A Better Bay: Small City Cycling

This article is Part four of a Gateway series called A Better Bay, which explores possibilities for the future of our City:

**Note: This is a very long article. I’ve considered splitting it up, but ultimately decided to provide natural section breaks for convenience if you want to read it in pieces. You can use the links below to skip to sections**


Introduction

If you measure the efficiency at which various species move, the energy burned to move a certain distance, you will find that humans fall about 1/3 of the way down the list. Interestingly, researchers have also found that if you put that human on a bicycle, humankind represents literally the #1 most efficient locomotion of the measured species (Wilson, 1973).

“When one compares the energy consumed in moving a certain distance as a function of body weight for a variety of animals and machines, one finds that an unaided walking man does fairly well … but he is not as efficient as a horse, a salmon or a jet transport.

With the aid of a bicycle, however, the man’s energy consumption for a given distance is reduced to about a fifth”

S.S Wilson, 1973

Biking is an incredibly efficient way to move around, and, as most of us remember from our childhood, it’s an incredibly fun way to get around. Oh, and it’s a really cheap way to get around. Did I mention it’s really good for you, and the environment, too?

So with all its efficiency, fun, and benefits, why is it that in our society the bicycle is seen as a a recreational pursuit? We subconsciously think of those who ride their bike’s for transportation as juvenile, or economically disadvantaged. Maybe we assume that they’re fitness obsessives who just aim to cram as much recreation into their day as they possibly can.

We’ve committed so totally and completely to the automobile that we’ve build our whole city around it. In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an alien comes to earth and confuses the car for our planet’s dominant life form. This is both absurd and, when given some thought, a fair conclusion to reach if observing Earth from afar.

It’s abundantly obvious that cars are given preferential treatment in our city, a notion woven into the culture of western society. So how can we get the leaders and residents of North Bay to consider investing and participating in cycling?

What would that city look like?


The Benefits of Being a Cycle City

Compiled by author

1) Cycling is the fiscally responsible choice for both the city, and the end users.

When compared with automobile ownership, a bike is an incredibly fiscally responsible choice. Of course, like anything, there are various degree of qualities and types, but generally, a bike can cost you a few hundred dollars, will have extremely reasonable maintenance costs, and do not require the recurring costs of insurance and fuel.

Think about the number of people in our community living pay-cheque to pay-cheque. How many of them own a car because our city’s layout made it the obvious choice? What could all the extra money be spent on?

All in, the cost of a bike isn’t even in the same universe as the car. As such an affordable option, it’s a wonder it isn’t catered to. An affordable way to move around the city should be a huge priority, and yet, if we look at North American cities, it’s blatantly obvious it’s an afterthought, if that.

From the perspective of the city, cycling is also very cheap transportation.

When comparing the cost of infrastructure to the public, infrastructure for automobiles costs about 29 ¢ per mile, while cycling costs a mere 0.9 ¢ per mile (Montgomery, 2013). We pour thousands, and thousands of dollars into our roadways, and for a fraction of that we could improve cycling transportation in our city, empowering residents with the freedom to move around town in another way. As a knock on benefit, the reduced traffic as a function of former motorists choosing to cycling increases the efficiency of the roadways, which has indirect economic benefits.

One could make a fair argument that the most efficient transportation route is the one that can move the highest volume of people per relative space. Bicycles take very little space compared to a car, and while cars can seat five to seven people, they often only carry one.

By including bike lanes and other cyclist infrastructure, we increase the efficiency of our transportation system, and take a fiscally conservative approach to improving mobility of residents.

2) Cycling is a great, sustainable transportation choice to reduce environmental harm.

One of the most obvious, well-known and well-regarded qualities of the bicycle is its environmental friendliness. While obviously there are emissions associated with the production and transportation of bikes, they produce no emissions in use. Remember, the emissions from vehicles are an externality. They create costs to everyone in their impact on the climate, ecology, and air quality.

In reality, in terms of changing personal behaviours to have an effect on the global issue of climate change, addressing our automobile dependence is a huge step. The bike, which offers fairly fast travel over medium distances with no emissions is a great tool to this end.

Up to 90% of the emissions from a 11 km car ride occur in the first few kilometres (Trace Planning and Design, 2019). Additionally, most car trips are under 5 km in distance, and thus could easily be replaced with a 10 minute bike ride (Montgomery, 2013). If we put the effort into accommodating bikes, it could really make a difference in solving the man-made climate change problem.

As an added bonus, more cyclists means less motorists, which means less rush-hour congestion on Algonquin, Cassels and other main arteries, and thus even less emissions caused by slow flowing traffic.

Finally, Cyclists move slower than vehicles, meaning that they are more aware of the sights around them (Andersen, 2018). The desire to acccommodate cycle routes with views might lead to more small scale natural features, and thus better urban ecology in our city.

Diagram of the way speed of travel effects ones field of vision.
Source: Copenhaggenize

Cycling has obvious environmental benefits, but unless we nudge people to choose their bike over their car, those benefits will remain untapped.

3) Promoting cycling in our city can make a big difference in the effort to improve human health.

Just as cycling is good for the health of the environment, it’s good for the cyclist’s health, both physiologically and psychologically.

