Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Richmond River Road Ride -- Psycho!Geography with RedSara

So Velopalooza, the big bike love fest, came and went, and I didn't bother going on any rides in the rainy weather. But the tradition of spontaneously organizing rides has hung on, and when I heard about a ride RedSara, a local artist, had proposed, a twilight ride along the north arm of the Fraser River, I was hooked.

Our intrepid leader, RedSara

I'll let the pictures tell most of the story, but I stopped taking shots after sundown, but I'm now on the lookout for a bike-friendly collapsible tripod. Hopefully the pictures can convey how the trip straddled Vancouver's two worlds -- the peacefulness of the river on its last legs to the sea, mixed with a few former and working vestiges of the industry that used to blanket most of this area.

We started at the Marine Drive station on the new Canada Line skytrain, meeting by the sculptures. After allowing for the inevitable latecomers (we are in Vancouver after all), we headed over the pedestrian/bike bridge over the river. I've crossed enough times over the R. D. Laing[*] and Oak Street bridges to know that I'll probably always make the detour for this bridge now. It's that cool.

View from the Canada Line bridge

New views of the city

The route east from the bike bridge is a mixture of riding on the dike and River Road. Most of this route went through Richmond's warehouse district (I know, you're probably wondering what part of Richmond isn't the warehouse district). The district ends at the site of the Night Market, and as we passed under the Knight Street bridge (which boasts an average of two accidents/weekday, one at each end), we got to enjoy a bit of nature, before encountering the plywood factory, an amazing piece of industrial kinetic sculpture backed with symphony of buzzsaws, drive chains, and reversing forklift trucks. Sara pointed out a couple of picnic tables next to the plant, a logical place to stop for a snack while on the route.

The sites after the plant are a blur of more industrial spots, farms (including the Rabbit River egg place), a few houses, and the incongruously located Riverside Ballroom, located somewhere between No. 6 and 7 Roads. We caught the end of the sunset off a pier located somewhere due south of the new residential developments at the southeast tip of Vancouver proper. People were fishing, and they were even keeping their catch for later eating. When the Fraser used to be dotted with industry on both sides, you wouldn't think of fishing it. We contemplated the gains of fresher air and water, and a more peaceful environment, results of that big exchange that's taken place over the last few decades, where we traded industrial jobs and their side-effects with our overseas partners, and got a better environment in return. The harder problem is to figure out how to reduce pollution worldwide.

We biked along the east end of River Road in darkness, joined by the occasional car, and farm workers walking home with bags of groceries they bought at one of the big malls in Queensborough. And there was no missing Queensborough. The last paved part of River Road dumped us onto Westminster Highway, and we went from the world of rabbits, fish and beaver to the land of the car. Queensborough has it all -- the Stardust, the kind of tawdry casino that Las Vegas razed in the 90s; what looks like the biggest Big Box mall in the lower mainland; and the piece de resistance, the ICBC write-off lot, sprawling below us as we biked over the Queensborough bridge to the 22nd St. Skytrain station, and our return to the city.

If You Go

As Dennis pointed out (the guy in the recom trike), there were about 15 of us on the ride, but it's easily accessible to a few hundred thousand other Vancouverites. All you need is a bike and the cash or tickets for two skytrain rides, and you too can enjoy this triangle ride. From downtown, you can take the skytrain to one of the two terminals, either the Marine Drive station on the Canada Line, or the 22nd St. station on the Expo line, find your way to River Road, bike along it, and take the other train back home. In the evening, it makes sense to bike east, so you don't have the sun in your eyes (or in the eyes of the drivers approaching behind you). But I would prefer to start with the car-oriented nightmare of New West/Queensborough, and end on the Canada Line bridge. Except for the two bridges, the ride is completely flat.

There are also a few logistical details to work out at some point, mainly getting to/from River Rd. and Westminster Hwy., and 22nd St. There is a bike path along Westminster, and since Hwy 91 opened, Westminster isn't that busy. There are also signs pointing to New West for bikes; you want to ride on the west side of the Queensborough bridge. The bike path on the bridge actually feels quite safe, compared to other bridges in the city, like the ones to the North Shore. A solid barrier separates the bikes from the cars, and the outer railing is high enough to soothe all but the most acrophobic.

If you're concerned about hitting a forklift truck at the plywood factory, you can detour around via Vulcan Way, but then you'll miss the special bike tunnel that goes under the assembly line. It really needs to be seen, but if you're bringing kids along, I can understand giving it a pass. But then I'd advise waiting until the kids are at least 10 or so, and will appreciate the plant.

Finally, there aren't a lot of cars on River Road, but most of the ones we encountered were driving fast. Be sure you're visible, especially if there's only one of you, as opposed to a group of 15 or so (not that that guarantees safety, these days).

[*] Isn't it about time we rename this bridge after the sometimes local writer, instead of a long-forgotten Trudeau-era hack? Whose legacy is still around anyway?


Tibor said...

Cool ride. how could I have missed that?

Eric Promislow said...


Neale Adams said...

Thanks for the blog, Eric. You've captured the trip...

valerie durant said...

I missed it but hope it will become an annual event. Did people feel more connected with nature after the ride, less connected or more concerned about the effects industry has on the environment?

Eric Promislow said...

I led a ride on this route last month, and things have already changed. There are several condo sites going up near the Skytrain bridge, and the trend seems to point to further deindustrialization of the Fraser. This at first sounds good, until you head over to Surrey and see how mixed neighborhoods are feeling the pressure to be more industrialized, fighting the South Fraser Perimeter Highway.

So this ride's worth doing occasionally to see the how the area is undergoing change.