Two days in May bracketed the widely anticipated launch of the City of Victoria’s first protected bike lane. On May 1st, the new lanes on Pandora Ave. in downtown Victoria opened to the public. Three weeks later, Mother’s Day marked the official opening day. Mayor Lisa Helps and fellow councillors rode two-wheeled through a ribbon as families, kids and the city’s diverse cycling community celebrated at City Hall.
And all month, local riders were pedalling on Pandora, testifying to the pleasures of a safer downtown street that accommodates all users.
Said Victoria rider Michelle Madrone: “The new lanes really provide a central and safe passage through the heart of downtown for many riders. It reduces all the typical issues of riding on busy city streets: open doors, brushes with moving vehicles, all kinds of turning movements and other hazards.”
“Pandora feels, and is, so much safer with physical separation from motor vehicles,” said Cindy Marven. “The new lanes make it possible for us to ride downtown with our son. We are no longer forced to bring the car down here, where some of our favourite businesses are located. We’ll be able to get to them so much more safely and easier now.”
With its first protected lane, Victoria joins dozens of North American cities reconfiguring its streets for multi-modal travel. The Pandora corridor design features broad concrete medians featuring new trees, bike racks and floating bus stops, plus mid-block crosswalks, bicycle traffic signals and bike turn boxes to help shape travel movements.
Situated on a one-way busy downtown corridor, the new bi-directional lanes run for 1.2 kilometres past City Hall as well as two large new developments under construction, and linking the still incomplete Johnson St. bridge.
More separated lanes are being designed, and are set for construction within a year, followed by plans to enhance and link up new routes into nearby residential neighbourhoods. “By 2022,” said Mayor Lisa Helps, “we will have 25.2 kilometres of an all-ages and abilities network, and 75% of Victorians will live within a five minute walk of a bike lane.”
Phase 1 of this ‘Biketoria’ network will occur downtown, where the ridership and demand is high, but safe facilities sorely lacking. The emerging network in the city’s core also complements a new dynamism downtown, with cranes and new condos popping up on every block. New residents, classy eateries, and thriving high-tech sector all signal a strong local economy and a newly vibrant Victoria.
Shane Devereaux, owner of Habit Coffee, is a long-time booster of better bike infrastructure. “The Pandora lanes – and all the extra bike parking – are not only great for business but also for the overall vibe of the street. It’s so much calmer now than the old three-lane ‘drag strip’ we used to have. I look forward to the bridge being done and the next pieces of the network so we can really see the connectivity start to take shape.”
Mayor Helps is also keeping her eyes forward. “This bike infrastructure is really about building a healthy, prosperous and sustainable city.”
For two decades,Ray Straatsma has promoted city cycling in Montreal, Vancouver and Victoria. His consulting firm RStreets Urban Strategies offers research and communications services in placemaking, urban planning and transportation.
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