People who cycle for transportation have reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and numerous other ailments which reduce life expectancy (Trace Planning and Design, 2019). In other words, active transportation like cycling promotes longevity in our residents, and reduces health care costs to the public.

Biking as transport also has great psychological benefits, as cyclists report far less stress, rage, and other negative emotions on their commutes than the automobile (Montgomery, 2013).

Studies have been done on the ideal commute time, and they might surprise you. You would think that obviously the shorter the commute the better, and to some degree this is obviously true; a hour long commute is far more tedious and psychologically damaging than half an hour. That said, studies have found that at a certain point, people find that their commute is actually too short. This is because commute time offers a useful buffer between work and home lives.

Cycling makes people happy.
Photo by Coen van den Broek on Unsplash

The ideal commute, according to a UC Davis study, is about 16 minutes long. Travelling to and from work allows time for people to snap into work mode, and decompress before arriving at home (Montgomery, 2013). For the 55 % of North Bay residents that drive less than 15 minutes to work, it seems intuitive that for at least a portion of these people, cycling would actually improve their mood at home and at work (StatsCanada, 2016).

Overall, commuters who travel by bicycle report being happier, more energetic, and experience generally better moods when compared to their motorist counterparts (Montgomery, 2013).

4) Cycling fosters community, while our motorist culture erodes it.

Finally, cycling is good for community. When biking, people are able to interact with each other in ways motorists in the comfort bubble of their car simply can’t. Think about the interactions you have with the public in your vehicle: usually it amounts to nothing more than passing frustration at the behaviour of other motorists, but there are also serious incidents of road rage. People seem most on edge in their cars. Studies have shown heart rates of car commuters can be almost double their resting rate, and a surge of cortisol (the stress hormone) suggests and perpetuates the stress (Montgomery, 2013).

For many, the view from behind the wheel illicit feelings of stress and road rage.
Photo by Mark Cruz on Unsplash

Isn’t it handy people are seemingly primed to act their worst while they’re in control of the most dangerous mechanical equipment they’ll likely ever handle?

Did I say handy? I meant horrifying.

On the other side of the spectrum, cyclists interact with each other in an incredibly positive light. If more of us cycled, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we might be more in tune with our sense of community.



Checking Our Assumptions About Cycling.

To put it bluntly: many drivers hate cyclists.

They’ve experienced the cyclists that take the whole lane and slow them down, or ones that act as a quasi-pedestrians illegally crossing streets, failing to stop at stop signs, etc. These experiences lead them to believe that cyclists are a danger to themselves, and to the flow of and predictability of their driving experience.

Of course, as pedestrians, cyclists can be a bit of a pest too if they decide they are only comfortable riding on the sidewalk. I can totally understand wanting to be separated from bikes as a pedestrian, and the laws agree with this. Unfortunately, our infrastructure either places people in two categories: as wheeled transportation or a pedestrian. While it seems obvious that bikes and cars differ vastly, there is no third category for the far lighter, slower, and more vulnerable bicycle.

If it’s prudent to protect pedestrians from cyclists, surely it’s prudent to protect cyclists from motorists. The potential for harm is that much greater.

So yes, we’ve all experienced those unpredictable cyclists that make us sweat or curse behind the wheel. But let’s keep in mind, our infrastructure, and policy, has made no space for them. “Legitimate behaviour” behind the handlebars is sort of a blurry proposition. If the city made space for cyclists in the form of bike lanes, letting them know they actually belong, it would drastically increase the predictability of cyclists, and allow for proper enforcement of clear cut rules and protocols.

Remember, the job of our transportation infrastructure is to move people, not cars. When we’re behind the wheel it’s very easy to point the finger at the perpetrator of the infractions, rather than consider the context from which the behaviour is borne.

So, next time you see a cyclist “take the lane”, or ride on the sidewalk, consider that without providing a legitimate space for the transportation method, we get unpredictable behaviour.

What makes a Cyclist?

Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

Cyclist.

It’s a pretty loaded term. When we think of the word cyclist we almost certainly witness the image of a spandex clad expert road bike rider who could just talk your head off about the Tour-de-France. When we think about bicycle transportation, we think of a pretty narrow demographic.

But honestly, few of us grew up without learning to ride a bicycle. And man, the joy of the freedom it offered, the pure fun. It’s a quintessential experience of youth.

And yet at a certain age, the joy doesn’t seem to remain kosher. We think of people who own bikes instead of cars as juvenile, as if they’re not quite far enough along their life journey. Once they get there, they’ll buy a car and then surely they’ll leave the childish thing behind.

Realistically, why can’t we recapture that joy? Some of my favourite memories have been casual cycling in various cities with my friends. Even those who don’t cycle regularly or aren’t the most active can still travel 3-4 times their walking speed, and expends about 25% of the energy pedalling at a leisurely pace (Montgomery, 2013).

So, what makes cyclist?

It could be just about anyone.

Photo by Taylor Harding on Unsplash
Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash
Photo by Taylor Harding on Unsplash
Photo by Florian Gagnepain on Unsplash

If people are made to feel safe, to feel like they belong, I believe many, many more people would cycle. I can’t count the number of discussions I’ve had with people who love to ride their bike, but are uncomfortable choosing between risking a ticket on the safety of the sidewalk, or the perceived kamikaze mission of cruising mere feet from two tonnes of fast moving metal under the control of very fallible human beings.

