CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI – PEI is well known as a cycling destination. Tourists come from far and wide to bike along the scenic highways that overlook the Atlantic Ocean from the tops of gentle rolling hills. The Confederation Trail, an old railway track now converted to a multi-use trail, is another popular choice. It connects Charlottetown to both the east and west coasts of the island. The Confederation Trail is teeming with wildlife such as foxes and finches which emerge regularly from the adjacent brush.
Charlottetown itself is a really pretty city. It charms tourists and delights the locals, with its views of the sprawling harbor, magnificent Victoria Park, daintily outfitted and brightly colored historic homes, trees with branches that overhang the streets and manicured flower beds at every corner.
The City of Charlottetown has the aesthetic appeal and the small scale (44 km²), to make it a lovely place to bike around. One could, in one day, take in the harbor vistas, explore the historic buildings, stop for fresh oysters fresh out of Malpeque Bay, do some shopping and take in a theatrical production. In theory, this city has all it could ever need to attract a ton of cyclists. The truth is that cyclists in the downtown area are few and far between. Tourists are not choosing this as a method of exploration. Even locals commuting to work are seen in fewer numbers than you might expect.
There are 2 main reasons.
The first is that none of the existing bike lanes or trails connect to each other in any usable way. There are bits and pieces scattered all over the city without any fluent connectors, making it difficult to get from point A to point B (see Map #2 – above – “Existing Infrastructure”). For example, Victoria Park’s bike lane is hands down, one the nation’s prettiest. However, it is so disconnected from the rest of the city that some residents feel they have to transport their bikes down there in order to enjoy it with their families. There is so little bike traffic on this pathway that local residents have recently expressed their desire to get rid of it and change it into a lane to accommodate more vehicular traffic.
This problem could easily be rectified by planning and publishing a “Charlottetown Cycling Map” (for author’s suggestions refer to Map 1 – below – “Ideal cycling infrastructure”). Adding in some connections between existing infrastructure along quiet residential streets and adding more designated bike lanes along busier downtown streets could easily make this city into a cycling-dream-come-true. Bike routes could be numbered as well, to help with navigation.
The second reason is that the existing bike lanes are not well planned or indicated. Belvedere Ave is a prime example of this. The stencils on the roadways that designate the bike lanes are scattered too far apart. The painted lane lines which separate the car and bike lanes disappear around all of the intersections, including a few roundabout intersections where even drivers have to approach with extreme caution. Ambiguous markings create confusion for both cyclists and motorists and confusion is hazardous, especially when it’s a “bike VS farm truck” situation. What the City really needs to do is check out something like NACTO’s Urban Biking Design Guide for ideas about what safe bike lanes and intersections are supposed to look like. A little planning and some extra paint could go a long way.
City Hall has already begun making efforts to sort out these issues. They have erected a few “Share the Road” signs. They have designated a few bike lanes and built another multi-use trail on the west side of the city. They have installed shiny new bike racks all over the downtown core this month and they approved the development of a Master Plan for Victoria Park this week. The plan is to solicit public opinion and take the information gathered to help shape a plan for the long term future of the Park and its many amenities. These all constitute great starts but Charlottetown still has some work to do before it can reach its full cycling potential.
Maps extracted from Google and modified by Melanie LaBelle