The City of Richmond has a Trails Brochure which includes information on Richmond cycling. It encourages people to explore Richmond’s unique island ecology and natural environment by cycling around the Island of Richmond. One of their suggestions is to do a 47.5 km circumnavigation of the island. Ever trusting, Maggie and I followed this suggestion. Based on this experience, I have some advice for you: DON’T! Whatever you do, do NOT follow the City of Richmond’s advice and try to circumnavigate the Richmond Island on a bike. There are SOME BITS of this route that are well worth doing, as I will discuss – but the total circumnavigation is RIGHT OUT. Let me tell you about the nightmare we experienced when we wasted a lovely fall day trying to do this.
We set out with the Trails Brochure map and plenty of water, expecting a pleasant ride, much like our bike ride on the West Dyke Trail. We could not have been more wrong.
We parked on River Road, and set off eastwards on the Middle Arm Trail. (For advice on finding the Dyke Trails, see my post on the West Dyke Trail.) According to the map kindly provided by the City of Richmond, we expected to stay happily off road most of the way. Yeah, right.
Lost in a car park … with no signage anywhere to be seen …
Within minutes we were in a car park, with no sign of any trail or bike lanes, anywhere. And of course, no signage – a situation which was to be the norm all day. Clueless, we elected to follow another cyclist who seemed to know where she was going. We found ourselves on the very busy, multi-lane Sea Island Way. By sheer luck we then spotted a bike lane route on No. 3 Road, so we took a left at the hideously busy intersection in front of the Starbucks, and caught up with the bike lane. This led us back to River Road, where we heaved a sigh of relief because we found an off-road trail next to the Middle Arm of the Fraser River. A premature sigh of relief, as it turned out. Very, very premature.
The next few kilometers were, without a doubt, the WORST, MOST AWFUL so-called bike route I have ever been on. Take a look at these photos, and see what you think:
Then the “trail” stopped completely, and we had to cycle for many kilometres on River Road, a narrow road on which we were nervous every time a car passed. Then we were relieved to come across this:
But just 200 meters later, we came across this:
So we doubled back, and found ourselves with no choice but to continue on – wait for it – Westminster Highway! Boy, was that ever not fun! Sure, it had a bike lane, but if I wanted to spend my Sunday on a busy road full of speeding cars, I would NOT be consulting a document called “Trails”! Admittedly it is not a real highway, but usually I have a really strict rule about NEVER cycling on anything that has “highway” in its name. I’m an average cyclist, not a daredevil.
We were stuck on Westminster Highway for many horrible kilometres, and then, slap bang in the middle of nowhere, we came upon this sign:
Again, we had no choice but to push on. After ages on the now non-existent bike trail, we reached No. 6 road, which was quieter but had no shoulder, then Steveston Highway, which had a bike lane but was frightening, and eventually No. 5 road, which again had no shoulder and was downright scary. All the while, I was wishing I had got around to giving my mother copies of our insurance policies and wills, and wondering who was going to take care of the children, with us gone … really, really NOT having fun.
FINALLY, we got back to a trail beside the river, where for the first time that day, we encountered other cyclists:
After this, although the signage remained non-existent and we continued to feel lost and helpless, at least we were no longer in mortal danger. And there was finally something to look at that was not just speeding cars.
The next part of the ride was on the South Dyke Trail, which was safe and very beautiful, and which I will write about when I am feeling better about Richmond cycling. Then we came to the picturesque docks in the lovely village of Steveston, and stopped for a much-needed dinner at Correlis Mediterranean Grill Restaurant (and a medicinal glass of wine for our shattered nerves). Next was the lovely West Dyke Trail, and then we were finally back at Maggie’s car, happy to still be alive and in one piece, and vowing NEVER to trust a City of Richmond brochure again!
Come on, City of Richmond – this is a shameful, embarrassing excuse for a trail! Please stop advertising it until you’ve spent some money to make it safe enough for use by human beings.
- MANY more off-road trails
- SIGNAGE, for heaven’s sakes, so that people are not constantly lost!
- BIKE LANES on the parts where you cannot arrange off-road trails
- And to NOT be on major roads!
And in the meantime, the “Trails” brochure should warn people that the circumnavigation of the island is for skilled cyclists only, and NOT for families with children.