Cycling, like walking, is a big case of the Field of Dreams effect:

“If you build it, they will come”

Photo by Andrew Gook on Unsplash

North Bay’s Best Cycling Assets

1) North Bay has a fantastic recreational cycling trail system

Source: Discovery Routes

It would be absolutely ridiculous to write an article about cycling in North Bay and exclude mention of the fantastic Kinsmen and Kate Pace Way trails. These are paved bi-directional bike paths separated from the roadways (with a few exceptions), and provide a fantastic opportunity to cycle recreationally. The paths also cover quite a bit of ground in North Bay, and even regionally, stretching between Airport Rd, to Memorial Dr, to the southern portion of Lakeshore Dr, all the way into Callander.

While the paths largely serve as linear parks, offering a place for recreational cycling more so than cycling as transportation, they still represent a huge asset to cyclists in our city. There is room for expansion and improvement of flow and access along the routes, but essentially this asset could serve as a sort of cycling highway for some desired journeys, especially travelling between Ferris and the city’s North end.

In addition to the paved pathways provided by the city’s trail network, our natural surroundings provide many more off-road mountain biking experience, such as the campus trails, Laurentian Conservation Area, and other trails throughout town.

North Bay has a fantastic recreational trail system.
Source: City of North Bay

These trails are a huge asset for a cycling city. I tell all my friends that when they visit North Bay in the Summer they have to bring their bike. There’s not much quite like flying down the Kate Pace Way, knowing you’re riding on a mere swath of smooth pavement cutting through beautiful forests. It’s just very cool.

But it’s also very easy to point to the trails and say: “we’ve done enough for cyclists”.

We need to get our heads around the idea that bike infrastructure isn’t just throwing a small portion of the population a bone, it’s giving an opportunity for the healthy practice of Active Transportation to grow in our city. It’s improving our entire transportation network by integrating freedom and mobility for as many of us as we can.

2) North Bay already has developed an up-to-date and ambitious Active Transportation Master Plan, and a well researched report that points to quality of life improvements as the best way to create growth in our city.

Fortunately, others more determined than myself have put pressure on the city in the past few years to take active transportation seriously in our city, rather than relegate cycling, and even walking, to a recreational pursuit.

In 2018 the city contracted Trace Planning and Design, and formed an Active Transportation Advisory Board, in order to produce a long term plan for improving the experience of active transportation in our city. After reading the document, the North Bay Active Transportation Master Plan (2019), I feel it does well to balance ambition and realistic objectives and, if followed, should do a great deal to improve the mobility of our city.

The process that was followed for producing the city’s long term plan for active transportation.
Source: North Bay Active Transportation Master Plan (2019)

Additionally, the Baylor Report (2016), produced by Baylor University, was a very thorough study of the potential of our city that concluded that in order to achieve growth, improvements in the resident’s lives would bring more people to the city.

The city has been fairly committed to the idea that attracting businesses to our city would bring growth, but the Baylor Report suggests that because businesses actually follow the people, the better strategy is to make North Bay a great place to live so people want to move here.

With this well researched report from such a credible source, we are more than equipped with the evidence that projects like improving the city’s active transportation network is the best way to invest in our city’s growth.

Fortunately, those determined few that I previously mentioned pushed the city to commit to the Active Transportation Master Plan. This commitment is, without question, a huge asset for making North Bay a better cycling city.

3) The natural setting of North Bay provides a scenic setting for cycling.

The faster we travel, the narrower our focus of vision becomes. Travelling 100 km/h on the highway, you see far less detail in your periphery vision than travelling 40 km/h in a school-zone (Andersen, 2018). Given that cyclists travel slower than this (for the most part), it stands to reason that incorporating pleasant views for cyclists and pedestrians is far more impactful than for motorists.

North Bay’s natural setting provides some awesome views for cyclists

Images: GoogleMaps

North Bay’s natural setting, with the escarpment, rock faces courtesy of the Canadian Shield, various lakes and creeks, as well as forests, provides no shortage of fantastic views. These sights encourage and engage cyclists, as it makes the view more pleasant and maximizes the psychological benefit of cycling. People want to enjoy these types of views, and from that perspective the natural setting of North Bay is a real asset.

4) North Bay still has numerous routes that have wide lanes and shoulders that can easily accommodate bike lanes.

Landsdowne, like many of our city’s streets, is easily wide enough to accommodate bike lanes.
Photo by Author

North Bay has plenty of pretty efficient routes through town that include lanes wide enough to accommodate and restructure for cycling lanes, including Cassels St, Obrien St, Jane St and others. While we have a serious lack of bike lanes at the present, we haven’t completely cornered ourselves into being a motorist-only city forever. There is potential for development of important routes that can accommodate cyclists safely and efficiently.

Satellite Image from GoogleMaps, Overlay by Author

Imagine if there were bike lanes lining the streets proposed in the map above. The whole neighbourhood, which is full of schools, would be pretty cycle friendly. Honestly, some of these street are already wide enough that all that would be required is paint. From there, lanes could be painted on a few of the other streets, especially those that are relatively flat and see little traffic. All of a sudden you have an incredibly cycle friendly neighbourhood in a fairly population dense area of town. You offer children the opportunity to cycle to school, and offer parents the peace of mind to know they are safe to do so.

