Biking HRM: Dartmouth Edition

Cycling as a means of transportation has an enormous amount of health benefits and helps the environment by making you less reliant on the use of a car. How does infrastructure such as bike lanes impact how cyclists and cars interact with each?  And just how bikeable are our cities? Can cycling be a realistic means of transportation if you don’t live downtown?

A Brief discussion of Infrastructure 

Encouraging greater use of cycling in our cities always ends up being oddly controversial as we do not seem to be able to have a discussion about cycling infrastructure while still keeping it civil. Adding painted bike lanes, for example, is a small thing that helps cyclists out immeasurably. And with our public transit having bike racks on every bus it’s never been easier to cycle around the city. That’s not to say that it’s not without issues. Personally, I’m not comfortable biking on roads that don’t have bike lanes and try to stick to side streets rather than main arteries. These discussions around bike lanes do not need to be controversial. There are examples of bike lanes being added to various suburban roads off of Halifax peninsula in places like Waverley Road for example and it did not disrupt traffic or cause civilisation to fall. My cousin is from England and when I was chatting with him recently he marvelled at how wide our roads are here in Canada compared to what he was used to from back home in the UK. I can’t speak for the UK but North American cars used to be a lot bigger than they are today.  This leaves us with some room to play with that can be dedicated to bikes thereby promoting healthy active lifestyles with very little investment on the part of municipal government. Personally, I find the bike lanes along Waverly Road and the #2 highway/ Main Street to be a life saver. I’m still nervous when a car passes me but I feel much safer knowing that we have our own dedicated lanes.

Cycling as a primary means of transportation in an urban area such as Halifax peninsula is well documented. However, what about us way out in the ‘burbs? Can cycling still be a realistic means of transportation in a far-flung suburban neighbourhood? Several Saturdays ago I decided that since it was a beautiful day and I wanted to go on a long bike ride anyway I decided to see for myself how bikeable this fair city really is. Plus, it was a great excuse to justify taking some selfies.

Who Am I & Why am I Doing This

For context, I should explain a bit about myself and the bike I am riding. My bike is a large very heavy mountain bike great for off road trails but less good for city roads. I am a little out of shape and only just getting back into cycling after many years. I also intended to take my bloody sweet time and enjoy the scenery rather than race against the clock. So with that in mind lets talk about my trip, shall we?

Much of the discussion on creating more liveable cities is about getting people to trade their car for a bike and most people driving cars live out in the ‘burbs. So, for this reason, I decided to start my epic journey in the ‘burbs over at Sidney Crosby place, more commonly known as Cole Harbour Place. The $64,000 question today is If you do not live in the city centre, which a large portion of citizens don’t, is HRM still a bikeable place?

Journey Beyond The ‘Burbs

My end goal was to reach the Harbour but I also felt that I wanted to do some trails and take the long and scenic way around. So at 9:05am I started my journey and ended up at the main entrance to Cole Harbour Heritage Park at 9:19. A mere 14 minutes later. There are a lot of beautiful trails here and the area contains the old Cole Harbour Poor farm whose tragic and sad history can be found here in a blog post by Gus Reed for the Cole Harbour Parks and Trails Association. Across the street from here is where I think they used to film Trailer Park Boys I’m told. After a very short break just long enough to write down my arrival time, I finished up at the entrance to the Salt Marsh Trail where it meets the Shearwater Flyer Trail at 9:27. The sign at the entrance to the Shearwater Flyer trail says that the late Buster Keaton filmed a movie here many decades ago. A search of Wikipedia says this might have been ‘The Railroader.’

At 9:30am I was on the road again biking the 5km Shearwater Flyer Trail to the Harbour. I made no stops, took my time to enjoy the beautiful scenery (at least until I got the massive oil storage tanks) and by 10am I was at the entrance to the Shearwater Airbase. By 10:04 I was off to Alderney Gate to battle red lights, traffic and the noticeable lack of safe bike spaces along Pleasant street by the oil refinery. I made a point to stop at the Woodside Ferry terminal and take that lovely trail that runs from there behind the Nova Scotia Hospital and the NSCC Waterfront Campus all the way to Alderney. I made it a point to enjoy the market and chatted with some friends I bumped into there. Now by this time I was getting tired and thirsty and took a bit longer to get there than I thought I would with a 10:35 arrival time.  At this point, I realised how tired and hungry I was and biked up to a nearby coffee shop to grab a bite and a coffee with a friend.

How long does it take to get from downtown Dartmouth to Mic Mac Mall? And then continue on to the main entrance to Shubie park by the locks? Well, it only took about 10 minutes to get to Mic Mac by bike from Tim Hortons Portland Street in Downtown Dartmouth. And an additional 15 minutes to find the entrance to Shubie because I got lost in the trails for a bit. Which I did not at all mind because it is a beautiful park to get lost in.  I left Tim Hortons at 12:02 got to Mic Mac at 12:12 and found the entrance to Shubie at 12:31.

End of the Road

There you have it. Based on my little adventure I’d say Dartmouth is extremely bikeable. A bus from my house to Alderney gate takes about half an hour, which is around the same time it takes to bike there. Bring a backpack with you and you can easily do some shopping on your bike as well. As I said above, I am out of shape. I am not a terribly hardcore cyclist and I like to take my time. But I found the travel times from various destinations in Dartmouth to be very reasonable as you can see on the chart below. In a few weeks, I will apply the same general methodology to Halifax and various spots in and around the peninsula. If you liked this blog, feel free to offer suggestions as to where I should bike next in HRM. Until then tootle-oo Haligonians.  Keep cycling and stay safe.

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