Thursday, January 28, 2010

Biking Burnaby

I've gone for a couple of rides in Burnaby this week. I get bored with biking around Vancouver all the time and I like to go for tours of the region, and Burnaby is in between me and much of the region, so I've biked through Burnaby quite a lot.

The City of Burnaby did two nice things at the same time. First, they spent a lot of money on street signs for bike routes, and second, they hired a mentally challenged person to plan the bike routes and decide where the signs go.

I bet they got a really nice tax credit from the feds for hiring their mentally challenged bike route planner, but actually biking the routes gives you an unsettling look inside the mind of someone who sees the world very differently than I do.

Bike routes in Burnaby frequently have reassuring signs that tell you to continue going straight down a perfectly straight road, but then they often have no sign at all when the bike route takes a 90 degree turn off the street and onto a narrow pathway. Sometimes your pleasant ride down a sleepy back street will change suddenly into a harrowing nightmare of "sharing the road", when you get dumped onto a major traffic artery.

But it's okay. The City of Burnaby and their special cycle route planner have made provisions for the safety of cyclists on these busier roads. First, they put signs up, like the one below, alerting drivers that they are presently "sharing the road", which, as you can see in the photo below, is the number one preoccupation of everyone driving down this arterial-connector-cum-cycle-route.

And then they intermittently paint pictures of bicycles on the road. These paintings are intended to scare drivers when they see them in their rearview mirrors by fooling them into believing they've driven over a white ten-speed. After their heart-pounding escape from their imagined hit-and-run, it is hoped that these drivers will resolve in the future to be more alert to the presence of cyclists.

My favourite Burnaby bike route moment came earlier this week when I followed the sea-to-river bikeway, which I assumed went from the Burrard Inlet (the sea) to the Fraser River. I discovered that the bikeway actually comes to an end about two kilometres from the river, when it steers you into a cul-de-sac at the bottom of a steep hill. Burnaby's bike map will assure you that the route continues through the cul-de-sac and out onto Marine Drive, but I can attest that no such thing is possible. My conclusion is that some important person at the City of Burnaby lives in that cul-de-sac, and wanted a convenient route for cycling into town.

The jewel in Burnaby's mentally-challenged bike route crown is the much-ballyhooed central valley greenway, which opened last summer. Translink, our regional transportation agency, spent $30 million on this pathway, which links New Westminster to Vancouver. Translink spent (in my estimation) the first $29 million or so of that money on this beautiful bike and pedestrian bridge in Burnaby:

Unfortunately, this bridge left them with very little money to complete the route, so they had to cobble it together out of existing pathways, linked together by confusing signage and the planners' imagination. The route, which is touted as a walking, biking and rollerblading path, frequently changes from asphalt to gravel to dirt to a sidewalk beside a busy road. It also prominently features confusing junctions with signs pointing out landmarks in three different directions, but not indicating which of the three directions the path continues in.

Biking in Burnaby: it's exercise for your legs, and your brain!

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