Look at High Street in particular. There are three schools accessible on this one road alone, it already includes a bike lane after Chippewa St., and has wide lanes and shoulders that could easily accommodate bike lanes. This above neighbourhood proposal is a prime example of the way that while North Bay is not a great cycle city today, it actually has a ton of potential as a cycling city.

5) North Bay’s Post-Secondary Schools provide a demographic of potential cyclists.

Cyclists and University/College students is a pretty large demographic overlap. With many students living in our city, there are many potential cyclists. Unfortunately, the topography of the Institutions’ locations isn’t exactly ideal, and the academic calendar does not include the most pleasant biking months. That being said, as a student who stayed for summer employment, my bike was my best friend. It got me to work, it got me to the store, it kept me in shape. Plus, the feeling of coming down the Montessori Trail, approaching a view of the lake and city through what felt like a pinhole clearing between the trees. The rush of witnessing this view, and descending the escarpment on two-wheels after a long day of work was sort of magical.


What Stands between Us and Being a cycle city?

1) People’s attitudes and perceptions of the bicycle are the biggest barrier to creating a culture as a cycling city in North Bay.

Easily the largest barrier to North Bay being a quality cycling city is the attitude that it’s just never going to happen. People here, for the most part, grew up here or in other North American cities that also consider the bike an afterthought. The idea that we should make space for cyclists, or even that we should want more cyclists is a foreign idea.

People think of cycling and they think of European cities like Copenhagen, Denmark. They say: “hey, it’s just the way it is there”, as if that means anything at all. Copenhagen was once a car centric city too, they just decided one day that cars are dangerous, and shouldn’t necessarily be the consideration we build a city around. The “stop the child murder” campaign brought attention to the need for safe biking infrastructure, and effort is put into giving the cyclist preferential treatment. In other words, the shift was a deliberate one. It didn’t just happen, and they didn’t wait for some threshold of cyclists to claim they had demand for it.

Ironically, it’s sort of like how Henery Ford said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. People didn’t know they wanted to cycle everywhere, they just wanted freedom of mobility. Copenhagen addressed the roots of the problem, efficient movement of people, rather than the demand of consumers, which was more space for cars.

Stop de Kindermooord translates to “Stop the Child Murder”and was a campaign instrumental in establishing Copenhagen as a cycle friendly city.
Source: DutchReach

We can make our city one that’s very friendly to biking. But first people need to question their fundamental assumptions about how cars are used, what roads are for, and what cycling infrastructure accomplishes.

Council can’t look at new cycling infrastructure as throwing a bone to a small group. Cycling needs to be viewed as integral to planning the movement of people in our city. We need officials to advocate for the cyclist’s safety, to create space for them in the form of bike lanes, and to show them that not only do they belong, they are valued.

City Hall changing perception of cycling is key
Photo by author

Residents need to change their mind from a few perspectives, both in their assessment of people who bike, and of their assessment of themselves as potential cyclists. People see cyclists as a nuisance: they take up space and they’re unpredictable.

Well yes:

They do take up space, but significantly less than a car.

They’re unpredictable, because the infrastructure does not clearly direct them to behave predictably. At times, cyclists act as vehicles, taking the full lane, while others behave like quasi pedestrians, crossing whenever they please and using sidewalks. Of course this is a problem, but arguing for better cycle infrastructure is a solution to it, it certainly couldn’t make it worse.

We need to respect that cyclist exist. That cycling is a good thing, and respect that while there isn’t really a space for them as it stands, there really should be. Cyclists have just as much right to move around the city safely and efficiently as motorists, and yet that right is simply not respected.

This is one of those issues where we need to work backwards to solve it. We can’t have a cycling culture, and thus have demand so we can produce cycling infrastructure, instead, we must create a place for cyclists, watch demand grow as its perceived safety increases, and examine the way a cycle culture emerges from there.

Diagram by Author

2) People like to bike, but don’t feel safe on the road, and don’t wish to risk a ticket for riding on the sidewalk, and thus, they don’t bike.

The biggest internal barrier preventing motorists and pedestrians alike from becoming cyclists is the perceived safety of that method of transport. People shouldn’t be made to ride exposed, their lightweight bikes a few feet from a moving object that could kill them at the slight mishap. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, and I know many people who simply choose not to cycle because of this single factor.

This rider’s decision to wear a helmet is a smart one, but has unintended consequences in the effect of motorists giving less space when overtaking.
Photo by Sandra Tan on Unsplash

Of course, cyclists who equip themselves with safety gear are smart, mitigating the chances that they might endure life altering injuries from collisions. Unfortunately there’s some interesting research that suggests that motorists actually give cyclists who wear helmets less berth when overtaking. It is theorized that motorists assume that cyclists who wear helmets have expertise (a flawed assumption), and thus the safety promise of the helmet is actually reduced when riding side by side with motorized traffic (Walker, 2007).

