While biking in Regina, Annabel Townsend’s experiences range from pleasant to confusing to frightening.
She moved from Great Britain to Regina eight years ago and, having never needed a drivers license before, came to the Queen City without one. She still does not have a drivers license and uses her bicycle for everything, whether commuting to work, visiting friends or getting groceries.
But Regina is not designed with people like her in mind, she said. Many drivers do not know how to share the road with a cyclist, and she is often stuck riding on the road because of the city’s limited number of bike lanes.
“It feels like it was designed by someone who’s never ridden a bike,” Townsend said of Regina’s existing bike infrastructure in a recent interview.
Painted-on bike lanes stop and start in seemingly random locations without taking her to the places she usually wants to go, she said. The lanes do not connect to one another. She laughed when she thought of a bike rack at City Square Plaza, which is located up a step that she cannot ride up with her heavy cargo bike.
“It seems to be geared toward cycling as recreation, so there’s lots of nice little routes if you’re just out for a pleasure ride. But if you want to commute, there’s nothing,” Townsend said.
Regina has approximately 10.6 kilometres of on-street bike lanes in total, located on portions of Broad Street and Wascana Parkway, Assiniboine Avenue, McCarthy Boulevard, Smith Street, Lorne Street, Wascana Gate South and Chuka Boulevard. The rest of the city’s 52 kilometres of cycling infrastructure is in the form of multi-use pathways.
The City of Regina is also currently working on putting in its first bi-directional bike lane along Park Street between Douglas Avenue and 17th Avenue East as it redoes the street , which will add around 0.7 kilometres of on-street lanes. This bike lane will be separated from motorists by a parking lane and is slated to be finished by the end of September.
As laid out in the city’s Transportation Master Plan, Regina has committed to investing $250,000 per year from 2019-2023 for a total of $1.25 million over those five years.
Angèle Poirier, a board member of local bike advocacy group Bike Regina, praised the Park Street bike lane construction as a step in the right direction and said she would like to see the city put in a similar bike lane when they redo other roads.
But she still feels that cycling infrastructure in the city has been left on the back burner, and other cyclists in the city seem to agree.
Bike Regina conducted a survey in February that received more than 600 responses from cyclists across the city.
“Everybody said the major, major barrier for them to cycling in Regina is lack of infrastructure, so the reality is that the lack of infrastructure is the message that we’re hearing from the citizens of Regina,” said Poirier.
So what would it take for Regina to be a bike-friendly city?
“Three things: More bike infrastructure, better bike infrastructure and maintenance of the infrastructure that we have,” Poirier said.
Both Poirier and Townsend agree that protected bike lanes are the better infrastructure the city needs, and these lanes should follow main roads so people can commute to work or get to major businesses. Protected bike lanes are lanes separated from vehicle traffic by a physical barrier.
Avid cyclist John Klein, who has been biking in Regina since 2001, agreed. He said the Park Street project is the “biggest step the city has taken” in bike infrastructure, but also called it “anticlimactic.”
He said Regina needs more protected bike lanes like the one being constructed on Park Street, and they need to be set up in a “cycling network.” If it is only small sections that don’t connect, they don’t really help cyclists travel from one destination to another.
Maintenance and plowing of bike lanes through the winter is also crucial in a Saskatchewan city. For those who bike only recreationally, this may not seem important, but for those who commute via bicycle year-round, it’s critical, said Townsend.
Klein said the downtown bike lanes especially often seem to serve as snow storage zones in the winter.
“I found pictures of that lane where you can’t even see that it exists,” he said of the bike lane on Lorne Street.
Poirier also stressed that more education is needed.
“Motorists, they either don’t know or they don’t care that cyclists have a right to be in the road just as much as a vehicle does, and we face daily hostility,” said Poirier, adding she would like to see SGI run a “share the lane” campaign to educate both cyclists and drivers on how to coexist on the road.