Growth of cycling could see a real spike when people can effortlessly get out of their urban environment and into the countryside to do their recreational cycling. A European-style train system composed of suburban, regional, and fast trains provides a real boost for cycling with readily-accessible escape opportunities to the country. Beneficiaries would be the local retail economy of small cities and towns along rail routes.
One of my morning activities includes planning my day ride(s). I want to get in about 40 kms. of cycling for exercise and also do my daily shopping along the way. In addition, meetings and business engagements are planned into the daily cycle.
Just back in Vancouver from over a month in Europe, my daily cycle felt different. It is urban-based again. As I was cycling along, my mind drifted on how my habits would be different if I lived in Europe again, a place where suburban, regional, inter-city, and high speed trains are just like using a streetcar. The drawback to cycling in North American cities is that trips tend to be cycled out and then cycled back to the starting point which means one does not normally leave the urban environment when one wants to cycle 60 or 100 kilometres on a day.
In Europe, with a mature network of electrified regional and inter-city trains and hourly service at a minimum, a cyclist can select their distance for any day, look at the network of villages, towns, and cities served, and pick a destination to cycle there. The return can be by train using bike-friendly train cars. In fact, one can decide to take a train for an hour or two, then continue on by cycling . For us, being in Europe meant that we could cycle the 100 km from Freiburg, Germany to Basel in Switzerland and then take a train back. No doubling back on the route which we tend do back in Vancouver, when we cycle out to the Golden Ears Bridge –a 100 km. round trip cycle for us.
The region and the countryside is opened up to cyclists. They can conveniently cycle in rural landscape and then return home without the tediousness of seeing the landscape all over again while cycling on the way back.
One might ask: So what? Why should the public care if cyclists can conveniently and frequently interlink with rail? It is all about local retail economy and retail health in smaller cities, towns, and villages. Trips of 50 to over 100 kilometres a day, tend to result in cyclists visiting local establishments
and leaving some money behind. With an average spending in the $10 range per cyclist, the local effect builds up as the cycling trip volumes grow. On top of that, the rail provider also sees its revenue grow, especially on off-business, quieter traffic volume days from its equipment utilization perspective.
If the same rail capability were available in Vancouver, I could cycle out to Mission, Chilliwack, or Hope and then catch a train home on the same day. No boxing of bicycles for the trip if the train’s bike cars also have bike racks. Just an easy roll on and off the train car.
I could also take a train out to the same locations and then do rides out from there. From Hope, I could cycle out into the Fraser Canyon and return in the same day. With a fast train, a day trip in the Okanagan Valley would be feasible along with a meal at a vineyard, some wine tasting and shopping.
Right now, I am starting to plan my next trip to the East Coast. I will not fly. Instead I will be making use of trains and cycling. Options are being considered. First a three day cycle trip to the first station. Cities along the train route are being considered for stopovers to try out their local cycling infrastructure. Later on, cycling trips of 2 to 7 days are being considered for segments on the trip. All doable since it is easy take a bike on the train. Options are limited since there are only a handful of routes
to select. Bike boxes are unfortunately needed but on stop-overs, train stations will keep your box for several days. For local retail and hospitality businesses, monies being spent at local establishments that would not happen if I would fly instead.
In the Province of British Columbia, the British Columbia Cycling Coalition has been promoting a cycling touring network throughout the province, named the Soaring Eagle Cycling Routes. If this network were built and if a network of efficient, fast, frequent passenger rail system were implemented for movement of people as an option to car travel, then local economies in small cities and towns would see a real boost.
Jack is a touring cyclist who has logged well over 80,000 kilometres on trips ranging from four days and up to ten and a half months in three continents. In addition, he has logged thousands of kilometres on two and three day trips. He has also spent much time in researching the economics of cycle touring; studying networks and facilities; and the needs of touring cyclists. He is also a lead promoter of the Soaring Eagle Cycling Routes concept for the province.