“Not everyone is as brave or agile as the hero cyclist…if you really want to give people the freedom to move as they wish, you must go beyond accident statistics to consider how people actually feel about moving through a given space” 

Charles Montgomery in Happy City

There’s a large degree of irony that in the West we perceive the bicycle as a toy for children, and yet we totally fail at providing safe spaces where children can bike. One cycling advocate has gone as far as to say that if an area is unsafe for children to cycle in, we’ve got work to do (Montgomery, 2013).

Think about North Bay… boy do we have work to do.

3) North Bay has a serious lack of cycling lanes, and thus provides little to no space for the cyclists in the city’s transportation network.

This is pretty self explanatory. While usually it is simply marked by paint, and light barriers, bike lanes simply provide predictability in both the cyclist and motorist experience. Clear lines are drawn between the two transportation methods, and thus motorists and cyclists both can rejoice.

Source: Bike Monk

Cycle lanes can face backlash from motorists, such as a park in Brooklyn for which the city was unsuccessfully sued to remove bike lanes. Sure, they can reduce the flow of traffic during construction, and in the short term. In the long term however, it actually makes the motorist experience far better.

So yes, sure we have great cycling trails, but how do people access them? If we can’t expect safe travel to and from access points, are we expected to drive to them?

To be an effective cycling city, North Bay needs a bicycling network that includes both cycle lanes so that all destinations can be comfortably reached, as well as logical trail access to capitalize on our strong trail system.

4) With the exceptions of certain areas, North Bay lacks interesting small-scale views that a more appealing cycling environment should provide.

Some of you reading this might think my obsession with views is a little weird. If you have a bike lane, do you really need us to pamper your route with planters and murals too?

Of course these are a more detailed aspect of encouraging cycling, but they really do. Small scale nature and manmade sights encourage cycling, and have the even greater benefit of creating a sense of place in our neighbourhoods. I asked a former roommate, who now lives in Ottawa, why he enjoyed cycling in Ottawa more. While I fully expected him to discuss the cycling infrastructure there, he basically said the environment provides a variety of views that keep it interesting over time.

In this regard, North Bay could have much more to offer in terms of tree lined streets, planters, and community art pieces, which while helpful for cyclists, more importantly help create a sense of place, an identity, for our city.

5) The highway bypass acts as a literal barrier to cycling in North Bay.

The most expedient route through North Bay, the highway bypass is, of course, completely inaccessible to cyclists. There are no simple and purposed parallel routes, and it is a challenge for bikers of many skill levels to cross. We only have one pedestrian/cyclist overpass in town, and in my opinion one linking the McKewon Plaza area to the Pinewood neighbourhood across the bypass would be a huge breath of fresh air for cyclists and pedestrians alike.

Source: GoogleMaps

If people continually damage the fence, it probably suggests demand for an overpass between the Pinewood neighbourhood and the McKeown Plaza

6) North Bay has many roads riddled with potholes, sand, rough pavement and debris that are simply not conducive to cycling.

Once again, this might sound trivial if you don’t cycle regularly, but it matters. At winters end the sand is all swept to the side of the road for a few weeks, where cyclists are of course expected to be. For mountain bikes with wider tires this is hardly a concern at all, but on a road bike these conditions are a recipe for disaster.

A more permanent problem is that the roadway is weak where the curb meets the pavement. There are often storm drains, manholes covers, and curbs, which yield frequent cracked pavement, and potholes. These all create complexity and unpredictability for the cyclists. If I have to swerve closer to traffic to avoid a large pothole, I’ve just created unpredictability for motorists.

Smooth, predictable pavement, like those of cycle lanes, are necessary to help people pick up the habit.

7) The long winter season in North Bay, with heavy snowfall and cold temperatures, is not conducive to cycling, limiting the potential as a cycle city.

Photo by Steve Philpott on Unsplash

This is a rough one.

It’s hard to justify locking up money in infrastructure that only gets use 6-8 months of the year.

And yet, with the exclusion of storm events and deep freezes, there are actually many days when temperatures aren’t completely unreasonable for cycling during our winter months.

Plus, some of the most famous cycling cities in the world are at even more northern latitudes than our own city, and receive their share of cold and snow. Copenhagen can expect plenty of snow, and yet cyclists are present in winter, how?

Clearing bike lanes is a priority. Residents can expect black pavement on cycle lanes by the time they wake up for their commute. Fostering reasonable cycling conditions for parts of the winter really isn’t unreasonable

If we compare the winter climate of Oslo, Norway’s premier cycling city, with North Bay, we can see that they are fairly similar in both temperature and snowfall. Here, winter cycling seems absurd, but in Norway, through a commitment to the infrastructure (including clearing the snow), and spiked bike tires, they manage accommodating cycling year round.

Source: Weather Spark
Source: Weather Spark

Honestly, it’s kind of funny the way that as technology has improved, our standard for comfort has skyrocketed. There has never been better equipment to keep warm and dry in the winter. There has never been better snow removal equipment, and there are specialized bikes and accessories which allow bikes to work great in snow. There are permeable materials that reduce the accumulation of snow on cycling paths. Still, the idea of biking in winter seems as absolutely crazy today as it did generations ago.

Remember, I’m not insisting that everybody go bike during the years worst snow storm, freezing rain, or deep freeze. I’m just saying maybe half of the year isn’t as completely off limits as we perceive it to be.

