I leave near Keats Way Elementary School, so this is a situation I see often. Children cycling down the sidewalk. Keats Way has some of the best bike lanes in Waterloo, so why aren’t they using those? Riding on the sidewalk places cyclists at a significantly higher risk of colliding with a car, because they are less visible at intersections and drivers do not expect fast-moving vehicles on crosswalks. Getting off and walking across each intersection does eliminate this issue, but also severely diminishes the practicality of cycling.
Parents have evidently decided that the cycling infrastructure is not safe enough for their children, despite the statistical reality that it is safer than the sidewalk. They are likely afraid of the prospect of riding immediately next to multi-tonne vehicles travelling at over 50 kilometres per hour. But merely riding parallel to auto traffic is hardly ever the cause of collisions. It’s at intersections that they mostly occur.
The disconnect between what scares people and what is actually dangerous results from two concepts of “Actual Safety” and “Subjective Safety”. Actual safety is calculated statistically, whereas subjective safety is how safe people feel . English-Dutch cycling blogger David Hembrow explains it well and gives the example of skydiving. It is actually very safe, yet most people are afraid to do it.
Keats Way does not have an “actual safety” problem, it has a “subjective safety” problem. And thanks to the abundant road width, it would be quite easy to fix it on a minimal budget.
The arrangement of Keats Way is common in Waterloo: a wide street with wide car lanes, a wide unused median, and normal-sized bike lanes (admittedly much wider than typical in this city). This arrangement tends to appear in “road diets”: where a 4 lane road is reorganized into 2 car lanes, 2 bike lanes and a median. Other examples in town include Bearinger Road, Father David Bauer Drive, and Davenport Road.
When implementing “road diets”, we could place the leftover space between cars and bicycles, rather than wasting it as a median. This would cost exactly the same, but be more attractive to cycle on. We could also use some of the extra space to widen the bike lane, making it possible for two cyclists to ride side-by-side. I witnessed one parent taking her children home in a bicycle trailer, and it was only slightly narrower than the bike lane.
Parents would surely enjoy riding side-by-side with their children, since that would open the possibility of conversation. In the absence of parallel cyclists, the width would allow faster cyclists to safely overtake slower riders. In my diagram, you’ll notice that the bike lanes are nearly as wide as the car lanes.
Ideally, we would completely rebuild the street with a comprehensive design for cyclists, as is common in The Netherlands. But until the street comes up for reconstruction, this design would provide significant improvement at a low cost.
I hope that Kitchener-Waterloo’s future bike lanes will be designed with subjective safety in mind, since it is the largest single barrier keeping people off their bikes. Separated bike lanes are much more attractive to the general population, so we should take the opportunity to build them whenever practical.
About my road layout:
The roadway of Keats Way is 14 metres wide. It is currently has roughly 1.8m wide bike lanes and 3.5m car lanes. My proposal has the same layout at intersections, but the mid-block dimensions are 2.5m bike lanes and 3.4m car lanes, with a 1.1m buffer between them. In comparison, standard Waterloo bike lanes are 1.25 m wide, with no buffer.
The raised concrete islands are very important, because they ensure that cars actually follow the lane. They will otherwise cut across the hatched markings in order to be able to speed. The entire hatched portion could be replaced with a concrete island, if the city were to willing to spend more money.
The model is scaled to the stretch between Amos Avenue and Karen Walk. The streets are separated by 148 metres.