I would suggest that the City of Richmond takes a look at what has been achieved on another island – Vancouver Island. See for example my post on the Lockside Trail. Now that’s a situation in which the natural environment has been turned into an asset that can be enjoyed by all. Even more important, that’s a trail where people are SAFE – it’s not an embarrassing attempt to take credit for a complete shambles in which there has been no effort at all to make the natural environment fun and safe for people.
Here is the City of Richmond’s response to this post about Richmond cycling.
Click here for posts about great bike trails (that won’t kill you)
Alex P says
Richmond needs so much work on the bike network, it’s not even funny. I must say though, that tunnel looks kinda fun. I think I smell a YouTube video opportunity…
You know, that whole segment would be a great video opportunity, especially the tunnel. And I did not even mention all of the awful stuff there: random warning signs, parts where the path got so narrow you had to turn the handlebars sideways – it was like a bike route post nuclear holocaust!
Bill Barilko says
The cyclist Doth Protest Too Much!
I did the same trail this summer on a Saturday-it wasn’t perfect but few things in life are-and the tunnel under the sawmill added a bit of spice to the ride even as the fence was collapsing(!)
You fail to note that the Westminster Highway bike lane/trail is actually physically separated from traffic.
As to the municipality of Richmond responding to your concerns don’t hold your breath-they are a typical suburban clown show-the right hand rarely knows what the left is doing.
Mmm well, as they say, nothing is ever good or bad, but thinking makes it so. I am glad you had a good time, but I still have to say we were both terrified most of the time.
I don’t remember the Westminster Highway bike lane/trail being physically separated from traffic, and it isn’t in my photo – so I think perhaps we are thinking of different parts of the highway?
And I remain an optimist – amazing improvements have happened in the Vancouver cycling infrastructure, so anything is possible … although I concede I know nothing about the municipality of Richmond 🙂
I hit the sawmill trail last summer. I didn’t think it was too bad, except for a fence that was falling over onto the trail after the tunnel, just before you reach River Road. What was really missing was signage: even though I was following a line on a map, I couldn’t help wondering whether I was actually allowed to be there the whole time.
I used to occasionally bike from New West to work on No. 6 Road, so biking along River Road was like visiting an old friend. The difference is that I am in much better shape now, so it was a relatively quick ride, even with a bit of a headwind. I’ve never tried Westminster Highway.
Also on that trip (which started in Burnaby and crossed into Richmond on the Canada Line bridge) I ventured on the bike path towards the north of No. 3 Road. I ended up losing the scent of the trail, and took a bit of a dodgy path through some parking lots to get myself oriented back to where I started.
I’d like to explore Richmond further sometime, but I’m thinking that maybe I should wait ’til things are a bit more in order.
Hi Graeme. Yes, I saw a couple of guys on River Road who looked very comfortable and were going like the wind. If you’re very fit and very brave, I think it must be fun, because it’s flat. Westminster Highway also flat, but of course you need to be even braver.
Like you, one of our main beefs was that because there is so little signage, we were always worried we were lost. Didn’t help that we also forgot our GPS that day! But we weren’t too worried because we had a map. As it turned out, it was only because my wife happens to know Richmond well, and has some kind of strange internal GPS in her head, that we were able to find our way at all. But anyway, on the off-street bits, there was the worry that someone would pop up and arrest us for trespassing, or fine us for being on a “sidewalk.”
Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t be taking my wife—or even my 15-year-old son—along River Road, because they simply don’t have enough experience. There are some pretty deep ditches on the side of the road where one might end up if surprised by an eighteen-wheeler rushing past.
I imagine that the City of Richmond expects the dotted line on their map to scare off casual cyclists, but then they label it as a “Connector Route” on the map legend. That doesn’t sound so scary to me. TransLink’s map labels the most questionable section as “off-street unpaved”, which gives me pause when riding a commuter bike.
River Road is labelled as a “major street, shared lane (sometimes with shoulder)” with “no special treatment” on TransLink’s map, which is a little more helpful than “connector route”.
I agree – I would not dream of taking an inexperienced cyclist on most of that route. I was also completely fooled by “Connector Route”!
By the way, I normally prefer the term “off-street” to “off-road” when talking about bike paths, but in Richmond there doesn’t seem to be much difference.
What is the definition/difference betweeen off-street and off-road? I have not come across this distinction before.
I don’t know if there is an actual difference in definition, but to me “off-road” implies rough, unfinished terrain like one would tackle with a dirt bike or muddy Land Rover. “Off-street” would be a separated urban path like (most of) the CVG.
In Richmond, the two terms appear to be interchangeable.