“Biking in winter is kind of like walking on hot coals: people say you can’t do it. They say it’s impossible!

But then you just go and do it”

Robert Judge- Saskatoon, Canada as quoted in Happy City

Winter is a real barrier to becoming a cycling city, because it is something people can point to for an easy excuse not to try.

8) The steep hills of North Bay create challenges for the average person, and doesn’t encourage cycling.

Airport Rd poses a challenge for casual cyclists.
Source: GoogleMaps

North Bay’s topography poses a challenge to cyclists, as biking uphill creates a great deal of resistance, fatiguing the rider quickly, and making some routes all but impossible for the average person on a bike. Airport road might have a shoulder cycle path, but how many people can honestly climb that on a bike without stopping, or descend it without trembling in fear.

“I’m biking uphill and it’s killing my quads, I’m biking downhill and it sounds like a fishing rod”

Frank Ocean – Biking

A bike lane on the hill of Algonquin Rd would be useful, but likely would be used by far less than alternative routes with a more gradual slope. We shouldn’t build the bike network to accommodate people who are already cyclists, or a narrow demographic of human fitness, we instead should ensure accessibility and comfort to as many rider as possible.

When planning cycle routes, it is important to consider the way topography creates resistance for cyclists, and make routes reasonable for the average person to undertake.

9) Bike theft is a serious concern in North Bay.

As far back as the late 1800’s, and as recently as last summer, bicycle thefts have been commonplace in our city. Bikes are mobile, and often vulnerable to theft as even some of the best bike locks are fallible given the right tools. It is important the destinations throughout town include bike racks for locking bikes.

“In 1969, the Department investigated 1,438 cases of theft, deemed much like the cases of stolen bicycles 75 years earlier. “Many citizens are careless with their moveable property and it seems there are more and more people in our community that would rather steal the things they want, than buy them”

Chief Wotherspoon quoted in (Lebelle & McClenaghan, 2009) The Beat Light: North Bay Police History 1882-2007

Additionally, the location of these racks is important. They should be highly visible to avoid suspicious figures having plenty of time to mess with the locks, and signal that the community is committed to being cyclist friendly.


An Action Plan for a Cycle Friendly North Bay

1) Improving Cycling Infrastructure in North Bay

The best way to make North Bay a better cycling city is direct improvements to the transportation network infrastructure. We should absolutely increase the number of bike lanes in the city, on both major arteries and on alternative routes with lower slopes to increase the ease of travel. These routes should be prioriatized in terms of maintenance like street sweeping, snow clearing, and pavement repairs.

We need to increase the access points to the trail network, and extend the trail network where possible, while ensuring that on street biking is far safer, as the trails do not provide ideal transportation to all destinations. The trails can act as a sort of highway, allowing for longer distance travel without the risk of the presence of the cars, but they are not the be all and end all of a cycle friendly city.

One area on the Kinsmen trail includes several stop signs within a very short period, where the cyclist is to yield to car traffic. On some streets, this makes sense, while others are low traffic streets where automobile travel shouldn’t blindly be given priority, especially since it is much easier to start and stop in a car than on a bike, making a disruption of flow more important from the cyclists perspective.

Bikes yield for cars because it is the norm, even in areas where the practice doesn’t make much sense like this low traffic section of Duke St.

Speaking of signs, making sure bike routes are well marked, and that signage is clear on these streets, is crucial to ensuring travel along these routes is intuitive for both experienced riders and beginners, as well as motorists.

Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

Some designated areas in other countries are explicitly giving cyclist preferential treatment over cars, not necessarily excluding access to cars completely, but changing the hierarchy of priority. In these areas, traffic would move slower, and stop more frequently. These areas create awesome places to cycle, and serve the additional benefit of signalling to residents that the city takes active transportation seriously, and is willing to break away from some of our baseline assumptions about automobiles.

North Bay will also need to improve the places people leave their bikes when they arrive at their destination. Feeling that their bike is not secure is a major barrier to cycle travel, and it’s crucial that local businesses and public services include secure, and visible bike racks.

In order to bring cycling into the realm of legitimate transportation, it will also be necessary to enforce cyclists’ infractions of traffic laws. The cycle city thing is a two way street, and the whole point is to make it safer and more predictable, this means cyclists need to follow the rules. Cyclists are not used to enforcement, and there may be some blowback. Infractions like rolling stops might be forgiven because of the nature of bicycling, but unlawful crossing and other infractions should absolutely be curbed. North Bay Police have announced they are bringing back their police cyclist units for the coming summer, which may represent a step in this direction.

Bike racks and strong transit can help ease some of the barriers to cycling.
Left Photo by Will H McMahan  Right Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Finally, if you rely on your bike for transportation, you’ll face challenges in the form of days where the method simply isn’t a reasonable choice. We need to ensure that public transportation is easily accessible, reliable, and efficient so that cyclists have a back up plan. Keep in mind, even if you bought a fairly decent new bike, tons of great clothes and outwear to keep comfortable on your ride, maintenance at bike shops a few times a year, and an annual transit pass, you’ve still likely spent way less the $11,000 it costs to own even a compact car over the course of a year (when you include, car payments, insurance, gas, maintenance, depreciation, etc.).

