    England is on a small scale and towns were built before cars were invented which has pluses when the original pedestrian users and the cycling successors of horse-riders are concerned.

    In London in particular the interests of cyclists and pedestrians often conflict. Cyclist ride across pedestrian crossings ignoring the red light and on the pavement (sidewalk).Locally a week or two ago a cyclist riding on nthe pavement against the traffic flow on a busy road came round a corner fast and knocked down and killed a pedestrian.

    I gave up riding a bike when we moved here. The main roads with trucks were frightening and the minor single-lane roads with fast-moving cars even more frightening. Hills were getting steeper too. So I walk a long way in London but drive in the country. At least Saskatoon is flat like Denmark and Holland where cycling is universal.

    Cycling in frost and snow is an extreme sport and to be attempted only by the most resolute.

    J. A. B.

  2. I think your analysis is right on. Google Maps is another manifestation of the mentality most people have of what bikes are for: Google Maps can tell you how to get from here to there walking, by public transit, or by car. It doesn't tell you how to get there by bike.

    If I want to describe my current commute in Google Maps, I can't (easily). I'm a vehicle so I ride on the roads, but one stretch I cross a bridge that's a freeway, and I have to use the sidewalk. Wouldn't it be cool if the data was there to show the optimum bike route?