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City Hall's flat tire 

Sheila Fougere's loss is a disaster for Halifax bicycling.

Haligonians re-elected Mayor Peter Kelly with a 16-large margin over contender Sheila Fougere Saturday.

And 100,000 bike tires went flat.

See, Halifax may have opted for the status quo (actually, Halifax, perhaps, didn't; the suburban and rural portions of the municipality did), but there's something significant that will change around council. We can bid farewell to a loud voice on all matters bicycle.

There was simply no more insistent or forceful supporter of bikes on council than Sheila Fougere.

Part of Fougere's drive was that she is a cyclist. And so is her husband Joe, a year-round HRM bike cop. Truly, it makes a difference---people who live problems usually have better views to fixing them.

And Fougere tried, that we know. She finishes her 10-year stint on council as chair of the Bikeways Advisory Committee and safe in the knowledge that she fought the good fight for bike lanes, bike recognition and bike infrastructure.

What does Fougere's decade of bike advocacy add up to?

Well...

There are more than 50 kilometres of bike lanes on HRM streets. But they don't form a complete network. And here's a scandal to consider: This summer was, Fougere told me in September, the first time since 1999 that painted bike lanes were put in on the peninsula.

A significant accomplishment of the past decade, Fougere also told me, has been the inclusion of bike infrastructure specifications in HRM's Municipal Service System Guidelines book (AKA, the "red book," a technical guide for contractors who build for the municipality). And that's nice. Essential, even. But there are more cyclists on the road every year and we need more bike lanes---as a start---to accommodate them. I'm painting in broad strokes here, but, pray, understand, I'm expressing years of wallowing in dissatisfaction: Let's just get the fucking lines painted.

Perhaps a harder-to-swallow poor showing in the HRM bike department this past decade has been the slow movement of HRM drivers to accept that bicycles have a rightful place on our streets and highways. Cyclists still get caught in parallel-to-tires sewer grates. They still get cut off in traffic, doored and squeezed off the road. And holy sweet handlebars, the honking! The fist shaking!

Sheila Fougere increased the visibility of cyclists in Halifax as much as an individual could; it might be argued that she did it mostly by sitting her arse down and riding places. And acceptance of bike riders hasn't been at a standstill. More drivers this summer, I found, gave me space to ride safely towing a double trailer. HRM Bike Week, which happened this year in June, had more participants than ever.

That's cold comfort, though, when you're riding your bike along St. Margaret's Bay Road and the bike lane stops just before the road merges with a Highway 103 off-ramp at Bayers Lake Business Park and you're stuck between merging lanes of 60-kilometre-plus drivers focused on the length of the drive-thru line at Tim Hortons.

But back to Fougere. Please don't think I'm damning with faint praise; my point is not that the councillor didn't do enough.

It's that if, after 10 years of toil, we have only 50 kilometres of on-street bike lanes, a dump of red book technical specifications and drivers still failing to see cyclists who drive predictably and competently and NOW SHEILA FOUGERE IS LEAVING. The future's looking pretty bloody bleak.

Yeah, I know council isn't the only place it matters to have a strong pro-bike voice. Building better biking in Halifax is also the happy task of organizations like the Halifax Cycling Coalition and Critical Mass. It's the job of crack HRM staffers like transportation demand management coordinator Hanita Koblents. It's having more bike cops and more parents biking with their kids and infants. But having a die-hard bike peddler on council meant a loud voice in places citizens and staffers can't always speak.

So who on council will speak for bikes now?

Peter Kelly is back as mayor with a transportation agenda that's leaning toward fast ferries. Linda Mosher---the Chebucto Road widening project's biggest fan---was soundly re-elected in Purcell's Cove-Armdale. The other incumbents? Perhaps Fougere's influence has worn off on them more than I'm assuming.

New councillors? There are five (if you count back-for-more north ender Jerry Blumenthal). Will any be as strong as Sheila Fougere was in her support of biking in HRM? Let's hope at least one can put the pedal to the mettle.

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