Ty Driscoll clears air during his mountain bike jump in Haro Woods last month. The fate of the area remains uncertain as Saanich staff continue to wrestle with the question of allowing cycling in the area. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Saanich won’t put brakes on Haro Woods cyclists

Minutes show Saanich staff want to allow “recreational and family cycling” in popular recreation area

Minutes show Saanich staff want to allow “recreational and family cycling” in a popular recreation area but continue to wrestle with key details, as the cycling community would be “grateful” to use a portion of the area.

These details emerge from the minutes of the April 26 meeting of Saanich’s parks, trails and recreation advisory committee. While limited, this record nonetheless offers instructive insights into the issues of allowing bicycles in Haro Woods.

Located off Arbutus Road in the Cadboro Bay neighbourhood, the park has become a destination for walkers, joggers and cyclists, drawing users from inside and outside of Saanich. But this popularity has also caused environmental damage, while sparking conflict among groups of users, and the future of park remains uncertain after Saanich staff delayed the release of a management plan to solicit more input over the question of allowing cycling in the park. A petition launched last month has asked Saanich to enforce its current prohibition against cycling in the area, an option that staff that does not favour.

“Staff do not wish to prohibit recreational and family cycling in the park,” it reads in the minutes with the comments attributed to Gary Darrah, manager of parking planning. The minutes acknowledge that cycling violates existing zoning for Haro Woods, but also point out that “[riding] has been going on in the park for many years.”

Cycling, in other words, has become a de facto activity in the area, and Saanich appears reluctant to enforce existing prohibitions against it, a point that appears elsewhere in the minutes. “Enforcement is an issue as there are only [two] dedicated [bylaw] officers in Saanich,” it reads. This said, language that distinguishes between different categories of cycling leaves open the possibility that Saanich could introduce some regulatory regime.

One possibility could see Saanich reserve areas of the park for downhill riding and dirt jumping. Saanich could also ban cycling in Haro Woods, but create an alternative location for cyclists in the area, an option that staff appears to have rejected for “there is nothing suitable in the immediate vicinity of Haro Woods” according to the minutes.

The minutes also offer insights, albeit filtered, into the thinking of local cyclists who use the park, a group, whose members have so far remained silent, at least publicly.

According to the minutes, Saanich met with unidentified “representatives from the cycling community” in mid-March. Cyclists using Haro Woods represent a “diverse group” of individuals from “young and older adults,” who “care about pedestrians and the environment.”

According to the minutes, the “cycling community would be grateful if allowed to use specific areas.”

Saanich staff have said it could take months until the current round of public input has wrapped against the backdrop of growing opposition to cycling in Haro Woods. Saanich staff have also faced accusations of rigging the process in favour of cycling, charges Saanich has denied.

The question of allowing bicycles in Haro Woods has also resonated beyond the immediate neighbourhood. According to the minutes, Mount Douglas and Madrona Farm have witnessed a “[noticeable] increase in cycling.” The committee also heard from attending members of the public that biking “is impacting the use of the area by local daycares.”

The Saanich News has reached out to Saanich staff and will update story as comments become available.

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