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LETTER: Oak Bay lagging behind neighbours on cycling infrastructure

A cyclist rides down the Fort Street protected bike lanes in Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)

With a narrow council vote on March 25, Oak Bay is now officially lurching towards a new active transportation plan for our community. In so doing it should be applauded for recognizing and advancing the needs of the most bike-friendly commuting population in the region.

Recently released census data confirms what we see on our roads – Oak Bay has the highest rate of residents in the region who claim to commute by bike (to work, for shopping etc.) – 11.2% of our residents claim bike commuter status, more than the 9.4% of residents recorded for Victoria. Before we leap to the conclusion that Oak Bay is the cycling capital of Canada, let’s pause to review the state of the cycling infrastructure in the area.

Oak Bay needs only to look westward to see how Saanich and Victoria have taken steps to improve their active transportation safety. We can do this by taking a leisurely 10-minute ride along Haultain Street – a road that joins Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay.

Starting at Cook Street, Victoria and Saanich have collaborated in completing a refit of the Haultain corridor featuring dedicated bike lanes, bike-friendly traffic diversions and roundabouts as well as shared pedestrian and bicycle accessible crosswalks and signals. While work remains to be done here (Haultain at Fernwood comes to mind), the efforts are a good start. One can envisage continuous improvements in the network as the infrastructure gets more use and is evaluated. Nevertheless, it already stands as a stark contrast to what we find as we cross over to the Oak Bay side of the road.

Crossing Foul Bay Road on Haultain is one of the most dangerous passages in the area. Here we are presented with a pedestrian crosswalk that gives no indication of any shared access for cyclists. Cyclists wishing to cross need to disembark and roll their bikes 20 feet to get to a pedestrian button that triggers flashing lights before using the crosswalk.

Moving into the Oak Bay stretch, speed control bumps and bike-car “sharrows” in Saanich give way to no markings in the pavement at all. Instead, we find some cheery directional signs topped by happy bike emojis giving us directions to places like UVic and Willows Beach. Haultain then ends – spilling out into a very broad and unmarked interchange at Eastdowne – a notorious Oak Bay speedway with only one stop sign in its 1.7-km journey downhill from Lansdowne to Cadboro Bay Road.

There is much work still to be done along Haultain to make it safer for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists. However, if Oak Bay adopted any single one of the improvements implemented by its neighbours it would represent a significant opportunity to get into alignment with regional active transportation leaders. We have no need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to start implementing already-proven ideas. Let’s start with just one.

Stuart Culbertson

Oak Bay