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30May

Bike lanes to nowhere: Fraser Valley communities working to create cycling networks

by admin

It’s GoByBike week in B.C. But in Mission, most go by car.

A “pop-up” bike lane along 7th Avenue appears to be doing little to change that, as it was almost deserted Thursday afternoon.

“It’s just a pain,” said Michelle Leggett as she walked her six-year-old daughter Madeline Lutz home from school. “I think I’ve seen four bikers all week, and I’m pretty sure they’re regulars.”


Michelle Leggett and daughter Madeline Lutz.

Francis Georgian /

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To create the lane, city staff closed one side of the street to parking from Monday to Friday. As a result, the side streets around the high school have been overwhelmed with parents dropping off their kids.

“We’re just too far out here,” said Leggett. “People commute to Vancouver or Burnaby, and they need a car.”

But despite public reluctance, bike lanes are being built in some of B.C.’s most car-centric communities. Earlier this week, the provincial government announced $10 million in cycling infrastructure funding across the province. It will be up to municipalities to change public perception — and tackle the challenges that come along with building a cycling network in the suburbs.

Mission’s pop-up bike lane is part of that. Council has already approved a permanent bike lane along 7th Avenue, and the temporary lane is designed to increase public engagement and gauge public reaction to the idea, said  Mission Community Cycling Coalition member Rocky Blondin.

“The design work on a permanent bike lane will be informed by what happens this week,” said Blondin, who is president of the Fraser Valley Mountain Bike Association.

The lane’s usage was “modest” at the start of the week, but seems to be increasing as people realize there is another option to get to school or the recreation centre. It’s the city’s first east-to-west bike lane and its first protected bike lane.

“It takes time for people to start thinking differently,” said Blondin.

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There are several challenges to increasing cycling in the Fraser Valley, according to advocates. While the number of bike lanes in cities outside Vancouver is increasing, many communities still lack a comprehensive network that can safely and efficiently take cyclists where they want to go.

“The strength in Vancouver is in a cycling network that’s connected and can get people from Point A to B,” said Erin O’Melinn, executive director of non-profit advocacy group, HUB Cycling. “The Fraser Valley is not yet at that point.”

Unused bike lanes give critics fodder for their fight against more cycling infrastructure during public consultation on the issue, she said.

“But cities need to understand that you can’t build a north-to-south route and expect it to be used. You need east-to-west too. The network is the game-changer.”

Some Fraser Valley cities are also challenged by the fact that their main roads are highways. Many cyclists aren’t comfortable biking on the shoulder of King George Highway or Lougheed Highway. Side roads often end in cul-de-sacs.


The “pop-up” bike lane along 7th Avenue in Mission.

Francis Georgian /

PNG

In Mission, where up to 70 per cent of residents leave town for work, it’s difficult to increase bicycle commuting when people must travel long distances.

But O’Melinn said progress is being made. With funding contributions from other levels of government, many cities are beginning to create cycling infrastructure, which remains cheap compared to other transportation options.

Surrey, in particular, has made significant strides in connecting its downtown core, she said, although the municipality’s size presents a challenge for linking the entire community.

Abbotsford signalled its intentions to make cycling a priority earlier this year with a new pedestrian and cycling bridge over Highway 1 connecting the University of the Fraser Valley to a main thoroughfare. The bridge is adorned with dozens of recycled aluminum bike wheels.

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Elsewhere in the Fraser Valley, progress on bike lanes is “hit and miss,” said University of the Fraser Valley urban geography professor John Belec. “It depends on the interest of each particular council to move forward on it.”

There is also significant backlash from a segment of the population that believes “roads are primarily for cars, and as a public space, cars have priority,” he said.

While councils may not be able to push through a comprehensive bike network all at once, many are beginning to lay the groundwork and put small segments in place.

“It takes courage and energy — and a faith that they will be used,” said Belec.

In Chilliwack, cycling advocates are working to fill in the “gaps on the map,” said David Swankey, co-chair of Cycle Chilliwack. Using a rail corridor that loops through the community, the challenge is to develop clear and safe routes from there. The city is still working to determine what those routes will look like.

Swankey said advocates want to see routes that are accessible and safe for everyone, including seniors and kids on their way to school, which would increase their use.

“It’s an ongoing to process to see how it will roll out in the years to come,” he said.

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BikeBC funding

Earlier this week, the provincial government announced $10 million in funding for cycling infrastructure projects across B.C. Municipalities must apply for the grants, which cover between 50 to 75 per cent of project costs, depending on population.

