The Chemainus Road corridor upgrade is in full swing and crews are once again making very visible progress. This section of Chemainus Road is an important transportation link for motorists, and for cyclists as well, so its completion will be welcomed by many.
In addition to relieving congestion at River Road, the corridor upgrade project will also provide dedicated bike lanes to improve safety for cyclists while allowing the free flow of vehicular traffic. As a cyclist who uses this corridor frequently, I am looking forward to the completion of the project with an odd mix of excitement and fear. I’m excited for the fresh smooth pavement and separation from the vehicular traffic. I do have concerns regarding the transition points from the unimproved sections of Chemainus Road, both directions, leading to the upgraded corridor.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the design of the project, an illustration provided by North Cowichan on its website shows the bike lane adjacent to the sidewalk going southbound, separated from parked vehicles by a buffer zone. This buffer will be provided to prevent passengers of the parked vehicles from opening their doors into the path of cyclists, an event commonly referred to as ‘dooring’. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand the potential harm to cyclists should someone open their vehicle door in front of them. For northbound traffic, the cycling lane will once again be positioned between parked vehicles and the sidewalk with a boulevard in between.
There are areas of concern with the design and construction of the project, including: the southbound bike lane crossing of River Road, the transitions from the existing Chemainus Road to the upgraded corridor and navigating the corridor during construction.
Where versions of this roundabout design have been constructed, vehicles are expected to yield to cyclists crossing at intersections. For southbound traffic flow at River Road, this would suggest vehicles turning right onto River Road will need to yield to southbound cycling traffic crossing River Road.
This will be tricky as cyclists will be in the driver’s blind spot and travelling in the same direction, requiring drivers to be very attentive and slow down to observe and yield to cycling traffic. This is no different than the current rules for vehicles turning right at controlled intersections: the vehicles must yield to cyclists on the right.
However, drivers will not be used to this design and the installation of signage (“Yield to Cyclists”) will be critical to educate drivers. Cyclists crossing River Road will need to be equally cautious and observing traffic for vehicles that may fail to yield the right of way. As cyclists you may have the right of way but do you want your tombstone to state “but I had the right-of-way”? Further, drivers turning onto Chemainus Road from River Road will need to not only watch for vehicular traffic in the roundabout, but also watch and yield to cyclists crossing in front of them.
The transitions to the upgraded road corridor will also take careful attention for both drivers and cyclists. When travelling southbound on Chemainus Road, cyclists will be keeping to the right, but to the left of parked vehicles in front of businesses (Little Town Pizza, etc). The speed limit for this section of road is 40 km/hr but as a cyclist I’m typically travelling at 25-30 km/hr along this section of road, staying wide of parked vehicles to guard against dooring.
This often means there is insufficient space for vehicles to pass safely in this section of road. There will be a transition where cyclists travel from the left of parked vehicles to the right of parked vehicles. This will happen around Victoria Street, kitty-corner to the Chemainus Theatre and by the parking lot for Urban Legends Salon & Spa. Signage for drivers and cyclists will be required and placed strategically to be visible among the parked vehicles.
Painting of lanes on the road will be an important aspect of providing instructions for both drivers and cyclists. For northbound traffic, cyclists will continue to travel with the flow of traffic within the roundabout at Henry Road, then enter the bike lane as it crosses the forestry haul road. Again, it is expected signage and roadway painting will provide the necessary instructions. At Victoria Street, the bike lane will end and cyclists will need to signal left to let drivers know they are entering the same traffic lane.
Lastly, cyclists turning onto Chemainus Road from River Road will similarly need to yield accordingly to both vehicular and cycling traffic. For cyclists coming off River Road wanting to go north on Chemainus Road, it is unclear whether they may stay on their bikes or be expected to dismount their bikes and cross the street with the pedestrians. Again, signage will be required to inform both cyclists and drivers of the rules before entering and while in the roundabout.
Before we leave the topic of transitions, I would like to caution cyclists and drivers with the extension of the bike lane on Chemainus Road at Fir Street to Elm Street. This extension was constructed to provide cyclists for a safer exit off southbound Chemainus Road onto Elm Street for access to the Cowichan Valley Trail. However, many cyclists may wish to continue southbound on Chemainus Road. Chemainus Road at Elm Street narrows and the flow of traffic tends to pinch to the right where cyclists continue to travel.
Cyclists should signal that they are moving left from the bike lane into the flow of vehicle traffic. Vehicles should give these cyclists space as the bike lane ends. As a reminder, BC Transportation states passing motorists should give one metre between cyclists and their vehicle. This may mean in some situations the lane is too narrow to pass the cyclist safely. If it’s not safe to pass while giving the required one metre space, do not pass. Wait until it’s safe.
This brings us to the current state of managing through the construction process. Drivers and cyclists will have noticed the construction speed zone of 30 km/hr. Other signs include caution signs for flag personnel, rough road and also a sign for cyclists to take the lane.
This sign means cyclists travel with the flow of traffic as the lane is too narrow and too rough to allow for cyclists to keep right. Vehicles must be patient and follow cyclists instead of passing them. This will be frustrating for drivers but necessary to keep everyone safe. By the way, this sign on the northbound traffic has gone missing and will hopefully be replaced soon.
It is easy for us to label each other as cyclists or drivers, but we need to remember these are people, perhaps our grandmother, grandchild or best friend. One of the hardest things to maintain during this whole project is patience and thinking of the cyclist or driver as a loved one may help. If there is any message that we have heard lately that rings true for this project it is: be kind, be calm, be safe.
(Allan Greeves is a Chemainus resident).