I would like to reply to your editorials (“Will bike plan gain traction?” June 1 and the bike trail item in Cheers & Jeers June 3) about the proposal for shared use paths along the Rennie’s River Trail, the Virginia River Trail and Kelly's Brook in the new City of St. John’s bike plan.
The paper implies that the planned paths are too wide, yet also suggests that some cyclists would ride too quickly on them, which would seem to suggest a wider path is needed. The editorials both stir up fears the new paths would be too popular with cyclists and suggest that there is not enough demand to justify building them.
You ask, “is a trail really useful as a commuter link if it can only be used for part of the year?” We build and maintain plenty of things that get used only a few months of the year — the Bannerman Park splash pads, the Loop or the East Coast Trail, for example. And weather doesn’t have to be a barrier to cycling. In Umea, Sweden, it snows 130 days a year but a quarter of commuters cycle, even in winter.
The trails as they are now are pleasant for walkers but inaccessible in many places for those with strollers or wheelchairs as well as for cyclists. If they were paved/repaved and opened to cyclists, they could provide the nudge needed to get both potential commuters and families onto the trails and onto their bikes, a healthy habit which could help ease traffic and parking downtown, to boot.
Some useful facts from the plan that you missed in your reporting: 59 per cent of people in the city commute less than five kilometres — a 15-minute bike journey. A third of St. John’s residents are obese, a rising number are elderly, and participation in cycling and other active transport options has been shown to help tackle health problems linked to both. If we don’t do all we can to boost healthy living, we will be stuck with a big health-care bill later on. In fact, studies suggest cycling infrastructure pays for itself many times over — the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, for example, found every $1 spent can bring $14 of public benefit!
The cost to start this first stage of a necessary cycling network is a small fraction of the sums spent by the city on roads and road maintenance for cars. We don’t need to turn St. John’s into a city of avid cyclists for this project to prove its worth. Let’s just provide enough support that those who would like to cycle here — to save time and money on their commute, to keep healthy or just for fun — can do so in safety and comfort.