Friday, December 19, 2014

Column The News: Cycling: Develop with two wheel transportation in mind

My latest column in The News is about the development proposals on Brown Ave (for a highrise) in downtown Maple Ridge along the 121 bike route, and the proposal for 21 homes along the 123 bike route at McKenney Creek in west Maple Ridge. Here is the unedited version:

Barely two weeks after Maple Ridge Council's inaugural meeting, Mayor Read and her team had some discussions that gave us a pretty good indication that our new Council intends to get more serious about cycling.

On the agendas for the Public Hearing and Council meeting of December 9 was a development proposal for an 18-storey tower on Brown Ave. in the town core. This proposal is part of a plan for a number of highrises, all along Brown Ave., north of Dewdney. This is a real game changer for our town. There are already 3 other towers in the pipeline, two of which are also on Brown Ave., and the third will be right around the corner from the other three on Dewdney and Edge, all built on a large podium with a commercial component and multiple floors of under- and above ground parking.
In another five years or so, it is expected that another development of five more highrises will move forward, also along Brown, but on the west side of 224th.

So we're going from a quiet single family home neighbourhood to highrises. You can imagine the kind of traffic we're going to see on Brown Ave.

Brown is one of two designated bike routes that help cyclists get to and through the town core. So far the car traffic on Brown hasn't been very busy, and sharing the road with cars hasn't been a problem.

It's clear that going from low to very high density will have a significant impact on car traffic. Proper cycling facilities will have to be included in the road design, so that cyclists can continue to safely navigate the roads.

According to the present plan, space is provided for parking on either side and one car lane in each direction. Cyclists will have to "take the lane" (ride in the middle) to avoid getting "doored" by someone opening a car door in their path. That means they'll have no choice but to get in the way of cars. Drivers won't be too happy about that.

Many cyclists will end up having to ride on the sidewalk. Neither pedestrians nor cyclists are going to be happy about that.

Wayne Bissky, the developer of this property, a 25-year resident of Maple Ridge, has a very strong desire to help Maple Ridge become less reliant on cars, and to make it more feasible to get around on foot and by bike. He says that if the standards for Brown Ave. included bike lanes, that's what he would have planned to build.  The Multi-modal Transportation Plan for the towncore, the cycling component of which has not been reviewed as part of the new 2014 Transportation Plan, does not call for bike lanes.

Council took a strong position that a solution will have to be found. It's so refreshing to see this Council take cyclists' concerns seriously. It's in the interest of anybody who drives, bikes or walks in and around town to make safe cycling part of the plan.

Another development proposal that concerns cyclists is on 123 Ave., at 207 Street. A 21 single family home development is proposed to be built between two tributaries of McKenney Creek.

Cycling along this narrow stretch of 123 Ave. is rather daunting, with cars speeding by and some giving cyclists very little space. According to the City's road standards it is considered "substandard", and the City can ask the developer to widen it as a condition of the development. At the public hearing, significant concerns were raised by residents of the area about the impact this development will have on the fish bearing creeks and the forested land, due to significantly reduced setbacks, as well as a potentially dangerous intersection being added to an already dangerous stretch of 123 Ave. Council asked staff to come up with possible solutions.

I'll be watching with great interest what happens with these two proposals. I think we just may be on a path to better cycling in the future.

See also my recent posts about the Brown Ave. proposal and the 123 Ave. proposal.

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