OLD NEWS: This week in Saanich history – March 9-15

The News’ weekly historical feature looks at a proposal to allow bikes on sidewalks from 1995

Conflicts between cyclists and drivers sharing the roadway are nothing new. But in 1995, Saanich’s Bicycle Advisory Committee attempted to alleviate that friction by asking staff to look at allowing cyclists to ride on sidewalks.

“After studying the Motor Vehicle Act, … the advisory committee concluded that permitting cyclists on Saanich sidewalks would benefit both drivers and the cycling community,” read an article in the March 15, 1995 issue of the News.

Coun. Judy Brownoff was chair of the committee at the time, and says now that the idea came about because they didn’t want to see police issuing tickets under the Motor Vehicle Act to children who were biking on sidewalks.

“The idea was that the police would have a sympathetic eye if kids were biking on sidewalks … so it was a way of saying, ‘Okay, we don’t have a lot of (biking) infrastructure built, we want kids safe, but we really don’t want to get in the habit of lots of people riding on the sidewalks because they’re not wide enough,” she said.

The News article states that “allowances would be based on a cyclist’s age.” The proposal also suggested that cyclists would be required to use a bell or horn to warn pedestrians of their approach.

Colin Doyle, Saanich’s director of planning, says he recalls staff nixed the idea because “we felt the benefits did not outweigh the risks.”

“Police are going to recognize discretion if they see a young child riding on a sidewalk on high Quadra,” said Doyle, who was a roads design engineer for Saanich in 1995.

Saanich police Sgt. Steve Eassie says discretion is key with issuing a ticket for cycling on a sidewalk, which comes with a $109 fine. He said it’s a ticket that isn’t issued very often.

“More often than not we’ll treat it as opportunity to educate as opposed to punish,” he said. “We tell them that it is illegal to be riding on the sidewalk, and well it does appear to be safer, it’s not as safe for pedestrians – it creates a hazard for them.”

Brownoff points to Wilkinson Road as an area where there are still gaps in Saanich’s cycling infrastructure, and where even she rides on the sidewalk because she doesn’t feel safe on the road.

“The problem we had back then was council had just adopted the (Commuter Bicycling Network) which showed which roads will have cycling, bike lanes, that sort of thing. So we took roads that had generous lane widths and did road diets to fit bike lanes in,” Brownoff said. “That’s why a lot of the bike lanes aren’t complete. Now we have new standards with buffers and curbs, but there’s no more low-hanging fruit.”

editor@saanichnews.com

•••••

In other news this week…

1993 – Residents living near Rainbow Park, along with staff and parents from Rogers elementary, call on Saanich and the provincial government to build a pedestrian bridge over McKenzie Avenue at Rainbow Street. This came during construction of the McKenzie/Pat Bay interchange, when a crosswalk was installed at Rainbow Street and drivers were regularly seen running the red light.

1996 – As area school districts await budget announcements from the provincial government, talks heat up surrounding amalgamating the Greater Victoria, Saanich, Sooke and Gulf Islands school districts. Then-Education Minister Paul Ramsay said there would be cost savings by amalgamating, while school districts denied that claim.

• 1997 – Saanich Coun. Bob Gillespie proposes doing away with secret ballots among councillors to elect representatives to the Capital Regional District, suggesting instead that voters get to choose come election time which councillors will sit on the board. Saanich changed its policy and to this day continues to include the question of CRD appointments on its municipal ballot.