Do we ungap Ontario's urban maps?
If you've ever tried to cycle from Vancouver to Steveston, or from New Westminster to the Tswawwassen ferry, you've probably found that some of the bike routes to get there are not so safe, or straightforward.
Bike advocates at HUB Cycling are trying to address those gaps, with a campaign called #ungapthemap.
HUB, formerly the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition is a charitable organization promoting bike education and safety.
Colin Stein rides across the Canada Line bridge from Vancouver to Richmond regularly. He's a member of HUB Cycling, and he says stretches of the route are unsafe, if you don't know where to go.
Jeff Leigh volunteers with HUB Cycling and he's worked with the city to assess the rideability of many of the bike routes. He uses Kent Avenue about twice a week, to get to Richmond, New Westminster and across town to UBC.
Roads need more than patchwork solutions
Most of the route south from downtown along Ontario Street is very well laid out, with clearly-marked signs and near Langara College at 49 Avenue, there's a separated bike lane with a concrete barrier.
But once you head further south before Marine Drive, the signs thin out and one arrow points to the Canada Line, while the other arrow points to Kent Avenue at the bottom of Ontario.
If cyclists choose the second option, they will have no choice but to take Kent Avenue to the Canada Line bridge that goes across the Fraser River to Richmond. Kent runs east to west but requires cyclists to ride on a narrow road with trucks and industrial traffic.
That's where #ungapthemap comes in. The campaign by HUB calls on municipalities to make better connections for continuous, safer routes.
"Ungap the Map is actually really about calling attention to the issues connecting from one path or one street to another within a municipality," says Stein. "Those types of gaps are spot issues that need to be fixed, whether it's about separated lanes or paths.
"But when you get between municipalities, you have the need to connect communities through such things as bridges and tunnels and all sorts of things that need to be worked out at a regional level. We're trying to basically point out what the top priorities should be."
Strategic routes are key to more cyclists
Routes like Kent are "strategic" because people need to connect to the airport and to the ferries, but when bike routes such as Angus or Ontario Streets reach Kent, they simply end with no clear signs to direct cyclists, says Jeff Leigh.
Stein says, "It's really dicey to actually move forward west because you're competing with garbage and recycling disposal trucks. Our challenge is to coordinate within municipalities and between municipalities, to work with TransLink. We're starting to do that with the "Ungap the Map" campaign."
Leigh says there have been a lot of improvements to the bike route network, but many of them are in places where heavy cycling traffic already exists. Better and safer connections, says Leigh, will attract riders who are less confident, even if they aren't being heavily used now.
Still, there's a steady stream of cyclists going by while Stein and Leigh are stopped at Kent and Ontario.
At Cambie Street and Kent Avenue, there is a new protected bike lane that comes under the Canada Line and leads to the bridge.
"It's a fantastic bridge," says Leigh.
He says it's important to talk to municipal politicians to ensure that cyclists can take advantage, and that could mean clearer signs or more protected lanes.
"Similar challenges exist on the Richmond side," says Leigh.