“It’s just so beautiful”: Peterborough’s first bicycle-priority street a hit with cyclists

Bethune Street from McDonnel to Townsend has been rebuilt with cyclists in mind and car traffic is now restricted on it.
Photo shows a cyclist crossing the intersection of Bethune Street and Brock Street on a sunny day.
Cyclists are cheering the new design of Bethune Street as a bicycle-priority street. (Photo: Brett Throop)

Lately whenever Marissa Kidd and her children put on their helmets to bike somewhere, the kids have one request: they want to go down Bethune Street.

“It’s like a thing in our family now,” said Kidd, who was cycling along Bethune Street last Thursday morning with two of her young kids in a trailer behind her.

She and her kids like the slow pace and lack of car traffic on the street now that it’s been reconstructed into a bicycle-priority corridor from McDonnell Street to Townsend Street.

“I think it’s less scary for them, because there are not cars zipping around past their heads,” she said. “Cycling doesn’t feel particularly safe downtown for me. So this is a really great commuter route for us.”

“It’s like a cyclist highway.”

Kidd said they were on their way to the Silver Bean Café on Thursday, and took a longer route there just so they could ride along Bethune Street. As they went, the kids pointed out native plants the city recently put in along the boulevards, she said.

“It’s really amazing to see public money doing things like putting in green space and native plants and cycling infrastructure,” she said.

Photo shows cyclist Marissa Kidd standing beside her bicycle near the intersection of Bethune and Brock streets, with two of her children in a trailer behind her bike.
Now that Bethune Street has been redesigned, Marissa Kidd feels a lot safer cycling downtown with her kids in tow. (Photo: Brett Throop)

The city began tearing up Bethune Street in 2021 to install a massive new flood reduction sewer that is meant to divert high waters from Jackson Creek. After the sewer was installed, the city reconstructed Bethune Street to limit car traffic and make the route safer for cyclists.

Motorists are now restricted from entering Bethune Street at various points – including the intersections at Brock and Charlotte streets – in order to limit traffic volumes, said Sue Sauve, the city’s former transportation demand management planner. She helped plan the Bethune Street redesign before retiring from city hall last year.

Cars can still use the street, except for the section between Wolfe Street and Townsend Street, which is only open to cyclists.

Photo shows cyclist Sue Sauve standing beside her bicycle on Bethune Street, in front of a sign that says "bicycles excepted"
Sue Sauve, the city’s former transportation demand management planner, helped plan the Bethune Street redesign. (Photo: Brett Throop)

Narrow driving lanes are another feature intended to make the route safe for cyclists. “It’s a minimum width to allow fire trucks to come through,” said Sauve, who now chairs the Peterborough Bicycle Advisory Committee. “It’s a width that’s comfortable for cyclists, but makes it so that cars will want to drive very slowly.”

Maggie O’Donnell was cycling along Bethune Street last Thursday morning, after visiting her sister in East City.

She said she normally avoids cycling on city streets. “Usually I ride on the sidewalks, which you’re not supposed to,” she said.

But she feels comfortable riding along Bethune Street now that it’s been designed with cyclists in mind. Signs along the street tell cyclists to ride single file with cars.

“It’s beautiful for bike riders,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s done anything to solve the car problems on the streets, but it’s nice for me.”

Photo shows cyclist Maggie O'Donnell standing with her bike between her legs on Bethune Street.
Maggie O’Donnell is an avid cyclist but doesn’t feel safe on most city streets, except Bethune Street now that it’s been designed to prioritize bike traffic. (Photo: Brett Throop)

Sauve said she pushed for the creation of a bicycle-priority street when the city first began working on plans to reconstruct Bethune Street several years ago.

She said during the planning stage there were some concerns that cyclists wouldn’t feel safe being mixed in with car traffic. But Sauve argued that bicycle-priority streets in cities such as Hamilton and Vancouver have been highly successful and have helped boost cycling rates. “It took… quite a bit of convincing that people would feel comfortable on this kind of street,” she said.

Now that the project is mostly complete, she said the design is even better than what she’s seen in other Canadian cities. “Bethune Street is the gold star.”

“I am so proud of the city for making the courageous and visionary step to make a big bicycle street,” she said. “It’s just so beautiful.”

She said there’s some buzz about the project among cyclists she knows in cities like Toronto, Hamilton and Guelph, and she expects people will be visiting Peterborough in the coming months to check it out.

Photo shows a man holding a kick scooter on the side of Bethune Street.
Chase Skelcher said he’s been taking his kick scooter out on Bethune Street every day lately to get some exercise. (Photo: Brett Throop)

Chase Skelcher said he’s been using Bethune Street every day lately to get some exercise on his kick scooter. “I feel more safe… and more free. I don’t have to worry about getting all caught up in between cars and traffic,” he said.

Sean Hamit was taking Bethune Street to return from shopping on Lansdowne Street last Thursday morning. “It’s so convenient,” he said. “It’s an easy way through the centre of town.”

Photo shows a man sitting on his bicycle on Bethune Street in front of the Charlotte Towers apartment complex.
Sean Hamit said Bethune Street is now a convenient and quick way to travel through downtown. (Photo: Brett Throop)

Brian Thrower tried out Bethune Street in his motorized scooter on Wednesday, starting from Townsend Street. “It looks alright,” he said. “But it’s just gonna [be] hard to get used to, I guess.”

He said he will use the street during the day, but he worries about his safety being out in the city at night. “The violence just in Peterborough is unreal,” he said.

Bethune Street has been fully open for a few weeks now, but new traffic lights at Sherbrooke Street and Charlotte Street are not yet operational.

The Bethune Street flood reduction project, including the reconstruction of Bethune and Townsend streets, cost more than $53.5 million, according to a city staff report from last year. The city received $15.9 million in federal and provincial funding for the project.


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