The BikeBC money helps communities pay for new bikeways, or improve safety and accessibility on existing pathways.

Several cities on the South Coast received funding for 2019-20, including:

• The City of Abbotsford is approved to receive $299,685 for a separated two-way cycle track connecting elementary, middle and high schools to the recreation centre, library and the Discovery Trail.

• The City of Chilliwack is approved to receive $437,263 to extend a separated pathway between Airport Road and Hocking Avenue on the Valley Rail Trail, providing a north-south connection for all ages and abilities.

• The City of North Vancouver is approved to receive $1 million toward the Casano-Loutet cycling and pedestrian bridge over Highway 1.

• The City of Pemberton is approved to receive $7,500 to develop a cycling network plan that addresses active transportation within the community.

• The District of Squamish is approved to receive $210,450 for upgrades to the Dentville section of the Discovery Trail, which will include a separated paved path with lighting.

• The City of Vancouver is approved to receive $150,925 for cycling and pedestrian safety improvements at the 800 Robson Street Permanent Plaza.

• The City of Vancouver is also approved to receive $1 million for upgrades to the downtown bike network.

• The District of West Vancouver is approved to receive $50,700 for separated bike lanes between the districts of West Vancouver and North Vancouver.

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21Mar

UBC researchers create robot to help sooth pain of NICU babies

by admin


UBC researcher Liisa Holsti, with a therapeutic robot that simulates human skin-to-skin contact and helps to reduce pain for babies, in the neonatal intensive-care unit at B.C. Women’s Hospital in Vancouver on March 22.


NICK PROCAYLO / PNG

Nothing soothes a newborn’s pain like the tender touch of a loving parent, but researchers at the University of B.C. hope their new robot might help sometimes.

“Calmer” was created to mimic hand-hugging, a treatment in which a premature baby’s head, hands and legs are gently held in a curled position to help manage pain from medical procedures. Lead inventor Liisa Holsti developed the robot with colleagues at UBC and said it mimics some of the therapeutic aspects of skin-to-skin holding.

The white-metal device is about the size of a standard pillow. On top of it rests a silicon mat wrapped in Gore-Tex fabric, meant to feel like a parent’s soft touch. When the robot is turned on, its platform gently rocks up-and-down while playing the sound of a beating heart, both programmed to match the rate of a parent’s own breaths and heartbeat.

“The type of pain that these babies have actually changes their brain development and so what we’re trying to do is protect the brain of premature babies,” said Holsti, an associate professor at the department of occupational science and therapy.

Holsti was also lead scientist for the robot’s first randomized controlled trial to evaluate whether it reduced pain in premature babies at B.C. Women’s Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

The 49 premature babies in the study had just undergone a routine, medically ordered blood test, so the study caused them no additional pain. Half were hand-hugged, the other half were placed on the robot.

The researchers then looked at how the babies’ faces and hands changed, as well as their heart rates and brain-oxygen levels.

“We found no difference between the robot treatment and the human-touch treatment,” Holsti said.

Holsti stressed that the robot isn’t a replacement for human touch, but could be helpful in many cases. Her hope is that it could eventually be available for all premature babies.

“There are times when it’s very busy in an NICU and nurses may not be able to be there all the time when a lab tech comes to take the blood, and so our goal would be that Calmer would be available when parents can’t do skin-to-skin holding or nurses have to be doing other things,” she said.

“It’s an additive to care. It’s not meant to replace human beings,” she said.

Lauren Mathany, 34, a new Vancouver mother who works in public health, said that while “Calmer” wasn’t yet being used when her twin girls Hazel and Isla were born four months’ premature, she can see how it could have helped. It would have comforted the twins — now healthy, happy and close to 11 months old — and given some reassurance to Mathany and her husband, who works in construction, she said.


Lauren Mathany with twin sisters Hazel, left, and Isla is enthusiastic about a therapeutic robot that simulates human skin-to-skin contact, helping reduce pain for babies in the neonatal intensive-care unit at B.C. Women’s Hospital.

NICK PROCAYLO /

PNG

“I think it would have been great,” Mathany said.

During the four months the girls were in the NICU, Mathany and her husband gave the girls plenty of hand-hugging and hours of skin-to-skin contact every day. They would sing and talk to them too.

But the new parents couldn’t be at the NICU around the clock and needed to rest so they could take proper care of themselves and the girls, she said.

“If the Calmer was available to them, we’d know that during medical procedures, blood work, etc., that there was something there to make them feel safe and reassured, and feel that we were still with them, even though we couldn’t be, physically,” she said.

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