Hwy 99 cyclist hazards from Whistler to Vancouver mapped 

Students make recommendations for bike safety

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Danger to Bikes SFU students Mike Gamon (right) and Andrew Brear check one of the many dangerous drainage grates on Highway 99.
  • Photo Submitted
  • Danger to Bikes SFU students Mike Gamon (right) and Andrew Brear check one of the many dangerous drainage grates on Highway 99.

Cyclists travelling the Sea to Sky Highway will soon have a new tool to help them ride safe.

A group of fourth year SFU geography students have mapped the route pointing out all the hazards cyclists may face including dangerous drainage ditch grates, narrow shoulders and even areas of poor road maintenance.

One of the things that struck student Joshua Cairns was how few signs warned motorists of cyclists along the route compared to, say, warnings for wildlife.

"For less than $15,000 a total of 30 bike signs could be added to the highway (from West Vancouver to Whistler and return) at an average spacing of less than eight kilometres apart," Cairns and his team of Andrew Brear, Aaron Dixon, Whitney Szabo and Michael Gamon wrote in their report.

The students were inspired to do the study after talking with their professor, Nadine Schuurman, who is an avid cyclist.

Through their research they have made recommendations on how to improve safety for cyclists.

A large map measuring 2.3 metres (7.5 feet) long and one metre (three feet) high will soon be posted at the school and eventually the map will be reproduced for publication to the Internet.

Cairns said there is one portion of Highway 99 that is particularly dangerous for cyclists — the narrow stretch at the Porteau Bluffs. It is a very tight two-lane section of highway where, his team discovered, the shoulders are only 38 centimetres wide.

"A cyclist's handlebars are wider than 38 centimetres," said Cairns.

The Porteau section was flagged by the university students as one of the few places on the highway where little to no upgrade work took place in the construction period on the highway before the Olympic Winter Games in 2010.

According to the students, a low cost and effective way to protect riders in the Porteau area is to install cyclist-activated signals at each side of Porteau Cove. The estimated cost to install two loop detectors and warning signs is about $45,000.

The students made three visits to the highway with the final one being the most intimate.

"We cycled the route on our final visit and that reemphasized the need for drainage improvements," said Cairns of the various drainage systems that are very hard to detect until cyclists are right on top of them.

It became clear to the riders that most of the drainage grates in the bike lane portion of the improved highway have large gaps that bike tires can slip into and throw a cyclist off their bike. Dealing with this hazard, said the researchers would entail replacing the 50 most hazardous grates on the route at a cost of $45,000.

Cairns and his team concluded that ultimately, if the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure improved bicycle safety on Highway 99 the province would save money by decreasing injuries on the route, lowering medical costs and limiting resulting highway closures.

"Enhanced safety along the Sea to Sky Highway has the potential to further increase ridership, contribute to cycling tourism, improve local health culture, reduce traffic congestion and lower both air and noise pollution," said the students in their report summary.

While it is yet to be seen how the B.C. Ministry of Transportation grades the report it was a hit with the students' professor.

Said Cairns: "We got 95 per cent on everything."

The report is published online at www.sfu.ca/geog/stsbikesafe/.

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