Imagine a city where there is no real rush hour, and many kilometres of pristine bike lanes connect to even smoother off-road car-free multi-use trails that then connect you to smaller surrounding towns. In this biketastic city, there’s even a bike lane right down the main street.
For the past decade, I have been promoting and criticizing bike infrastructure in Toronto via my independent bike magazine, dandyhorse. Now, after moving back to Peterborough—and suffering from some sort of bicycle PTSD after seeing cycling grow so much in Toronto —I was excited to check out the growing bike network here in the Patch.
I decided on a test run with a practical trip: a journey to Lansdowne Place Mall.
My home street, Bethune, is already nice and slow and wide—and very bumpy—like many Peterborough streets. I like that I rarely feel squeezed and there’s lots of room for cars to pass. It’s such a change from Toronto where motorists and cyclists sometimes literally fight for space on in the road. I took Bethune over to the TransCanada Trail and biked through the trees to the bike lane on McDonnel.
Enter Monaghan Road, with its lovely, long bike lane through the city. For this 10-plus-km round trip (which I did during ‘rush hour’), I was prepared for a white-knuckle ride. I even took my bright yellow reflective safety vest. But I was pleasantly surprised: even though there is no buffer on this simple, painted white-line bike lane, it was free of debris and potholes. And aside from nearly getting T-boned at the complicated Sherbrooke Street crossing by Prince of Wales, I found most motorists gave a wider berth when passing and were very considerate.
Soon I found myself at the Canadian Canoe Museum, where the bike lane ended unceremoniously with nothing but a black-and-white sign saying “bike lane ends here.” I was suddenly in the soup: four lanes of fast traffic. I hopped up on the sidewalk—which I hate doing, because it’s bumpy and dangerous.
On the way back, I attempted the new-ish Crawford Rail Trail. It would provide easy access to the mall from the apartment complexes in the south end, but until it gets extended further north, it’s only a partial solution for the rest of the city, which meant I had to veer off onto Monaghan Road’s incline and King Street’s fantastically massive speed bumps for the journey home.
My first overall impression of Peterborough’s on-street infrastructure is that it has a very Toronto problem: bike lanes often end right when you need them most (in busy intersections), and they don’t always connect with each other.
For example, George Street has a bike lane with painted buffer. Yay! But it only goes as far south as Hunter, which doesn’t have a bike lane. Boo! And suddenly you find yourself on a fast-moving two-lane street full of parked cars. So, I was happy to find out that the City of Peterborough has big plans for expansions and improvements.
Susan Sauve, Transportation Demand Management Planner at the City of Peterborough, says the George Street bike lane will be extended all the way to Lake Street in the south, far enough for trips to Millennium and Del Crary Parks. Ideally, it would be extended all the way to Lansdowne, but if that’s not possible, I believe a new bike lane should be considered for Lock Street.
Sauve told me that the bike lane on Water Street will also be extended this year, to Sherbrooke, where both the Water and George Street bike lanes will connect to a brand-new (much needed) east-west bike lane on Sherbrooke. The westbound lane on Sherbrooke will be “protected” in some form too, she says.
According to Sauve, Peterborough currently has “73 km of cycling infrastructure and trails; 40 km are multi-use trails and 33 km are bike lanes.” Indeed, the four existing trails that run through the city—Trans-Canada, Parkway, and Rotary Greenway Trails, plus the to-be-extended Crawford Rail Trail—are very useful in creating longer, connected cycling routes. Plus they provide a sort of palate cleanser for the on-street biking experience.
The city also has many attractive, wide residential streets that are pleasant for riding. Indeed, the best way students and staff can get to Fleming College by bike (and avoid the super-fast in-town highway known as Lansdowne) is to take side streets up and across. This residential “cut-through” is actually the “suggested” route on the City’s bike map (PDF)—a strong contrast to the European-esque riverside ride which heads to Trent University along the beautiful paved Rotary Greenway Trail.
The downtown cycling culture here is still growing. The existing network recently earned Peterborough a silver in Share The Road’s Bicycle Friendly Community awards. And George Street’s bike lane was featured on the cover of a recent book about cycling in cities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. There are many signs of great things to come, like the new bike share program with three stations.
But coming from Toronto, one of the very best things about biking in Peterborough for me right now is not having to shoulder-check every two seconds for other cyclists riding too closely and trying to squeeze past. The kink in the left side of my neck might finally release!
For now though, being a big-city girl in recovery, I am concerned about silly things like, oh, bear attacks on the trails. So I asked the expert. Sauve told me, “I haven’t heard of any bike/bear incidents. My fear is of a deer jumping out in front of me as I’m careening down a hill at 50km/hr!”
So get out there and enjoy the bike lanes and trails Peterborough has to offer, but watch out for antlers coming at you at breakneck speed.
Photos by Tammy Thorne.