The dangers of biking in Regina

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Biking in Regina hasn’t been made easy. Wikipedia Commons

Regina wasn’t made for cyclists

By Julia Peterson

One of the first things that I did when I moved to Regina this fall was get my bike set up. As someone who doesn’t own a car and doesn’t usually have the time to wait half an hour for the bus, I rely on my bike as my primary mode of transportation around the city.

Having spent the summer living and working in Vancouver – where I regularly biked at least two hours every weekday for my commute – I was excited to be living somewhere much flatter, where biking anywhere I wanted to go would be so easy I would hardly have to think about it.

Unfortunately, I have since discovered that Regina is an absolutely terrible city for cyclists.

I suppose my first warning should have come when I started applying for jobs my first week here. Most places I applied to asked about my access to transportation, and when I said I biked, people looked at me as though I had grown another (helmeted) head. I thought these potential employers were just presuming that I didn’t know what winter cycling conditions would be like, but I’m no stranger to biking in the snow, and I thought they were just being overly cautious.

And then the first snowfall hit in mid-September, and I realized that it isn’t the weather that’s the main problem here – it’s the drivers.

When biking in snowy or slushy conditions, it’s much safer to follow the tracks that cars have already made on the roads, since they’ve already pushed away most of the slippery muck and flattened down what’s left. However, this means that I can’t bike as far to the side of the road as I might like to if conditions were clear. It’s also critically important for me to bike a little slower, since going too fast means that I might skid instead of stop when applying the brakes.

Within our first week of snow this year, I had drivers passing so close to me that their mirrors nearly clipped my handlebars, as though they hadn’t realized that I was also in their lane. In one memorable instance earlier this month, I had a driver shout at me to move over to the side. Unfortunately, there was nowhere for me to go except for right into an iced-over snowbank, where I probably would have skidded and fallen if I had taken that driver’s advice rather than just letting her past. I understand that everybody is in a hurry and just wants to get to where they’re going, but bicycles on the road are vehicles too, and we have as much a right to be there as anybody else. We want to get to our destinations safely too.

And to the drivers who act rudely or recklessly toward me and other cyclists because they’re in a rush, I say this: I promise, if you knock me off my bike or push me into dangerous conditions where I fall, it will take you much longer to call an ambulance than it will for you to drive a little slower for a block or two until one of us turns off.

Non-cyclists might be wondering: “if the drivers in Regina are such a problem, why not just use the bike paths?”

Well, the bike paths here have their own pile of problems. For one, bike path options are quite limited. While the city does plan to implement 30 kilometres of new bike infrastructure by 2023, the current routes leave much to be desired – many places I want to go in the city have no bike path access at all.

For another, many of the options that do exist are completely unusable in the winter. A few of the routes that Google Maps identifies as bike paths are just lumpy, potholed dirt tracks through farmland – somewhat challenging terrain under perfect conditions, and impossible in the snow when the wheels can’t get a grip on anything solid. Other paths, particularly the ones around Wascana Lake, get dangerously icy every time the temperature drops below zero.

There are plenty of options that other snowy Canadian cities have explored to make winter biking a viable possibility – building new covered bike paths, altering snow-clearing procedures to ensure that snow doesn’t get pushed over into the bike lanes and left there, and spraying bike routes with diluted salt solutions to keep them clear, for example. Any or all of these options would be a boon to winter cyclists here.

But even in warmer weather, the bike paths in this city are nothing to write home about. I remember one night in October when I was working late in an unfamiliar location and had decided to bike home since I wasn’t sure the buses would still be running. When I got to the bike path, I realized that it was so poorly lit that I could barely see a metre in front of me, even with my lights turned on. I could only count myself lucky that no one else would be foolish enough to be on the bike path at that time of night, since I might not have seen them coming!

And when I finally got to the end of the path and was preparing to merge back into traffic, I was in for quite the surprise. That section of the bike path didn’t end in a cut curb, so I had a significant and unexpected drop to the road level – I still have a bruise on my inner thigh that hasn’t quite faded.

The most frustrating thing is that Regina should be an absolutely wonderful city to bike in. It’s flat and relatively compact, so with better bike paths and friendlier drivers, we could be a city full of cyclists zipping around, keeping fit, reducing our travel times, and commuting in an ecologically sustainable way. But if we want to make that vision a reality, we’re all going to have to get in gear.

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