Analysis: Burnaby’s Barnet bike lanes need TLC to save lives

Chris Campbell

Take a look at the photo attached to this story and tell me if you think this really looks like a bike lane.

Because I don’t think it does.

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For one thing, there is no thick white line separating the road from the bike lane, so to me that doesn’t qualify as an actual “lane” for cyclists.

There is also that logo on the pavement. Logic tells me it’s a logo of a cyclist, but, well, it’s so beat up it’s tough to tell what it is. It looks more like something Picasso doodled on a napkin.

Drivers will furiously respond that they know it’s a bike lane, even if the logo is garbled and there is no separation line. Cyclists will laugh hysterically at that and respond that many drivers often have no clue what a bike lane is and so it’s vital that there are proper lines, signage and clear logos to, ahem, drive home the point that there is a bike lane.

The photo was taken by me on Friday as I cruised along the Barnet Highway in Burnaby. I was there in response to a slew of messages from cyclists telling me to write about what it’s like to cycle along Barnet. The messages followed the death of Burnaby cyclist Charles Masala on Gaglardi Way.

Cyclists want more written about Cariboo Hill, Lougheed Highway, Kingsway, Hastings – well, you get the point.

I’m starting with Barnet. To be fair, what’s depicted in the photo isn’t how all of Barnet looks. It’s just one of a few especially rough patches with bumpy surfaces, no lines and terrible logos. There are many long stretches that have lines, relatively wide lanes (compared to Gaglardi Way) and clear bicycle logos. So it’s a mixed bag.

barnet highway
Barnet Highway in Burnaby as seen from above. GOOGLE IMAGES

The worst section, according to what I witnessed, is the Barnet entrance and exit, where it meets Hastings Street.

Heading east to enter Barnet on the right-hand side is a dangerous joke. The separating line between drivers and cyclists is extremely narrow, giving people on bikes virtually no space. And remember, this is the part where drivers heading home after a long workday usually switch into warp drive, speeding up as they leave Hastings.

It’s no better on the exit heading west, according to Keith Constable, who cycles Barnet several times a week.

“The Burnaby end of the Barnet Highway has a messy end as far as bike lanes go,” he said. “As you come up the hill from Barnet to Hastings, the bike lane just ends and bikes are inserted into the HOV lane. This is a little dangerous and I see people riding on the sidewalk to avoid this section.”

Constable responded to my tweet asking cyclists to talk about Barnet and he says it’s gotten “better” over the years.

“It’s a lot cleaner than it was, but it is essentially the same shoulder we ride on as it was 10 years ago,” he said. “Painting pictures of bikes on the shoulder doesn’t really change the safety of the road. The differential in speed between the bikes on the shoulder and the cars and trucks in the HOV lane is enormous and that can be a little scary when the vehicles encroach on the bike lane/shoulder.

“This seems to be a skill deficit problem,” Constable continued. “I observe drivers slowly drifting out of the driving lane and into the shoulder on the numerous twists and turns the Barnet makes. People seem to drive a tangent across the corner as opposed to staying in the centre of the lane as it curves around. About a once a month, I experience a ‘too close for comfort’ vehicle drifting into the bike lane I’m occupying.”

What Constable would like to see is some sort of “virtual separation” between the vehicle and bike lanes, such as installing every 20 metres plastic markers that fold flat if hit.

“It would offer no real protection, but may help with the drifting out of lane issue,” he said.

Constable brings up an interesting point about Barnet. It is full of twists and turns and slopes – something the City of Burnaby told me makes fixes that much more difficult.

Meaning, there doesn’t appear to be a plan for an actual protected bike lane, according to what the city told me.

But the city is working on ways to make Barnet safer.

“(The) city will be making cycling infrastructure upgrades whenever there is an opportunity to do so,” according to an email from the city.

BARNET
Barnet Highway in Burnaby has many twisty stretches that cyclists say can feel dangerous as drivers drift out of their lanes. SCREENSHOT/GOOGLE STREETVIEW

For one thing, the city will be reviewing which of the cycling logos need to be repainted.

This year, there is a repaving project about to begin along Barnet Road between Cariboo Road and Suncor, approximately 1.3 km long, said the city.

“Upon completion, we will be adjusting the traffic lane lines to provide a painted buffer area that increases the separation between cars and bikes. This is achieved through the reallocation of existing roadway space only. This is because the steep slopes on both sides of Barnet in several sections means widening the road to add a separated bike lane would be very difficult and expensive. As additional pavement or road rehabilitation work continues in future years, we would try to achieve the same painted buffer along the entire roadway where possible. In addition, we will be bringing ideas out to the public late this year or early next year as part of the update to the city’s Transportation Plan. This will be a good opportunity to discuss what could happen on Barnet in the longer term.”

Coquitlam cyclist Cameron Turner said he tried out Barnet during Bike to Work Week in June and found it “intimidating” at first, “mostly from riding on the shoulder and being so close to high speed traffic.”

But, Turner said, it got better and felt safer than when he got to the roads in Port Moody.

He did, however, add one more thought.

“If there was a protected bike lane, then Barnet would be the best part of biking to work.”

Something to chew on.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44. If you have other ideas I should be writing about, email me at ccampbell@burnabynow.com.

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