Twenty-eight Skeena Middle School (SMS) students dismounted their bikes in front of Terrace City Hall on Friday and filed into council chambers, bike helmets in hand, with an important presentation for council.
“I feel like when I’m biking it’s unsafe in a lot of parts of Terrace,” says Garin Bahr, Grade 9. “When I’m coming down Lanfear Hill to my house, there have been a couple of times when I was almost run over by cars.”
The students told council they want changes made to the city’s bike lanes. The Grade 9 class has been doing research on the subject for the last month.
Teacher Trygve Sort first spoke about this last year after his students completed a Bike to School week project. Over the week, he says students felt unsafe biking through certain areas and began taking notes.
“It’s such a shame that [students] feel like there are places that aren’t safe, that’s causing them not to go to certain places,” Sort says.
A year later, students from Grades 7 and 8 joined Grade 9 students to tell city council their own experiences. Staff brought out more chairs to accommodate everyone though some students were still left standing by the doors.
“One time I was cycling from Thornhill coming into Terrace at the intersection there, and one guy wasn’t paying attention. He clipped the back of my bike and sent me into a tree,” says Nathan Whitford, Grade 9. “When I got home and the bike was delivered to my place, it was in two pieces and the back wheel was busted. Not safe.”
Whitford was the one student who didn’t bike to city hall but jogged alongside the group. He says he won’t get back on a bicycle until the city installs safer infrastructure.
Along with Lanfear Hill, routes coming over the new and old bridges connecting Terrace and Thornhill, Kalum Dr., Keith Estates and the downtown core were other areas where students say they felt unsafe.
Segregated bike lanes using physical barriers to separate cyclists from vehicles was one option. Painted pushbacks lines at intersections to make vehicles stop before cyclists would also allow for greater visibility.
Bylaws to allow bicyclists to ride on certain sidewalks instead of the road would also improve safety in the short-term. Better maintenance of cycle routes and connectivity was also discussed.
Within their presentation, students noted the City of Terrace did not apply for BikeBC grants because “they had other priorities.”
They referenced a situation in Prince George when a cyclist was killed last year. As a response, the City of Prince George applied for a BikeBC grant and received around $350,000 in February.
“The aim for Terrace is to catch up to other municipalities where everyday cycling has taken root, demonstrating cycling’s proven benefits — reducing C02, curbing obesity, and improving quality of life and mental health,” their report reads.
This year, 81 students and school staff participated in Bike to School Week at SMS. Together, they travelled 1,141 kilometres and saved 250 kg of greenhouse gases.
“The future [students] are facing, they look at it as grim,” Sort says. “They do all sorts of papers on the environment, and they look at this as a way of reducing C02.”
Coun. Sean Bujtas says the city is well aware of the safety concerns with Lanfear Dr., which students identified as “one of the worst” hills to bike.
The city is awaiting a response for a federal and provincial grant worth $10 million to improve transportation access and safety to the Bench area from downtown, with new bike lanes and pedestrian sidewalks.
Mayor Carol Leclerc and councillors thanked the students for their presentation and made a motion to refer their recommendations back to staff.
In 2009, the City of Terrace committed in their Active Transportation Plan to reduce greenhouse gases, create better active transportation connections between communities, increase opportunities for residents to be physically active, and reduce conflicts between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.