Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2022/ Preston Biking Experiences

Preston Biking Experiences

This is yet another entry complaining about bike infrastructure, so if you are tired of that topic you might want to give this entry a miss. Recently I cycled to Preston to sit in Riverside Park. Along the way, I had an unpleasant experience and an epiphany.

Separated Lane Near-Miss

King Street near Shantz Hill was repaved recently, and part of the roadwork included appeasing the bike zealots. There is separated bike infrastructure running from Eagle St to Shantz Hill; it consists of a double-width sidewalk with a yellow stripe painted down the middle and green bike symbols painted on top. It is intended as a multi-use path for both bicycles and pedestrians.

Ordinarily I would ignore these lanes, except for two things: there is no nice way to cross King St at the entrance to the park, and the street narrows to a single narrow lane each way across the bridge (with a boulevard in the middle, for some inscrutable reason). Crossing that bridge is actively unpleasant now, as is entering or leaving the park.

To enter the park I cycled down to Eagle Street on the road, then crossed the street and rode back to the park entrance. Traffic was pretty busy, so took the fancy separated bike infrastructure and rode on the sidewalk to the park entrance. So far, so good, I guess. But later when I was leaving the park I wanted to cycle towards downtown Preston, which meant taking a left when exiting the park. Traffic was still really busy, so once again I opted for the fancy bike infrastructure. Then near-disaster struck. There was a driveway somewhere between the entrance to the park and Eagle St, and sure enough somebody was waiting to turn into traffic. This person did not see me using the fancy bike infrastructure and started turning into the street just as I was going in front of him. I saw that he was moving and braked quickly, as did the driver. I tried to wave the driver through and the driver tried to wave me through, and eventually we both went on our way. I think the driver shouted an apology as I cycled by, which was nice of him. But this was still a near miss, and it illustrates a lot of the problems I have with this fancy bicycle infrastructure.

First of all, I was cycling very slowly -- faster than walking speed, but slower than a fit jogger. I had time to notice that the driver was moving forward, and I had time to brake. Lots of people using fancy bike infrastructure race down the sidewalk at neck-breaking speeds. That makes a bad collision much more likely.

More importantly, the driver did not notice me. Bike zealots might blame the driver for this, but I don't. The fancy bike infrastructure looks like a sidewalk, and when cars are crossing sidewalks they expect pedestrians, not cyclists. The driver wasn't distacted; he was trying to make a left turn, and was watching for traffic. What was he watching? The road, which is where drivers expect to see traffic.

I have long maintained that this fancy separated bike infrastructure can make cycling more dangerous, even if it feels safer because it is "separated". It may be separated from the road, but it is not separated from driveways and intersections, which is where collisions happen. I almost experienced that first hand, because I was foolish enough to think a short jaunt down the fancy bike lane would be safe.

You know what is safer? Painted bike lanes. I don't care if the Not Just Bikes guy derisively calls them "bike gutters". Car drivers are good at two things: respecting painted lines on the road and watching for traffic on the road. Cyclists on a painted bike lane look like traffic, so drivers pay attention to them.

Yes, it can be frightening when traffic is zooming past you, but as long as they are in their lane and you are in yours, you are not in much danger. And yes, I say this as somebody who has been sideswiped by a car.

Yes, it is frustrating when cars treat bike lanes as parking spaces. That is definitely an irritation, but it is not a threat to safety. As a cyclist, I stop and merge into traffic, or in the worst case I pull my bike to the sidewalk and walk past the parked car.

I am upset because I used the new bike infrastructure twice and nearly had a collision. I run into these kinds of safety issues surprisingly frequently when using fancy bike infrastructure, and I am tired of it.

Cycling to Preston

On the opposite end of the bike infrastructure spectrum is the ride to Preston. As far as I know, there are three ways to cycle from Kitchener to Preston. The first is the direct way: down Weber which turns into King which turns into Shantz Hill which turns into King. The second detours through Galt, which one reaches via Homer Watson Park, then Blair Road, then up Concession Road. The third is to go to Hespeler, and then (I guess?) take the trail that ends up in Riverside Park.

None of these are great options, and often I will opt for the direct route down Weber/King. In principle I should feel frightened of taking this route. There are few bike lanes and lots of traffic. The route goes over a narrow bridge and under two highway underpasses. But as I was cycling to Riverside Park two things occurred to me: the route is not nice at all, and I am not afraid of it.

I am not a "fearless cyclist". Getting to my destination directly is definitely a priority for me, but so is safety, and I avoid routes where I can get caught in scary situations. There are definitely routes I avoid because they are too crazy. Ottawa St is the worst offender here, but I have had bad experiences on Homer Watson Boulevard and Hespeler Road as well. Even King St from Waterloo Town Square to downtown Kitchener is beyond my safety threshold these days (thanks, LRT).

In addition to a paucity of bike lanes, there are a lot of ways to get in trouble travelling from Kitchener to Preston via King. Often there are right-turn lanes that materialize along your route, and you have to know when it is better to switch to the rightmost lane and when you should stay in the adjacent lane because you need to go straight. The highway underpasses can get you in trouble, unless you know where you should stop at the median and wait for a gap in traffic to cross lanes. The bridge over the Grand River is only a single lane either way, and if you take the bridge and not the adjacent sidewalk then you had better ride in the middle of the lane so that cars don't squeeze past you, because car drivers don't know what sharrows are either.

Here is the thing: I know these tricks now, and by adhering to them I can get to my destination without dealing with scary situations. Most of the road from Kitchener to Preston is two lanes either way, so the cars will usually switch lanes when they see me, and even those who squeeze past usually slow down. (I say "usually" because some person in a gray car zoomed past like I was a pylon, but then the driver started weaving through all the other traffic like they were in a police chase). I was especially surprised because I was travelling from Kitchener to Preston between 5 and 6pm, which I expect is rush hour. There was significant traffic, but it was not overwhelming.

I am not claiming that this route is a nice route, or one I would recommend. But I no longer think of it as much more dangerous than other routes I use to get around the region. That is kind of weird. Is my risk perception miscalibrated because the route is familiar, or is it actually tolerable?