By Megan Cole – Oak Bay News
Published: March 08, 2013 7:00 AM

David Leach and his family are a bit unusual. For 12 years, the Leach’s have lived without a car, relying on cycling, walking, transit and car co-ops to get around town.

“I’m a commuter cyclist and I take my kids to and from after-school care by bike or foot,” he said. “We use a car share co-op and my wife buses or walks downtown.”

With his focus on alternative modes of transportation, it seemed natural that Leach would join the Oak Bay Active Transportation Advisory Committee.

“One of my concerns is my wife doesn’t bike because she’s nervous on the street because of people speeding and distracted drivers,” he said.

In addition to dangerous intersections and gaps in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, Leach said he sees hazards around schools.

“I walk my kids past Oak Bay high school to Willows school, and it can often be complete chaos,” he said.

The committee is a volunteer body of 11 citizens who research and advise Oak Bay council on how to improve active transportation in the municipality.

In addition to a focus on cycling and walking infrastructure, the group also worked to have a complete streets policy adopted in June 2012.

“It’s a really cool idea where you basically make a street accessible for everyone from eight years old, to 80,” said Oak Bay Coun. Michelle Kirby, who is also the council representative on the committee. “The policy aims to make the community walkable and easy for bikes to use, so there might be a bike lane and space for bikes, and also room for single occupancy vehicle or a bus.”

The policy paired well with an accessibility report that was also endorsed by council last summer.

Accessibility on Oak Bay Avenue was a priority identified by the committee in a presentation made to council in November 2012.

“When we are looking at accessibility, we’re not just looking at bikes,” said Leach. “We’re looking at curb width and how people with disabilities or accessibility issues can better get around, which fits with our long-term project of making the central street in Oak Bay more accessible.”

Various cycling connectors which better incorporates Oak Bay into the regional network were also included in the priority projects.

The committee would like to see improvements around an east-west and north-south connector.

“There are some ideas around investigation and possible funding around a multi-use pathway that is being called the Henderson Pathway,” Leach said. “It would run all the way up to the Henderson Rec Centre.”

The committee hopes to take the existing trail and expand and upgrade it to a north-south route.

Oak Bay’s steps towards an active transportation plan is in co-ordination with a larger regional plan initiated by the Capitol Regional District.

Sue Hallatt, regional planner with the CRD, said even though cycling and pedestrian plans may have started as a response to climate change initiatives, it has now become part of what residents want as quality of life.

“The demand from citizens for more walkable and bikeable communities is less about the environment – although that certainly plays a role – but we hear with some regularity that people link active transportation with quality of life,” she said.

In addition to exercise as a motivator for active transportation, Hallatt added that parents want their kids to be more free ranging.

“Riding their bikes to school or after school activities cultivates independence,” she said.

According to Hallatt, the CRD’s masterplan is a good first step in establishing a common language for the municipalities and CRD around cycling, and establishing a framework for creating bike facilities.

While council has been enthusiastic about the recommendations made by the advisory committee, Leach said constraints around funding have limited the progress on some of the priority projects.

“We are just an advisory committee, and all we can do is just advise council and hope they take it on, but obviously there are a lot of other projects and problems on the go, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Kirby said council hasn’t been able to make any major improvements yet but is planning for them, “which has never happened before.

“The parks department has really embraced this and has done a great effort over the last year or so to make sure people were clearing sidewalks and trimming hedges to make sure sidewalks were more accessible,” she said. “We hope to see room in the budget made for the major improvements. We’re coming up to our budget estimates project in the next couple of months so I’d like to see transportation planning included.”

To continue the work being done by the advisory committee, the Oak Bay municipality, in co-operation with the CRD, is bringing the Kickstand sessions to Victoria.

The sessions are a two-day bicycle master class, which will look at some of the successes and failures in bike policy and planning and the innovations.

A Netherlands-based company with experience in urban and rural planning in addition to traffic and transportation, Mobycon, will deliver the sessions with Copenhagenize, a Danish bike planning, marketing and communications consultant.

“The timing for this couldn’t be better,” Kirby said. “As a small municipality, we are looking for smart, cost-effective ways to achieve our vision. I’m excited to see what the participants and instructors come up with for our community.”

The sessions run March 14 and 15. For more information about the Kickstand sessions or to register visit copenhagenize.eu/kickstand.

For more about the Oak Bay Active Transportation Advisory Committee visit activeoakbay.blogspot.ca.