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Bike crash stokes East Keith debate

A collision on East Keith Road that sent a cyclist to hospital this week has reignited the debate over a proposed bike lane, which advocates say could have prevented the crash.
A recent collision in the area that left a cyclist in hospital and his bicycle mangled has added fuel to the fire.

A collision on East Keith Road that sent a cyclist to hospital this week has reignited the debate over a proposed bike lane, which advocates say could have prevented the crash.

The 39-year-old victim was rear-ended by a car on an uphill portion of the North Vancouver thoroughfare near Calverhall Street at about 7 p.m Tuesday. The man was taken to hospital with minor head injuries and released, according to police. The bicycle was left mangled. The driver told investigators he hadn't seen the cyclist because the sun was in his eyes.

The close call took place on a stretch of road that was recently the focus of a pilot project by the District of North Vancouver, which saw one of the thoroughfare's westbound lanes replaced with a bike lane in the fall of 2011. The change was abruptly reversed in November, however, after the municipality heard concerns from residents that it was slowing traffic. District council decided to suspend any further decisions about the road until the Low Level Road project is done.

But to one cyclist, Tuesday's accident shows that the decision is a no-brainer.

Gwil Roberts, a Vancouver resident who frequently bikes to work along Keith, was driving home when he spotted emergency workers dealing with the aftermath of the crash. He stopped his car to ask police officers what had happened.

"I saw them carrying a mangled wreck of a bike," said Roberts. "One of the police officers had the bike in his arms. It was folded in half, and barely recognizable."

The 42-year-old project manager said the accident worries him, since he's had many close calls in the area himself.

"People have a tendency to gain a lot of speed going up that hill," said Roberts. "There is no room to manoeuvre, because of the two westbound lanes.

"There is absolutely no shoulder on that section of East Keith Road hill."

A bike lane, he said, would likely have prevented the most recent mishap.

But district Coun. Mike Little, speaking to the North Shore News this week, explained that the decision had to be deferred because the 18-month Lower Level closure is expected to drive even more traffic onto Keith Road and 3rd Street, making any narrowing impractical.

After the construction is done, Little said council might take another look at Keith Road. But he doesn't think a bike lane would have prevented Tuesday evening's accident.

"You can have a dedicated cycling lane and this could still happen, that's the problem," said Little. "Until you have separated cycling lanes, which has not been discussed . . . this accident would still have occurred."

Little said that the district is investing in cycling infrastructure in other parts of North Vancouver, such as the Seymour Parkway Bridge. He pointed out that cyclists can also travel on the Spirit Trail, a North Shore-wide project that runs mostly along the waterfront.

But for commuting cyclists, using a recreational path like the Spirit Trail doesn't do much good, said cycling advocate Jay MacDonald, who lives in North Vancouver and bikes to work in downtown Vancouver.

"When you're a bike commuter, what do you want to do? You want to get from point A to point B," said MacDonald. "You're not out for a leisurely stroll . . . Keith is a consistent grade and it takes you up to where you want to be."

An engineering report commissioned by the District of North Vancouver this spring outlined a number of safety concerns on Keith Road, including "cyclists being involved in rear end collisions with rear approaching vehicles travelling at greater speeds."

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