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New West aims to make AAA bike network a priority

Interest in cycling has soared since pandemic began
Cycling Getty
Council has approved a motion by Coun. Patrick Johnstone to get on track with plans to improve the bike network in New Westminster.

New Westminster is embarking on a path to build an all ages and abilities bike network.

Council approved a motion by Coun. Patrick Johnstone to commit to the rapid completion of a safe, comfortable and connected all ages and abilities (AAA) active transportation network. Council also requested staff to update the long-term bicycle network in the city’s master transportation plan.

The motion, approved at council’s Sept. 27 meeting, also directed staff to develop preliminary AAA designs and standards and to report back to council with an ambitious timeline for implementation of the core AAA network and a phasing schedule that can be integrated into a five-year capital plan for council’s consideration.

“The time is now,” Johnstone said. “The pandemic has caused, really, a generational shift in how people move around North America, in cities in North America. Bicycle take-up has been so rapid in North America in the last two years that stores have run out of bicycles and parts to maintain them.”

Johnstone said there’s also been “a revolution” in electric-assist bicycles and in personal transportation like e-scooters. He said this has opened up active transportation to people who previously didn’t see it as a viable option.

“The take-up in it has really correlated with cities that have built safe infrastructure,” he said. “It doesn’t correlate with weather. It doesn’t correlate with the hilliness of cities or the demographics of the community, but with the investments that local governments make and ensure these modes of transportation are safe and accessible for all.”

While “examples abound,” Johnstone highlighted Paris as one city that has committed to creating 1,000 kilometres of cycle paths as a key part of its 15-minute city vision. (Under that urban planning model, cities are created in a way where residents can access their various needs, such as housing, work, services and parks, within 15 minutes by foot or bicycle.)

“They have transformed their city now. They are seeing close to a million bike trips a day,” Johnstone said. “The City of Lights is now the city of bikes.”

Closer to home, Johnstone said Victoria has done “transformative” work since adopting a five-year plan for a AAA bike network in 2016.

“With most of their network now installed, it’s been seeing incredible take-up,” he said. “Victoria has established itself in a few short years as one of the most bike-friendly cities in Canada.”

Johnstone said the City of New Westminster has made some positive improvements in active transportation since adopting its master transportation plan in 2015.

“But I don’t think we have really had a vision towards a really completed AAA backbone that will connect all our neighbourhoods and all of our schools,” he said. “All ages and abilities is just that: we want to build routes so that everyone is comfortable and safe, whether they be eight years old or 80 years old.”

Johnstone said it’s a good time to pursue this work because the provincial and federal governments are currently funding active transportation in a way they’ve never done before.

“The time is now to commit to the work,” he said. “All I am asking is that staff gives us the data we need, so we can integrate that commitment into our five-year capital plans.”

Mayor Jonathan Cote said the motion gets the city on track with where it wants to go in terms of sustainable transportation. He said the city is a leader in the region when it comes to the number of people using transit and walking, but it hasn’t had the same success with cycling.

“I think one of the big barriers is some of our cycling infrastructure is just lacking that connected, safe network,” he said. “Over the past number of years I think we have been working to improve our cycling network, whether it be the completed greenway on Ewen Avenue or the project we are working on on Agnes Street in downtown New Westminster or the upcoming project in the uptown. But, what I do think is lacking is, we actually don’t know after the uptown project, what is next.”

Cote said it’s important to develop a plan that lays out what projects will be coming up in the future and incorporates them into a budget.

“I think really the goal is to fix some of the gaps and fix some of the network so we have that complete network where all of our neighbourhoods can seamlessly connect,” he said. “As has been mentioned, there has been significant uptake in communities around the world for cycling. You combine that with new technologies, with electric bikes and electric scooters, and I think there is a real opportunity, if cities are able to put in the proper infrastructure, to really take advantage and promote these new forms of getting around.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus