Many opponents of the city of St. John’s proposed bike plan don’t seem to realize that the issues they are raising actually support the need for improved cycling infrastructure.
Not enough room for both pedestrians and bicyclists? Wider trails and designated use areas will help, not hurt.
Too few bicyclists to warrant the money? Lack of safe and accessible infrastructure is one factor keeping many off two wheels. It is against city bylaws to ride on sidewalks or walking trails, leaving bicyclists to ride on roadways. This isn’t too bad for me and my commute, but it can be dangerous, if not borderline suicidal, for others.
Furthermore, as our society reacts to climate change, we are bound to see more of our citizens adopting greener modes of transportation, such as the bicycle.
Of course, as these conclusions are easy to achieve with a little reflection, I suspect that most anti-bicycle infrastructure sentiment is actually anti-bicyclist sentiment at its heart. It seems many in our community simply want fewer cyclists. This is a myopic (or else downright backward) perspective, but not one that I want to focus on in this letter.
The third argument I hear, and the one I would most like to address, is that the new bike lanes and trails will be an eyesore. I happen to be sympathetic toward this point. Recent cases such as the Western Brook Pond debacle, as one other writer pointed out, have not fostered faith in our developers. For good reason.
But bike trails do not have to be ugly.
This is an opportunity for St. John’s to assert itself in two ways: first, as a city that cares about the state of the environment and the health of its people; and second, as a city that is attentive to beauty and practicality.
We admire the great cities of the world because they balance and elevate elements such as idiomatic architecture, support for close and lively human presence over anonymity, walkability over sprawl and green space over industrialisation. A good bike plan can fit perfectly into this framework, but to implement it without an educated look at aesthetics would be an embarrassing mistake.
We think it’s the trail we hate. It’s not. It’s just the ugliness.