Ok Lake Bridge dialog

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Hi Kelowna Bikers,

I participated in the Wheels For Change ride on July 7th and did something I rarely need to do – I rode my bike across the floating bridge. Yikes! Very bumpy, lumpy, and some nice hazards thrown in. One of the hazards was sharing a narrow bike lane with riders heading east when the bridge construction forced us onto the wrong side of the bridge and the bridge-hill heading west. There we were, riding against traffic, about 1 metre away from cars speeding down the hill with only little bendy ‘traffic-stick-barriers’ between us (it was early Saturday morning, so no traffic backlog at that time). It reminded me of the correspondence I shared with Minister Falcon about the plans for bike riders with the new Bennett bridge being built. I promised the other Wheels for Change riders that I would post it to this website. Sorry but I’ve lost my initial email – it was a simple query about what the bike lanes would look like because I couldn’t find the information on the bridge website. Read on for the banter back and forth.

Cathy Ritchards
bikepaddlesing@yahoo.ca

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From: Transportation, Minister TRAN:EX [mailto:Minister.Transportation@gov.bc.ca]
To: Richards, Cathy
Subject: 149182 William R. Bennett Bridge
Reference:

Dear Cathy Richards: Re: William R. Bennett Bridge

Thank you for your e-mail of August 2, 2006, regarding bicycle and pedestrian access on the new William R. Bennett Bridge.

I appreciate your desire to maintain access for alternative methods of travel. Active living is a high priority for our government. In fact, my ministry dedicates money every year under the Cycling Infrastructure Partnerships Program to help communities across British Columbia build and promote cycling-friendly transportation solutions.

In regards to the new bridge across Okanagan Lake, there will be a three metre-wide bicycle and pedestrian lane on the south side of the bridge
with a barrier separating it from vehicle traffic. The cycling and pedestrian paths on the existing bridge are only two metres wide, and there is no barrier. The new bridge will provide safer and wider access for cyclists and pedestrians. There will be an underpass from the sidewalk on both ends of the bridge to allow access from either side.

The new bridge will help you continue to safely enjoy the benefits of an active lifestyle. Thank you again for taking the time to write.

Best regards,
Kevin Falcon, Minister

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Sept 20, 2006

Thank you Minister Falcon for your reply.While it is commendable to plan for a wider lane, accessible for bikes and with a barrier that will help keep pedstrians and riders separated from traffic, I also note that the number of lanes for cars increased from 3 to 5, while the number of lanes allocated to bikes/pedestrians has decreased from 2 to 1 with the total metres decreased from 4 to 3. Further, bikers moving in either direction currently have a 2 metres lane, but in the future they will be sharing the space with oncoming bikers reducing their potential riding space to 2 metres, not increasing it to 4. Have safety studies been done to show that 4 metres is adequate for both pedestrian and bike traffic moving in two directions? Bikes are supposed to ride with traffic, not against. Have safety studies been done on bridges with similar designs to show that riding against traffic is safe (in terms of distractions to drivers and concentration of bikers), even with a barrier? How will westbound bike riders move from the south side of the bridge to the north side of the highway to continue their journey? (Note: an underpass has been included in the design) Do they continue to ride on the wrong side of the highway, or will there be an overpass for them to get to the right side, or will they have to make a dangerous crossing against the bridge traffic coming down the highway hill? It would be useful to see a diagram but I couldn’t find one on the internet.What if work is being done on the single pedestrian/bike lane — will one of the car lanes be closed to car traffic to allow pedestrians and bikes to continue to be able to access the bridge, or will there be a free shuttle bus to get them across?I’d like to note that this is not just about active lifestyles, but also about encouraging transportation methods that reduce infrastructure costs (parking lots, road maintenance) and environmental costs. And, barring accidents due to unsafe design, reduced health care costs are also at stake. I can’t see how a single, two-way bike/pedestrian lane will encourage people to leave their cars at home and walk/bike instead.The website for the bridge states that it will have improved access for bikes. I just can’t see how a reduction in lanes and metres allocated to bikes is an improvement. I think pedestrians and bike riders would best be served by keeping a two (ideally three) metre lane — with a barrier — on both sides of the bridge.I look forward to your further reply.Cathy Richards

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October 31st reply:

Dear Cathy:

Thank you for your e-mail of September 20, 2006, regarding your ongoing concerns about pedestrian and bicycle access to the William R. Bennett Bridge. Safety is my ministry’s highest priority and we are working to build a safer, more efficient transportation network across British Columbia for all travellers, including cyclists and pedestrians. My ministry has taken great care to ensure that access to the new bridge for both cyclists and pedestrians will not be compromised. The three-metre-wide lane is large enough to accommodate significantly more volume than the current number of users. You may be interested to know that no other Provincial bridge in B.C. has a wider cycling and pedestrian lane than the one being installed in Kelowna. A big safety improvement is the barrier that will separate motor vehicle traffic from cyclists and pedestrians while the existing bridge has an open curb divider. This will go a long way towards keeping people safer during their crossing. At either end of the bridge will be an underpass so both pedestrians and cyclists can access both sides of the highway without being exposed to motor vehicle traffic. Maintenance on the bridge will be done by a maintenance contractor who is obligated to ensure safe cycling and pedestrian access during any routine maintenance activities. I hope this information addresses all your concerns. Thank you again for taking the time to write.Best regards,
Kevin Falcon, Minister

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