HUG it, but don’t ride it

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spokespeople_feature-600Brought to you in collaboration with the Ecology Action Centre and Halifax Cycling Coalition, SpokesPeople covers all things cycle-related. From the principles to the potholes, we’re here to examine the realities facing the two-wheeled traveler.

HALIFAX – The suspiciously placid early onset of spring has sent Haligonians outdoors in droves, as residents ditch the snow shovels of Marches past in favour of bicycles and rollerblades. In the city’s South End, this means an opportunity to test out the first leg of the long-awaited Halifax Urban Greenway (HUG), a multi-modal path for active transportation types of all stripes.

The HUG is a work-in-progress, with long-term plans calling for the greenway to extend north to the Armdale Rotary, and south to Point Pleasant Park. The opening of this first trail section — running alongside Beaufort Avenue from Marlborough Woods north to South Street — is nonetheless cause for celebration, as it comes after nearly a decade of campaigning and planning.

But just as surely as winter will rear its head again before finally calling it quits for this season, cyclists’ celebrations along the HUG are more likely to be muted, or at least “stop-start” in nature. In another victory for liability over practicality, the recent installation of signage on the HUG shocked cyclists with a sweeping assertion: “Cyclists are required to dismount at all intersections.” If you don’t get the point, the off-putting image of a cyclist inside a red circle with a strike-through should drive it home.

Cyclists dismount” signs are not new, and have been the bane of two-wheelers everywhere since they were conceived by lawyers a day or two after the invention of the wheel. “Cyclists dismount” is broadly interpreted as “This infrastructure was built by people who don’t cycle!”  After all, it is roughly equivalent to asking motorists to get out of their car to pay a toll — at every intersection.

The crux of the problem is the establishment of an expectation that nobody in their right mind will observe. It is somewhat akin to the imposition of an obscenely low speed limit on a straight, hazard-free stretch of road: if no one can see a good reason for it, then everyone will ignore it. Aside from the legal designation of these street crossings as “crosswalks,” nobody will see the logic behind the dismount demand, as all of these crossings are found at intersections where traffic approaching Beaufort must stop for stop signs anyway. “Traffic” is a bit misleading here, as the cross streets in question are all quiet, low-speed residential streets.

This problem may seem somewhat trivial in the near term – the first leg of the HUG crosses only a few streets – but can anyone imagine what it will be like to mount and dismount repeatedly all the way from Armdale to Point Pleasant and back?

When this contributor took to the HUG for a test run, he tried – and failed, miserably – to bring himself to observe the dismount order. Frankly, it just felt downright foolish to dismount and mount repeatedly as drivers whizzed by. But blowing through these intersections at full speed is not an option, either, as the still-mounted cyclist is relegated to the bottom of the right-of-way food chain, having essentially bowed out of all rights by snubbing the law. So forget about gearing up, as any safe cyclist’s speed will be reduced to a pittance at each of these crossings.

So what’s a cyclist to do? Sadly, the best solution for the moment is to eschew the HUG and use Beaufort instead.  As a wide collector route with relatively low traffic, it’s a safer bet for through cyclists who have any hope of beating pedestrians to their destination. It’s a crying shame, really, as the uninterrupted stretches of the HUG are surprisingly glorious cruises on sunny days, the car-free path giving recreational cyclists a feeling of freedom, even if the cars are whizzing by just metres away.

Other communities have successfully addressed this problem, and Halifax can, too. (Indeed, Vancouverites and Montrealers would laugh in our faces if they saw how far behind we are.) Swapping the dismount signs on the HUG for yellow diamond “Cyclists crossing” signs on the approaching side streets would go a long way to reordering the right-of-way hierarchy. The installation of similar signage on Beaufort itself would aid turning motorists in avoiding HUG users.

Until any change is initiated, what could have been Halifax’s active transportation showpiece will be relegated to the category of “Good intentions, bad execution,” where it can join the likes of the Macdonald Bridge bikeway.

A hard-working platoon of Haligonians came together to make this first leg of the HUG a reality, and they should be rightly congratulated for it. As they continue to press for construction of future legs, it may be up to a new gang of volunteers to fight for the proper accommodation of bicycles on the greenway. So consider this a a call to action: get off your asses – not your bikes – and tell HRM to take cycling seriously, because this is one HUG that we can’t afford to waste.

photo by Mark Lasanowski

6 comments

  1. I would like to see some pavement treatment (possibly raised, possibly coloured) so that drivers pulling into the crosswalk between sections of the trail would have the sense that they are crossing a trail.

  2. What a joke of a trail, how can this be considered muti use with such restrictions on bicycles. What is up with the dead zone of pavement half way through the trail thus far?

  3. Great article.
    Who can we complain to about this?

  4. thanks for writing this, Mark. I encourage people to check out the discussion on this topic on the Halifax Cycling Coalition message boards at: http://www.cyclehalifax.ca/hccboards/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=378

    As you say, this “multi-use” trail has turned into a bad joke. 8SML – I love your idea that the trail should be raised where it crosses the intersecting streets, to clearly indicate that cyclists the right of way. That is exactly what needs to happen, in addition to Mark’s recommendation of installing “cyclist crossing” signs.

    Halifax. Sigh.

  5. My old hometown of London, Ontario is the same way. Virtually all of their mutli-use paths have “Cyclists Dismount To Cross” signs at even the tiniest of streets. I have yet to see one person obey them.

    It seem pretty obvious that they are placed there to try to limit the city from any liability in case of a collision.

    After moving to Toronto about 3 years ago, they’ve got it right. Intersections have bicycle crossing signs and some places on Lake Shore Blvd E have signs that say “Motorists must yield to Pedestrians and Cyclists”

    Many Intersections with traffic lights have both pedestrian as well as bike crosswalks. The pedestrian area has zebra stripes while the bike side has dotted lines to tell them apart. I’ve yet to see a dismount sign anywhere in the city.

  6. The Galloping Goose & Lochside Trails here in Victoria, BC have only yield signs on most of the roads they cross. It is the road that has the stop sign. A nice rebalancing of priorities.

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