December 30, 2016

Pedalling Back Full Circle

My love for cycling started during childhood in Moncton, New Brunswick more than twenty years ago. It's a journey that lead me to bike in four provinces (New Brunswick, Qu├ębec, Ontario, British Columbia) and four other countries (United Kingdom, Netherlands, France, Sint-Maarten); not to mention advocate for safer streets in Toronto since 2012. During Christmas vacation in Moncton, this passion has come full circle with some Viking Biking (or should we say Polar Pedal for a more Canadian tie-in?) to see what has changed since I last biked there in 2006.
Downtown Moncton from City Hall pedway
The bike I used is single speed with a suspension fork, disc brakes, and 26” × 2.4” tires (660mm × 61mm). While the tires are too small for a fatbike[1] (more like an oversized mountain bike), it does a good job handling snow on unplowed trails and climbing snow mounds, but is not what I would use for cycle commuting.
Moncton Active Transportation Map (Link to PDF)
There were two trails I used; those being the Northwest and Riverfront Trails. (see map above) The Northwest Trail – completed in 2014 – goes from Magnetic Hill to Vaughan Harvey Boulevard just north of Main Street and is a mix of in-boulevard and off-road paths. I picked up this trail at the Moncton Coliseum and found the trail section along Millennium Boulevard to the CN Sportsplex to be well cleared.
Northwest Trail along Millennium Boulevard
There was a wayfinding post at CN Sportsplex showing key crossings, but does not properly guide cyclists to go south onto Grand Trunk Street. I continued along Millennium Boulevard – which offers decently cleared bike lanes – and Pacific Avenue before turning around and returning to the trail. With no trail clearing on Grand Trunk from Millennium to a new Centennial Park pedestrian and cycling entrance, no wonder why I got lost!
Northwest Trail wayfinding map - but where do we go?
That park entrance – not part of the trail – is a useful shortcut for those accessing Centennial Park from Moncton's north end. From there, multiple park trails are available and St. George Boulevard has bike lanes linking the Moncton Industrial Park to just before Sixth Street where the Northwest Trail resumes. The trail from Sixth Street to the Centennial Park entrance wasn't cleared, but the mountain bike handled it fine.
Snow covered section from Centennial Park to Sixth Street
Trail wayfinding at Sixth Street and St. George Boulevard needs clarification from the northwest corner to the southeast corner where the multi-use path continues to Westinghouse Court. From there, the path is a painted bi-directional path, but people with hybrid or road bikes would need to walk their bikes from the cul-de-sac to Vaughan Harvey.
The trail's Vaughan Harvey terminus has two problems. Vaughan Harvey – an urban highway – has painted bike lanes with a buffer next to the curb. Moncton could improve on this by placing the buffer between the bike and traffic lanes to allow for protected bike lanes. The other is accessing the trail from the northbound bike lane.
The buffer and bike lane should be switched to allow for separation
Before using the Riverfront Trail, I crossed the Gunningsville Bridge linking Moncton to Riverview. The east side has a shared path with two lookouts. The Riverview side has another riverfront trail, but will visit this another day.
Shared path and lookout at Gunningsville Bridge
The Riverfront Trail goes from the West Main traffic circle through Dieppe to Fox Creek. I used it from Vaughan Harvey (km 13) to Chartersville (km 9). Parts of the trail weren't paved, but it was a throwback to my childhood. One recent downtown addition is the proliferation of new bike racks with a classic penny farthing on one end.
These bicycle racks can be found all over Downtown Moncton

After using Main Street – without bike lanes – to return to Vaughan Harvey, I noticed another problem with the urban highway. The on and off ramps – which place the bike lane between the thru and turn/merge lanes – are lengthy and unsafe. As with sidewalks, the cyclist crossing should be placed at a right angle to minimize crossing distance, maintain eye contact, and reduce vehicle turning speed.
On residential streets, the speed limit is 50 km/h and the streets are wide enough to accommodate four cars abreast. While there are 30 km/h when flashing signs in school zones, Moncton could learn from Toronto and other cities by lowering speed limits, pursuing significant road diets, and add traffic calming to further improve safety.
Residential streets like Ayer Avenue are wide and have 50 km/h speed limits
As with Toronto's suburbs, smaller cities like Moncton take a recreational approach for cycling. While Moncton has come a long way, they have work to do in order to encourage more cycle commuting. They could adopt protected bike lanes on Vaughan Harvey and other arterials, reduce speed limits and street widths in residential areas, improve trail wayfinding and winter maintenance, and continue bicycle rack installation.

Happy New Year!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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[1]  The recommended fatbike tire size is 3.8” – 4.8” (97mm – 122mm) per the FAQ page on www.fatbikes.ca.

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