By Pat O’Neill
As an ardent recreational cyclist I am writing to thank Mayor Clifford Lee for stating in the Guardian (Friday, Sept. 6) that the city has no intention of expanding the boardwalk at Victoria Park to include bicycle users as called for in the master plan approved by the city council earlier this year. Thanks also to Maureen and Bob Hutcheson for organizing a petition and presenting it to Mayor Lee.
The Master Plan, which proposes including bicycles on the boardwalk, has been approved by the city and so requires some comment despite the mayor’s assurances about the short term. It is a very worthwhile document overall but has not paid enough attention to the major characteristics of the community on the boardwalk.
The consultant’s report states the maintenance of the status quo is not in the best long-term interests of the park, as the community needs will always be evolving.
It is interesting to note the results that community evolution has provided to date. There is a unique culture at work on the Victoria Park boardwalk which is not compatible with recreational or utilitarian cycling. The typical Charlottetown boardwalk users amble along socializing as much they are exercising, taking in the view or going from place to place. This unique community will be negatively affected by bicycle traffic.
Elders stop to greet and talk. Couples walk holding hands and looking at each other. This is hazardous to cyclists. Children still innocent enough to appear in public with their parents pop around like neutrinos between the boardwalk, the grass verge, the seawall and the embankment. They are a hazard to cyclists.
The boardwalk was a brilliant development by the city and among its effects has created this community of dedicated boardwalkers. The existing boardwalk according to the consultant’s report is the major attraction of the park. The Monkey Survey cited in the report states that the highest percentage use of the park facilities is visits to the boardwalk.
Most of the respondents (52 per cent) stated that they walk to Victoria Park. By contrast 10 per cent stated that they bike to the park.
I seldom walk the boardwalk now as I prefer to bike along the seasonal bike lane and in the streets of Charlottetown which are exceptionally compatible with utilitarian and recreational biking. I sometimes take out of town guests to walk the boardwalk to savor the view and the unique character of the boardwalk.
The report states that utilitarian cyclists will avoid the new bicycle portion of the widened boardwalk In favor of the streets and only the recreational bikers will use it as they are less comfortable with motor vehicle traffic. This distinction is useful in major urban areas with dense fast moving traffic but it is not relevant to Charlottetown with its low volume of traffic.
Bicycle riders are not permitted to use the sidewalks in Charlottetown for the good reason that it is not safe for either type of user to mix cyclists and walkers. Why would this be different on the boardwalk?
The report proposes to widen the boardwalk and provide a hard surface for vehicle wheels. This will make the boardwalk more appealing to cyclists but will lessen the appeal to walkers.
The report states that in other places cyclists and walkers share a path and this is safer. It might be safer for cyclists than the street but it is inevitable walkers will be less safe in a mixed arrangement. I travel and have experienced this mixed use firsthand. My wife and I visit our son at Stanford University where bicycles are common on the very wide paths on the beautiful campus.
I venture that the Stanford campus has one of the best layouts for cycling in North America. The mix of cyclists and walkers is well established there and accommodates the fact that many people commute by bicycle year round due to the mild climate. However, the riders and walkers must be constantly vigilant of each other and it is clear the walkers are disadvantaged even in that benign arrangement. The atmosphere on those paths is tense compared to the relaxed experience that users of the Charlottetown boardwalk enjoy.
The Master Plan calls for changing the Victoria Park boardwalk to what is in place in other cities. I would favour that if experience proved it to be better but in my observation the situation for walkers in Victoria Park is unique and better than what is available in other cities where cyclists are mixed with walkers.