The Challenge of Becoming Bike-Friendly

In the recent Lethbridge municipal election several candidates campaigned in part on making the city more bike-friendly. This was a major criterion that I used when deciding who earned my vote. It’s a tough issue to tackle, since the source of most of that relative friendliness or hostility is coming from drivers, and council can’t just force drivers to be more considerate to cyclists. Except for maybe transit drivers, and perhaps they can start there.

I’ve resolved to continue cycling to work throughout the winter as much as I can. We’ve had just over a week since the first snowfall, and so far things have been going pretty smoothly for me. I still need to find a good balaclava and pick up some studded tires for my bike to ensure that I can handle the inevitable piercing cold and icy streets, but a week of cold commutes hasn’t yet scared me off.

This morning, though, a Lethbridge Transit bus did give me a bit of a scare. Through a particular school zone, I always pull fully into the flow of traffic to avoid the vehicles pulled off dropping kids off for school. This generally isn’t a problem, since at 30km/h, I can easily match the speed of traffic. Such was the case this morning as I was matching the speed of traffic in front of me, riding in the path cleared by the passenger side tires of the cars ahead. I had not been in the lane long when a Lethbridge Transit bus was immediately to my left, near enough that I could have reached over and slapped on the side door.

3 feet, please

So, in snowy and slippery conditions when I would hope that everybody drives a little more defensively, a public transit driver passed me too closely, in a school zone, while I was matching the speed of traffic. I only mention that I was matching the speed of traffic to point out that passing me was needless to begin with, especially considering that moments later I passed the bus when it pulled over at a bus stop. Regardless, passing in a school zone is illegal:

When driving a vehicle in a school zone or a playground zone, the person shall not drive the vehicle so as to pass or attempt to pass another vehicle that is moving in the same direction in the school zone or the playground zone during any period of time that the speed limit established or prescribed for the school zone or playground zone is in effect. (Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation, Alta Reg 304/2002, s 8 <http://canlii.ca/t/kwjn#sec8> retrieved on 2013-11-04)

This sort of behaviour on the road stems from treating bicycles as a lesser class of transportation, as though there were some sort of hierarchy defining who has more rights on the road. That sort of attitude is what makes a city bike-hostile, and it’s not an easy thing to change because it requires something of a culture shift. I believe the best way to empathize with somebody cycling on the road is to do it yourself once in a while; it follows that the best way to influence drivers to be more courteous to cyclists is to encourage them to be cyclists themselves. Why would they want to do that in a city that isn’t bike-friendly, though. It’s a catch-22.

One place where the new city council and bike-friendly mayor can have direct and immediate influence, though, is through Lethbridge Transit, ensuring their drivers demonstrate a leadership role in sharing the road with cyclists. Once they get that sorted out, maybe they can tackle the laughable bike route designations on 3rd Avenue S and 13th Street...