Bicycle Diaries: Episode Eight
When we got back from Whistler the weather improved, and my partner, always keen on exercise wanted to keep on cycling. So I decided to take her on a conducted Tour de Richmond. I have always liked the idea of the circular tour – and Gordon Price’s analysis of the popularity of the Seawall seems to indicate I am not alone in this. When walking or cycling for pleasure – or exercise (I think the two may be mutually exclusive but I am sure to get some argument on that point) going there and back seems too much like what we do for transportation. Those journeys we make in order to do something else – work, school or shopping. By the way, no model that I know of includes journeys made purely for the pleasure of the journey itself: transportation economists do not seem to understand what motivates much travel.
When I went back to cycling after a long hiatus it was mostly about health and weight loss. I plotted out several routes from my then home, using the regional cycling map to chose routes that had the least traffic conflicts. As I have moved, those routes got adapted a bit, but not very much has changed.
The one we took starts at Number 4 Road and Steveston Highway – where there are no bike routes at all. South of the highway, No 4 is rural, and has a 30 km/hr limit – very unusual for Richmond. The road is also used by heavy trucks going to and from the Crown Packaging paper recycling plant on the river at Garden City Rd. But is reasonably quiet at weekends. No 4 Road ends at Finn Slough, where Dyke Road is very effectively traffic calmed by simple neglect of maintenance. There is a gate at the end of the slough and separate paths – one paved (badly) for bikes and one gravel for walkers. This ends at the above mentioned paper plant with a very crude railway level crossing – basically just bump over the tracks. This has been “improved” recently by the addition of a “cyclists dismount” sign that is universally ignored.
Past the factory is the dog walking area – again cycles are directed away from the riverbank on a path that leads through the parking lot and to the point at No 3 Road where the dyke once again has a paved road – and directions to share it. Since I have smooth road tyres on my bike most of the time I pick payment over gravel whenever I can.
It is also worth noting that there are washrooms and water fountains near the No 3 and No 2 Road intersections – as well as at the boatyard and Garry Point park. Again, from Britannia to the former BC Packers site I use the road, not the boardwalk, but I get back on the path at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery where the informal cycle bypass of the barriers was carefully removed not so long ago. Again cyclists are supposed to get off because of some notion that there is a lot of vehicle traffic in and out of the cannery – tosh of course, but very official federal tosh.
Garry Point is a worthy destination in itself and on nice days a very popular place for Pajo’s Fish and Chips and Timothy’s ice-cream. This is the last point on this route where those seeking refreshment can buy any. From here the West Dyke to Terra Nova offers views of the mountains and the Georgia Strait, as well as the protected wetlands of Sturgeon Banks. There are also clean washrooms at Blundell Road and Terra Nova. You can also divert through the old field habitat of the Terra Nova park, if you like. The North Dyke offers a view of airport activity with seaplanes in the foreground. Much development is now going on at No 2 Road next to the Oval. A couple of public spaces were also created here as part of the Olympics but were not used then (“Security, you know”) or indeed since. The dyke was raised, and the path paved – the only bit of improvement in my time. I do not quite understand why the bike path needs to have swooping dips and bends. And it all ends, rather abruptly, between Cambie and Capstan Way. You really have not much choice but to get onto the road – so we used Capstan to get to the last bit of raised bike lane on No 3 Road. This has still the very uneven surface caused by poor oversight of a contractor who simply did not have the right equipment. Why no one has ever bothered to put it right baffles me. There is now a signed route through the industrial area north of Bridgeport Road to link up via dual use path on Van Horne to the Canada line bridge and its cycle/ped path to Vancouver. The Google map shows the path running alongside Fraser Wharf to the dyke, but that is fantasy. Stay on River Road (not River Dr as Google has it) or alternatively use the Bridgeport Trail to get to Number 4 road and Shell Road. If you do use River Road consider sidewalk riding if there are any heavy trucks about as the clearance at the anti road racing choke points is deliberately inadequate.
Shell Road is marked on Richmond’s map as an “on road connector” – meaning it has no bike markings or signage of any kind. At some times of the day, traffic to and from the employment area is heavy, with a long queue for the light at Cambie. You also have then to deal with people anxious to get onto the freeway. The only way I have found to deal with this is to ride on the sidewalk. The Shell Road trail starts again on the south side of the Highway 99 overpass, on the east side of the road – but there is a pedestrian signal here. There is, of course, more than enough space for a separated bike path either in the road right of way or of the parallel CN Lulu Island Industrial Line but I suppose that we will have to wait until the latter is actually abandoned before anything happens. While notice has been given, CN have yet to start construction of the necessary track between LaFarge and Riverport.
The cycle path alongside Shell Road has a longitudinal crack – almost a step. The road was recently resurfaced. The cycle path was ignored.
Past Westminster Highway Shell ceases to be a road and becomes a trail. It is a popular hangout for youth who believe that since there is no road there will also be no police presence. Much smoking of evil smelling “skunk” goes on here. The farmers being too cheap to install fencing apparently loose quite a bit of their blueberry crop to pick your own devotees who do not seem to miss the scales and cash registers of other locations. There are road crossings at Granville and Blundell where I strongly advocate caution: drivers do not seem to expect anyone to cross here. The path here seems to use as much wood chips as gravel and can be tricky in wet weather.
Halfway between Francis and Williams the road resumes again with puzzling signage. The path on the left seems to be dual use pedestrian/cyclist but the road is also marked with sharrows. Take your pick but it is easier to get across Williams where you can actually reach the signal button on the path. Williams has bike lanes on both sides – one of the very few Richmond arterials to be restriped. That eliminated on sweet parking and made a continuous centre turn lane possible meaning that traffic flow in a single lane each way is now better than the standard four lane layout. Which, of course, remains the accepted standard and promotes speeding and weaving on most arterials. I use quiet side roads to get back to where I started.