Don’t scrap those cycling lanes

Letters to the Editor (The Telegram)
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By Chris Peters
I am writing to voice my support for the continuation of cycling lanes in St. John’s.

While I would agree that there needs to be some changes vis-à-vis cycling in St. John’s, I would suggest many of these changes come in educating drivers and cyclists around the rules of the road, as well as the place of pedestrians and cyclists — not just recreationally, but as a mode of transportation — in the green fabric of a cohesive, vibrant St. John’s.

Simply put, the world is at a crossroads. While we have gotten used to the idea of transportation as the car, truck or SUV for one and the reality of sprawling cities, there are some indications — higher gas prices, collapse of ecosystems, finite resources, community fracturing — that this won’t carry on indefinitely.

We need to start implementing plans that will protect what makes St. John’s unique — a tight, dynamic city core that speaks to a long and diverse history, close proximity to nature, our love-hate relationship with the sea. In protecting these, I believe it is important to have a green strategy which includes adaptation to climate change.

Looking ahead

What does this have to do with cycling lanes?

I think we need political leaders with the foresight to see beyond people complaining about parking spaces today.

This is not to suggest that there shouldn’t be changes to the cycle routes as currently laid out.

But to scrap the plan wholesale would set St. John’s back at a time when we need to be planning for more cohesive, pedestrian-friendly, cyclist-friendly cities.

One of the large problems with both walking and cycling in St. John’s is that both are largely seen as recreational activities.

Those who walk or cycle are either pitied for being too poor to afford motorized vehicles or derided for getting in the way of the flow of traffic.

But to make a dynamic, cohesive city, you need to make available avenues for cyclists and pedestrians.

While living in London, I regularly commuted by cycle the 14-mile, round trip from my flat to work.

It was almost always a hair-raising experience. Cars and lorries whipped by at high speed with what seemed a whisper between me and them. At times, sheep and cattle thronged the road.

Yet I still felt safer on those roads by comparison to St. John’s roads.

The reason? One could expect to be treated as part of traffic, not an impediment or obstacle to be avoided at all costs or run over. Which isn’t to say that cycling in London was perfect, just that the rules of engagement were clearly understood.

Learning the rules

In short, then, we need to start educating people about the rules of the road — cyclists and drivers, but always with the caveat that in a cycle-vehicle accident it is the cyclist who doesn’t walk away.

Further, in looking to a future where the price of gas might not be as cheap as it is now, or where the effects of climate change have come to bear, wouldn’t it be prudent to start looking at how to prepare St. John’s for this?

Making a tight, dynamic city core with clear and vibrant lanes of pedestrian and cycle traffic — both of which are green, without a lot of monetary investment to maintain — is one way to address this.

Chris Peters writes from St. John’s.

Geographic location: London

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  • David Moores
    May 17, 2014 - 17:32

    Thank you for that piece of sense. I've walked around in countries where the motorists are supposed to be crazy - Italy, Spain, France - but it was easy to learn, as you phrased it, the rules of engagement. Here there only seems to be one: you live at the whim of the person with the biggest vehic le. Fortunately, there are lots of considerate people out there, but there has to be a more sane way of doing things,