With two trips in the last two months—one to Edmonton and now to Mississauga—I've been missing certain things from my now usual life in Victoria; mostly my kayak and my bike.
When I lived outside Edmonton, I seldom biked; there was never anywhere to bike to. Occasionally I would take my bike into Edmonton and use it for a day, or I would head out onto the secondary highway a mile away from the farm, but not often. When I left and spent time at Monica's remarkable mountainside farm near Nelson, I would take my bike into town and cycle about, sometimes heading up towards Kaslo, but most often just using it as in-town transportation. But this all changed when I settled down in Victoria.
By the time I got to Victoria, Paula had already acquired her trike and was making her own tracks around town. It wasn't hard to tell why: Victoria, for all its hills, is a terrific town to bike in.
Once I went back to Edmonton, I was newly sensitised to bike issues. Edmonton has no bike lanes that I noticed. Not that there aren't a lot of bike riders; Daryl Richel, the programme manager at CJSR Radio, for example, is a 24/7/365 rider. Yes, even at -40°C he commutes by bike. Not coincidentally, CJSR also runs the Bike Report, Canada's only bicycle traffic report. Currently the reports are given by Claire, who reports on local bike traffic conditions and bike related news from across Canada and around the world.
And while in Edmonton, I spoke to a rider having a smoke in front of Mountain Equipment Co-op. This kind of sums up biking in Edmonton; biking is a radical and individualistic act. So a bike rider who smokes, well, I wasn't surprised.
The rider I spoke to at MEC was a tough, aggressive rider—and acknowledged it. But he also acknowledged commute biking in Edmonton is something is an extreme sport and that in the end, even he occasionally bikes on the sidewalk for safety.
It was the same story in Mississauga; extreme sport, dangerous traffic, lack of bike lanes, and frequent riding on the sidewalk. Next to my sister's place in Mississauga is a park and part of the Mississauga trail system. Just like in Edmonton, where the trails are chiefly confined to the river valley, the trails in Mississauga are confined to parks and natural areas. But I borrowed my brother-in-law's bike and headed out to check out the trail.
The trail is lovely—winding, no big hills, paved and travelling through areas that Mississauga Parks are encouraging to return to a more native condition. This means more birds, small hardwoods, and native plants (and weeds) allowed growing unimpeded.
This natural area is not that unusual here; I've noticed several of these small oases in Mississauga. Much of the areas under the power lines in transmission corridors are given over to over to park. But the parks—and, importantly, the trails—are not contiguous. In ecological terms, they house “stranded populations”. The populations may seem healthy, but all are stressed by the very nature of their isolation.
And this holds true for the bike population as much as for the frogs and birds. The path/trail I found is about two kilometres long and connects nothing to nothing. Six lanes of commuter traffic chop it off at one end, and it heads off the other direction past Iceland (a year-round ice sports facility where my six year old niece plays hockey), past a natural recovery area with a stream, around playing fields to where it dead-ends at an off-leash park for local dogs. This would be where I wiped out and the resultant soft-tissue damage put paid to much more biking for the rest of my stay. The trail is good/valuable/worthy, but it is a trail from nowhere to nowhere.
According to the map I have, there are other trails/paths in Mississauga—some even look quite extensive—but they are miles apart, and are all supporting stranded populations.
Nationally, at least, we're trying to address this problem of stranded populations with the creation of the Trans-Canada Trail. Slowly, the country is being connected with this multi-use corridor.
Clearly I've been spoiled for the last year. Victoria has been quite aggressive in its development of bike lanes and multi-use trails, knitting them into the mass transit system and extending them throughout the city. All the users—particularly cyclists—that I speak to love the trails and lanes. And most all of them want to see the system extended, and most of them want to see it done by last year. Personally, I'd like to see a set target of, say, fifty kilometres of new bike lanes a year. Or before any road can be resurfaced, a bike lane must be added.
But honestly, we live in one of the most progressive cities in Canada in terms of traffic policy. An aggressive, vocal bike lobby, traffic engineers who give weight to non-car traffic (whether forced to or wanting to doesn't matter: it still happens), a pretty good mass transit system (almost every bus with a bike rack on the front and I just love the double-decker busses!), walkable neighbourhoods and extensive paths and trails, make for a very liveable city. Most weeks we need a vehicle one day a week and then only because we need to haul kayaks. Otherwise we've spent much of the last year not car-free, but certainly car-reduced. I know I've gone from what was a five thousand kilometre commute each month to a life where I doubt that I've driven five thousand kilometres in the last year. Good for us, good for the environment, and good for the planet.