“Terrified” Kelowna Resident has Advice to Make Streets More Bike Friendly for Women

Kelsey Sheppy is enthusiastic about living an active lifestyle. She balances a busy work life at RE/MAX of Western Canada head office with a busy home life, raising her two teenaged step-kids, walking her two Yorkies and running half-marathons. But there is one activity that, up until this year, has always terrified her…riding a bike.

Although Kelsey is perfectly situated to bike to work, “my office is right in downtown Kelowna and I live just a little way out – about 15 minutes away”, the biggest hurdle was overcoming her fears. “I’ve always wanted to try but I was also terrified because I don’t trust cars and I’m just so nervous about people who text and drive.”

Kelsey isn’t alone in her fears.  Some researchers suspect this may be one reason why women make up just 25% of regular cyclists.

Kelsey was convinced to face her fears when an enthusiastic employee joined their office and got them involved in Bike to Work Week. She resolved to “give it a go”, and said, “I’m going to try it so long as I can find a safe route that is off the main busy roads.”

Kelsey recruited a girlfriend to come along for the ride.  She laughs recalling how they had to start from nothing. “We went to Canadian Tire and bought bikes that were cheaper (we didn’t want to invest too much if it turned out we didn’t like it!) We had to buy everything: bikes, helmets, bells…and baskets!”

After an hour pouring over maps, Kelsey was able to find a safe route with a mix of bike paths and slower neighbourhood streets.  But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“When we were on the separated bike paths, it felt wonderful!  It was safe, easy and it felt comfortable.  But it was scary the moment we rode into the bike-lane on the busy road. I ended up walking on the sidewalk from that point. My heart sank riding on the main road, even though I was fine riding on quiet neighbourhood streets.”

As it turns out, Kelsey’s route preferences are fairly typical.  Dr. Kay Teschke has done some interesting research on the type of routes that will attract different people. Her findings show that separated bike paths – like the ones Kelsey prefers – are the best for attracting new and inexperienced riders, as well as experienced, confident ones.  On-street bike lanes only work for experienced road warriors. However, traffic calming measures put in to divert or slow traffic on quiet neighbourhood streets bring out more people on bikes.

Where Dr Teschke’s research gets really interesting is when the data on route preferences is cross referenced with data on injuries from collisions and falls.  She reports that, “preferences and safety largely agree. Major streets are less safe and not preferred. Bike-specific routes are safer and preferred. The main disagreement was that multi-use paths are preferred but were not particularly safe. They could be made safer by making them straighter so sight lines are better and by removing obstacles like bollards.”

In the end, Kelsey got to work safe and happy on her bike. “When I first did the ride it took longer than I thought but then as I got familiar with the route and riding a bike, it got easier and I felt much more confident at the end.”  She may not bike all the time, but she plans to continue. “I’m definitely going to carry on with it. It’s great exercise and it feels good!”

Kelsey credits the Bike to Work Week event for getting her started. “[It] was very motivating for a first timer like me and for others in my office too. There were some great contests, events and prizes!”  Her participation has inspired her husband. “My husband was delighted and now he wants us to go for a cruise around downtown together.  He’s been wanting us to ride to the gym and to the pub and now I’ll be able to – it’s just a nice way to get around and experience your city.”

BCAHL’s Communities on the Move initiative is working with partners so that more women like Kelsey can be active, comfortable and safe riding a bike or walking where they need to go.  There is plenty of good research in BC, such as Dr. Teschke’s, to help guide community planning decisions so that the bike paths we design are both motivating and safe for users.  Many local governments across BC have, or want to develop, ‘active transportation’ plans, facilities and motivating educational events like Bike to Work Week, but they need the support of the provincial government.

Asked if she has a message for decision-makers, Kelsey says, “I know that cities do their best to make bike routes and trails, I just want them to consider making those routes safe for people like me that don’t feel comfortable riding beside cars.  I like those separated paths…if there were more of those, I would use them all the time!”

If you would like to see more safe, comfortable biking and walking routes in your community, please call or write to your MLA and tell BC’s leaders that you support Communities on the Move!

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