With these improvements to the transportation infrastructure in our city, we can do a ton to nudge more people to be cyclists, and reap the benefits of being a cycle city.

2) Changing hearts and minds

Clearly, the biggest barrier to North Bay’s progress in being bicycle friendly is the mindset of both officials and residents. We need to work hard to paint cycling with a new image, from the top right down. We need officials to recognize that, in the long run, changes like the ones suggested above create a more efficient transportation network for everyone, including motorists.

One way we can encourage residents to utilize cycling more often is to make it more fun for people of all skill levels. New cyclists could feel confident that they weren’t going to be ticketed, or killed, in a safe cycling environment, which might give them an opportunity to hone their skills.

On the other side of the spectrum, integrating mountain biking trails to the Active Transportation network can go a long way in encouraging even more use by riders with expertise.

Photo by Tobias Bjerknes on Unsplash

In that same vein, we can bring novelty and a cool factor to our transportation system that can improve the experience for residents, and even attract tourism.

For example, in Poland, a new cycle path was created that glows blue in the dark, creating a magical, almost Alice in Wonderland, aesthetic effect. This type of feature might cost up front, but the glow is powered by the sun. I can talk about how cool this seems all day, but seriously, just look at it:

Alternatively, in terms of winter cycling, a type of Christmas cycle route might make for a really interesting local event that would draw some tourism, and do a lot to create a sense of place for our city. We’re already a very nice Christmas setting in the movies, why not follow through and incorporate and encourage winter cycling through an event like this? It’s just a thought, and whether it would work or not is another thing, but we should be thinking of ways like the glow path and a Christmas cycle route to add novelty, and a cool-factor, to cycling in our city.

The more fun it is, the more people will participate. It’s not exactly a complicated nudge, but it will work.

Finally, we need to have more top down initiative that get people out and biking. Around the world, cities have use “bike to work days” and one day a year bans on vehicle travel within certain neighbourhoods to give people a taste of what it’s like to be a cycle city.

The thing is though, there would need to be a real commitment among city officials and community leaders, advocacy groups and volunteers in order to sell this idea to residents.

How often do we all get out and do something together as a community? Bike to work days represent a real building of momentum for cycling in a city, and if executed properly can help change perceptions of residents in a more timely manner.

Photo by Owen Vachell on Unsplash

3) A Intuitive Education for cycling in our city.

The third and final pillar of the Gateway’s community action plan is a robust, but intuitive cycling education program for our city, includes access to useful documents and courses.

Pamphlets, brochures, maps and other documents can help illustrate the rules of the road, the expectation for behaviour, and safe and expedient routes throughout town. This is especially important in tourism, as if we wish to be cycle friendly for our visitors, we have to make sure they’re informed. Luckily, today we all carry around what amounts to the “supercomputers” of the past, in our pockets.

A well designed app could provide information on the rules, route advice, and other information that could ease the transition to cycling for residents. You can even mount your smartphone on your handlebars, which creates an experience not unlike viewing a GPS monitor in your car. The goal of such an app would be to improve your mobility as cyclist in town.

Smartphones can help cyclists navigate unfamiliar areas, and augment their cycling with data like speed and riding time. That said, it’s important that we aren’t using them to the point of distaction
Source: thelakeandstars.com

Finally, an education course for cycling in North Bay, like the ones offered in Halifax would be very useful in ensuring the safety of everyone. Courses should be relatively short, flexible, and simple, outline what cyclists need to know to get around North Bay. They should teach safety skills like using your bell appropriately and hand signalling These programs would be especially useful for our cities youth, and an opportunity to partner with local School Boards could ensure that our children are safe on their bikes, and encourage them to participate.

It Starts with You!

So for the past however many thousand words I’ve been trying to convince you that North Bay really could be one of North America’s great cycling cities (the bar is set low after all). But what can you do as an individual to support this cause?

1) Follow cycle advocates of Nipissing

Local advocacy groups like Cycle Advocates of Nipissing have done much to bring to light the lack of Active Transportation in our city. Join the group on facebook, and engage with the local content. The people who run the page work really hard to ensure its members are informed.

2) Reframe your standards: Would I want my kid biking there?

Instead of seeing a cyclist on the road or sidewalk and thinking they don’t belong and blaming them for it, we really need to consider that cyclists are only doing what they’ve been shown they should. We’re treated like quasi-motorists and quasi-pedestrians, and as a result we really don’t have a clear cut expectation for behaviour. I personally abide by all the rule as much as is possible, but I am far from surprised when others do not. Instead, we should look at our roads and think:

“Would I be comfortable if my child had to bike down this street?”

Seeing our city through the eyes of children might help improve the safety of our active transportation network
Photo by Arseny Togulev on Unsplash

Of course for just about every street in North Bay, the answer is a clear and obvious “NO!”. That’s not cyclists fault: it’s a city-wide issue that needs to be addressed.

Call city council and let them know that you want bike lanes to be made a priority. Honestly, even if you don’t ever see yourself biking, as a motorist, having more predictable cyclists, and potentially less cars on the road is a win win.

We can’t keep things the way they are, we just can’t.

3) Just Go Bike

Finally, just try biking to work, or the store, once or twice a week.

