I am very reluctant to publish this blog but I feel the need to add my own experience and assessment of cycling opportunities in Kamloops. Like many cyclists and motorists, I heard the horrible news of a near-fatal collision between a cyclist and a construction truck on Highland Drive almost a month ago. Andrew van der Westhuizen of Kamloops remains in hospital in Vancouver with life-threatening injuries. In an important interview, his wife Jen bravely told their story to CBC Radio’s Shelly Joyce.
In a nutshell, Andrew cycled with his family down a pathway partitioned from the road which ironically is one of Kamloops’ safest cycling routes. At an intersection, he was unable to stop, and collided with a truck which crossed in front and over top of him while turning into a dirt dumping area. Given the road barrier, he had nowhere to go and it seems the truck did not see him. He could not stop in time and the truck was in the wrong place at the wrong time according to his wife, Jen. Asked to comment on cycling in Kamloops Jen was blunt: “Cycling in Kamloops is terrifying. Road shoulders, if there are any, are often filled with debris in all seasons. They end abruptly and provide little space away from so many trucks going back and forth at high speed.”
Personally, I could not agree more. Since third grade, I have cycled as a primary mode of transportation given my restricted eyesight. To me, cycling = freedom! Growing up in Victoria I remember the installation of the city’s first designated bike route in 1975. It was a game-changer for me then. I continued to cycle many years later while living on Victoria’s West Shore, often using bus/bike transit options and the Galloping Goose Trail. Over the years I have had some minor spills though fortunately nothing serious. A few weeks ago, however, in a Kamloops mall parking lot, I almost collided with an illegally lengthened truck hitch that extended into a poorly paved laneway. The event scared me as have other incidents along the McGill corridor between my home on Arrowstone Drive and The Tournament Capital Centre.
A few days later my lovely Trek E-bike was stolen from inside our home garage. The question then became very real for me. Should I seek replacement and continue riding, or accept that while in Kamloops, cycling is simply too dangerous? Hearing Jen’s concerns around safety convinced me once and for all; cycling is simply too dangerous for me, and possibly for others.
My reluctance in speaking out comes from my working with others in pressing for development of safe cycling paths in our city. In trying to promote cycling many of us want to put a positive and hopeful spin on our advocacy. That said, I think the truth needs to be clearly put. Our city is a dangerous place to ride. Municipal Council continues to work with the city engineering department to support and construct new pathways, for instance along Summit Drive. They hope to commence work on an important overhead link between the University and the Grandview area once additional funding is secured. They will soon create a shared-use route through downtown to connect the marvellous Xget’tem’ Trail (one of the finest shared-use routes I have ever seen) with the North Shore. This is all fantastic work, enshrined in principle through such initiatives as the Active Transportation Plan and the Community Climate Action Plan. All these however are simply that: they are plans with in some cases imprecise timelines.
There is however a deeper and more concerning matter skulking along the roadside. Kamloops has developed through most of the past century with the needs of motorized vehicles as a priority. Elsewhere in the world, in places as diverse as Helsinki, Seville, and Copenhagen, the needs of cyclists are prioritized equally with those of motorized vehicle drivers through all seasons including winter. Here in Canada, stories abound about cycling in Victoria, Vancouver, Ottawa and more recently Montreal.
Local community groups such as Transition Kamloops and more specifically the Kamloops Cycling Coalition press for faster and more robust development of safe cycling pathways. Concerning safe cycling, a recent poll on the coalition’s Facebook Page identified the North Shore, the Rivers Trail and Schubert Drive as reasonably safe. Concerns remain about the path from Valleyview to Dallas; many cite problems with multi-use parkways generally. I am particular fearful of open car doors and extended truck mirrors. Those of us South of the river find any route to and from the University threatening. Yes, improvements are coming; more than one person described our cycling infrastructure as “in terrible shape.”
So who cares? Obviously cyclists, but not just cyclists. Many non-cyclists affirm the value of exercise and appreciate the immediate reduction in GHG emissions. Many value and support the right to cycle in our community. The fact remains however that many residents continue to prioritize the needs, wants and rights of motor vehicle travellers. One sitting councillor recently said that “the people they know don’t cycle.” Well you need to meet some different people, who cycle. We’re out there!
For many consumers, vehicles are a sign of status, wealth and power. The most popular selling vehicle in Canada (once the Dodge Minivan) is now the Ford F-150 pickup. BUT, and this is a big but, everything is changing, and fast. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the effects of transit in all forms on climate change; many will now acknowledge that our travel habits contribute directly to the Climate Crisis. The price of fuel continues to rise making trips of even 50km expensive. Many now admit that the world we have known and presently inhabit cannot be passed on to the next generation. If Kamloops is to remain a vital, welcoming community, as a city, as a culture, as an economically and environmentally just economy, it needs to articulate and embody a new vision of sustainable living. We now brim with pride as the Tournament Capital of Canada. Let’s ensure we are soon the Sustainability Capital of our beautiful country.
There is hope when we all work together to create something genuinely innovative and responsive. And speaking of hope I give the last word to Andrew’s family: “We are so hopeful that Andrew can recover and return to a quality of life we were accustomed to.” Jen and Andrew, we all join you in this hope. Hang in there. Thank you for sharing your story.