Over the years, the City of Richmond has made great progress building bike lanes. Compared to most of the Metro Vancouver area, Richmond could be considered "ahead of the pack." However, in recent years, progress has stalled dramatically (or even halted altogether). With other cities like North Vancouver building their bicycle infrastructure at a rapid pace, Richmond is at risk of falling far behind.
In my opinion, this is a shame because ridership in Richmond seems to be on the rise. While I do not have any hard data to back this up, I do have my own perception that I see a lot more people riding their bikes than I used to. Mostly, I see a lot more older people and families out for an everyday leisure ride or ride to the store. Rather than cyclists (roadies in Lycra), I see a lot more everyday bicycle riders in the bike lanes.
Every day I see more and more bicycle riders out there - some on sidewalks, some in bike lanes, all of them riding where they feel safe. I see both teenage kids riding to and from school and elderly folks riding to and from their activities or the store. In addition, there is still a growing number of road cyclists. It may be true that a road bike is the new cure for a mid-life crisis. And regardless of why any of them are riding, we need to welcome anyone and everyone who chooses to pedal along on two wheels. The more bicycles there are on the roads,, the safer we all are.
In general, Richmond's bike lanes are great for recreational use, But in order for Richmond to truly embrace bicycle culture and sustainable infrastructure, they need to do more. I always think the perfect gauge on bicycle lane safety is how often I see children or parents riding with young kids. For example, along the Granville Ave bike lanes, you rarely see young kids. The traffic is simply too close and too fast to risk a young kid swerving on a bicycle. The dyke and the Railway Greenway, in comparison, are full of kids riding with their parents, along with couples on dates, and other travelers walking, riding, or running. We need more like this, please. Lots more!
When you consider Richmond's bicycle infrastructure, in the simplest of terms, there is the dyke, two east-west routes: Granville and Williams, and two (or one and a half really) north-south routes: Railway and Garden City.
The dyke is a great place to go for a weekend ride with the family. But if you have a particular destination in mind that isn't Garry Point Park, the Olympic Oval, or Steveston, the dyke won't get you very close. If you want to go for a ride on the dyke, then the dyke is a great place to ride on the dyke. The views are incredible and it is definitely safe from vehicle traffic. But for most bicycle commuters and everyday bicycle riders, the dyke won't get you anywhere near where you want to go.
Consider riding from west Richmond to Richmond Centre. The Granville Ave bike lane gets you to Minoru, which also has bike lanes. But what if you live north of Westminster Hwy? Detouring all the way south to Granville Ave is significant. The dyke runs out past Gilbert Road, but that's as close as it will get you.
In addition, there are plenty of disconnected or incomplete routes. Coming south off the No. 2 Road Bridge, once you get to Westminster Hwy, the bike lane completely fades away. To continue on a bike route, you have to cross three lanes of busy Westminster Hwy traffic to make the left turn lane at Lynas Lane. Then there are the areas around No. 3 Road and Sea Island Way, Garden City between Granville and Francis, and Garden City crossing Sea Island Way and Bridgeport. Each of these areas are part of marked bike routes. The southbound No. 3 Road bike lane runs for 100m between Bridgeport and Sea Island Way then ends, starts again at Alderbridge and ends abruptly at Cook Road rather than connecting to the Granville bike lanes. Awfully disconnected for a major route. I can't determine whether the city is trying to attract bicycle riders or scare them away.
In response to gaps like these, HUB (formerly the Vancouver-area Cycling Coalition) has launched their UnGaptheMap initiative to bring awareness to these gaps in the bicycle network and to work with city planners to remove them.
Another way to evaluate Richmond's bike lanes is to compare them to Vancouver's. In general, bike lanes throughout Richmond tend to be along major arterial roads with a speed limit of 50-60 km/h. The bike lanes are not physically separated but are merely painted lanes on the right-side of the road. In contrast, the City of Vancouver has designed its bike routes through traffic-calmed residential corridors with speed limits around 30 km/h. The result is a far more relaxing ride where one feels much safer. I would take my kids on bike routes in Vancouver, but not in Richmond (the dyke and the Railway Greenway exempt of course).
Overall, Richmond's bike lanes are a great start, but they're not enough. A lot more needs to be done. I hope that the City of Richmond keeps progressing and building more lanes - either physically separated bike lanes on arterial roads or marked routes through traffic-calmed residential routes. Even more so, I hope the City of Richmond takes a more proactive role in the years to come rather than relying solely on developers to build piece-meal sections of bike lanes.