Yes, recreational use of a bike on trails is fantastic, but really, we need to show the city, and ourselves that cycling can be a utilitarian method of transportation too. Plus, biking is one of those things you have to do, then you realize the barriers aren’t quite as significant as you thought.

The best thing you can do to help North Bay become a cycling city is to get out there and ride!

Photo by Angelo Pantazis on Unsplash

The Gateway Vision for Cycling in a Better Bay

Doing What’s Right

Recently, our community experienced a devastating a tragedy. Shelby Dickey, a 25 year old promising Nipissing Student Athlete and Graduate Student, was struck by a vehicle as she road her bike on Highway 63 by the Green Store.

This absolutely heart-wrenching story of a promising young life gone far, far too soon, received a massive outpouring of sympathy for those close to Shelby, and the Nipissing community. Honestly, I’m tearing up as I write this and consider what her family and friends have had to endure. Nothing short of an absolute nightmare, beginning with a young woman who just wanted to ride her bike.

We can’t just keep doing the same thing, relegating bicycles to risky roadside travel, and expect different results. These tragedies are preventable.

It’s extremely difficult to experience such a loss, and I think the best way to honour those close to Shelby is to do our best to make sure no family has to feel that pain.

Cyclists are worthy of safe transportation.

So, what would a city that prioritized cyclists look like?

North Bay could easily be a cute summer tourist town where people come because they know they can arrive, rent a bike, and leave their car and the typical North American experience in the parking lot for the weekend or week while they explore the gorgeous natural views of a city cradled by escarpment and lakes.

This seems like a moon-shot if you apply the perception of our city today, sure, but over time, this isn’t even that lofty a goal if we make cycling infrastructure a priority.

Honestly, we’re starting to get a reputation as a big Christmas town because of all of the holiday movies filmed here. Can you imagine the boost to tourism that could be added if it were a Christmas Town where people biked around (with wrapped presents in our handlebar baskets no less) when possible in winter?

Talk about a sense of place.


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With some effort we can have safe travel by bicycle through our beautiful natural cityscape. Our city needs more sense of place, more identity. We’re never going to be Toronto or Ottawa. We have to pick a direction for our city, and with that we should capitalize on our assets.

Focus for too long has been on investing in growth. Well, North Bay is about the same size it was almost 35 years ago (StatsCan, 2016). Sometime, when we have a firm goal in mind, like population growth, we can’t see the forest for the trees.

If the goal is growth, we should be creating a community with a unique sense of place, that people are dying to move to. Breaking away from the North American obsession with making the bicycle a secondary method of transport is a great way to start in this placemaking endeavour.

At this point, I think it’s probably fair to say we’ve given the “invest money to attract businesses to attract people” route a try. Let’s try to invest in ourselves instead.

By really committing to becoming a bicycle city, and taking action as soon as possible, we can increase mobility for our residents, young and old, rich and poor alike. A pride in our city shared by such a large cross section of our population would be a great community builder.

North Bay is a perfect size, and perfect natural setting to be a beautiful cycle city, but we really do need to push hard to change perceptions, and get the wheels in motion.

RM


Sources:

Andersen (2018) Copenhagenize: The Definitive Guide to Global Bicycle Urbanism

Montgomery (2013). Happy City: Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design

Trace Planning and Development (2019). North Bay Active Transport Master Plan.

University of Baylor (2016). Baylor Report on North Bay.

Walker (2007). Drivers overtaking bicyclists: Objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 39, 417-425..

Wilson (1973). Bicycle Technology.


5 thoughts on “A Better Bay: Small City Cycling

  1. Excellent comprehensive article. I think it was in about the 1980’s there was a mayoral candidate in Toronto. He was an engineer and was proposing an enclosed and heated cycling network in Toronto. He thought it was economically feasible as a result of the number of cars it would take off the road and the money saved as a result against the cost of building the network. The project was not taken seriously and he received little support in the election. I always thought it was an ingenious idea and ahead of its time. Minneapolis has a wonderful enclosed, heated walking network in its downtown core. I’ve used it regularly as I travel to Mnpls about twice a year. I always think that this could have easily have been designed to include bicycles and even electric or non polluting scooters or other such transport. In cities such as North Bay, Toronto, Minneapolis etc with relatively long winters an enclosed bike path could make a lot of sense.

    Like

    1. That’s a very interesting story Marc thanks for your input!

      I had thought about doing some research on covered trails but figured I was droning on quite a bit as is. This would definitely be worth looking into!

      Like

  2. I cycle over 2000 kms per year, 90% on my road bike and 90% Not in North Bay. I travel to destinations like Ottawa, Whitby, Niagara, and Clearwater where many tourists travel to enjoy the trails. When there we spend money on hotels, restaurants, shopping, and entertainment.

    If your cycling you need to feel safe and riding on the roads in North Bay is Not a safe option.
    I believe in the concept of “build it and they will come”. In Florida they converted an old railway into “The Pinellas Trail” and it attracts residents and tourists to cycle, walk, and rollerblade.
    I believe there are many good options in the area, improve Wasi and Nosbonsing Rd both can be reached from the Callander trail. Develop the old railway up to Sturgeon Falls which would be a great destination.

    Great article and website, thanks.

    Like

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