Rustica Bakery hands out treats. (Marisca Bakker photo)

Recent Hwy 16 cyclist death underscores need for safe biking solution

Cycle 16 continues fundraising, planning for a dedicated paved trail from Smithers to Telkwa

After the recent death of a cyclist on Highway 16, bike safety is top of mind for those who cycle the road.

Smithers crown prosecutor Paul Backhouse was killed in a collision with a pickup truck while he was on his bicycle near Babine Lake Road on Aug. 13.

Telkwa resident George Lebiadowski bikes along the highway almost every day from Telkwa to Smithers and knows how dangerous it can be.

“In past years, it was a little bit better because there was a white line,” he said. “Having said that, it sometimes [is] quite scary especially with the newcomers, the guys with the pipeline and so on that are coming through here in a hurry.

“I usually go when most people are commuting and because people are in such a hurry, it is a bit scary. Sometimes people migrate over into the hard shoulder, with the lack of the fog lines this year, it has aggravated the situation with people wandering between the yellow line and the gravel. I don’t notice until they pass me and realize how close they’ve been. At first, I’m upset but then I appreciate the gravity of the situation and I’m scared.”

He uses two lights on his bike and has attached a pool noodle on his bike so drivers can see how far they need to keep away from him but little has helped him feel safe.

Lebiadowski recently retired and moved to the Bulkley Valley in 2018 after working overseas.

“I’ve lived and worked in Europe, Africa and Asia. Probably, here it is scarier to ride a bike than in Africa where I used to work,” he said. “People here have the attitude that bicycles aren’t at the same level as vehicles. For that reason, there are people in this society that like to scare bicyclists and some people just don’t notice bikes are there.”

He said the most dangerous place along Highway 16 between Telkwa and Smithers is leaving Smithers before Babine Lake Road where there is a turn.

“People tend to hug the inside of the turn and that is where I am,” he explained.

It also isn’t far from the spot where Backhouse was hit, although in that case the pickup was coming off Babine Lake Rd.

Lebiadowski added there are solutions to make it safer for everyone.

“As an interim, painting the white lines and educating people about bicycles or paint some bikes on the side of the road, not to indicate it is a bike lane but to let people know that bikes are around.”

However, he said, the best solution is to separate cyclists and vehicles completely.

“If I am in Holland, there is a dedicated bike lane almost on every road. I never have to fear cars ingressing. If I’m in Thailand and riding, the vehicles will slow down and give me space.”

There is work being done to make that happen in the Bulkley Valley. Cycle 16 Trail Society has been blazing a path for a paved bike lane from Smithers to Telkwa.

The trail will be off Highway 16 along the Ministry of Transportation right-of-way. At the Smithers end, it is planned to go along the west side of the highway. Around the halfway mark, it will cross the highway with a bridge or underpass and follow the east side of the highway to Telkwa. The project will be done in phases with the first phase beginning at the Bulkley River bridge by the Riverside RV Park and ending at Laidlaw Rd.

A fundraiser, called “The Tour de Croissants,” wrapped up on Saturday with funds going toward the cause.

Cyclists were able to get their passports stamped at different locations throughout the month of August and were rewarded with baked goods and coffee.

Group President Tony Harris said the turn out each Saturday was incredible.

“We’ve had an average of 60 to 150 people come out to support us,” he said. “It has really been an opportunity to bring the cycling community together, especially during COVID times where we’ve had a chance to visit in an outdoor and safe environment. It just goes to show you the power of good baking. Rustica Bakery makes a fabulous product.”

Bugwood Bean and Reel Coffee also supplied beverages.

Harris estimates approximately $6,000 was raised during the month-long campaign but final numbers have not been calculated.

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Bikers line up to get a treat from Rustica Bakery and get their passports stamped.(Marisca Bakker photo)

Cycle 16’s Tour de Croissant wraps up. (Marisca Bakker photo)

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