It’s a tense bike ride from Joseph Howe Drive to Bedford along the old Bedford highway. Cars and trucks zoom by at bike-rattling speeds all day, making the roadway a “horribly dangerous corridor for cyclists,” according to Rebecca O’Brien of the Ecology Action Centre’s TRAX program. But this eight-kilometre stretch of road has the potential to be one of HRM’s safest and most pleasant cycling commutes. Eventually.
City council has approved $200,000 for bikeway improvements in next year’s budget, with most of the money concentrated on establishing a bike route along the Bedford Highway. “That’s good news,” says O’Brien. “There is incredible growth going on in Bedford. You’ve got a major corridor there for transportation and really limited options for people. You’ve got a university on the corridor and you’ve got a lot of commuters from Bedford coming into the city. Also, there’s a recreational component. It links up to a trail system, so on a Saturday or Sunday you could cycle out to Bedford and go out the trail system there.”
Even if councillors decide to spend every penny of the $200,000 on the Bedford corridor, there wouldn’t be enough to complete the route over the coming year. It’s not just the length that will drive up the cost of the Bedford bikeway. “It’s what we’ve got to deal with in terms of retaining walls and drainage and all the other issues,” says SuperCity Traffic and Transportation manager Ken Reashor, estimating the whole project could be in the neighbourhood of $300,000. Exactly what will get built this year remains to be seen.
“For that particular corridor, they need an off- road facility,” says O’Brien. “They need to have a situation where cyclists are separated from the traffic.” O’Brien likes the idea of a bi-directional bike lane on one side of the roadway, similar to what currently spans the Macdonald Bridge. Ideally, she says, the city would get permission from CN Rail to move back their recently constructed fence along the harbour side of the road to allow for the bikeway.
Councillor and Bikeways Advisory Committee member Sheila Fougere supports the idea of bike lanes along the Bedford Highway, but cautions not all SuperCity roads will warrant separate lanes for bikes. “There’s a whole menu of different ways for bikes to be accommodated in terms of signage, wide curb lanes, painted lanes, alternate access to particular things,” says Fougere. “Putting a bike lane on every street in HRM is not ever gonna happen, truthfully. We’re not going to go paint a bike lane on every street. That’s the same as saying we’re not going to put a crosswalk at every corner.”
Last year’s bikeway infrastructure budget, somewhere around $120,000, was spent on several small bikeway segment projects, most of which piggybacked on already planned road construction. The costs of these bike infrastructure additions vary dramatically from project to project. HRM spent $20,000 on a half-kilometre stretch of bike lane on Main Street in Dartmouth, and $15,000 on a two-kilometre bike lane along Eastern Passage Road. On the much shorter Main Street project, bikeways funding had to pay for more asphalt to widen the road, but in Eastern Passage, the road was wide enough already and all that was needed was two kilometres of painted lines.
“We were trying to stretch as much as we could,” says Reashor. “We said let’s put some money towards projects that fit the criteria and are part of the long range bicycle plan, and do a piece of it and we’ll just do it over time.” Last year also saw about $10,000 spent on bike racks, “Share the Road” signage, some contributions to a wider curb lane on St. Margaret’s Bay Road, and a study to figure out how to get cyclists on and off the Macdonald Bridge more efficiently.
“It’s not like we’re throwing a million bucks into doing this, that and the other thing,” says Sheila Fougere. “But we’re picking away at it. And if you look at the bike plan, that’s what it intends. When you have the resources you do what you can. There are priorities listed there and that’s what we’ve been picking away at.”
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