February 12, 2016

Twelve Days of Bicycles – Twelve Tourists Touring

After over two months of covering a diversity of cycling topics from group rides to protected intersections, there remains one last post in the “Twelve Days of Bicycles” series. Since I recently returned from the Caribbean and found some cycling tourism inspiration there, let’s wrap up this series and kick off some new travel talk at the same time!
Bicycle tour in Sint Maarten

Cycling tourism is currently on the rise and can take the form of bringing your bike on trains or aircraft to tour the countryside, using a foreign city’s bike share or rental program, or going on a bike tour. For my first trip to the Caribbean, two places stood out for cycling with contrasting views; San Juan, Puerto Rico and Sint Maarten – Saint Martin.

San Juan – Why Accessibility Matters
Cycle track along Highway 26 leading to Old San Juan
While walking around San Juan, I noticed there were some good quality bi-directional cycle tracks around the Condado Lagoon and through Parque Luis Munoz Rivera. There were also contraflow bike lanes which are not clearly marked; literally a yellow line with enough space for two-way bicycle traffic. Many cyclists could be seen around the city which, along with early morning joggers and beachgoers, provided similarities to Vancouver in terms of how serious they take fitness.
Unmarked contraflow lane next to Parque Luis Munoz Rivera
In spite of the large number of cyclists, I was disappointed with the lack of availability of bicycles for use by tourists. Unlike in Toronto and many other cities, San Juan did not have a public bike share system. Unless you stayed at a luxury hotel such as La Concha or Condado Vanderbilt - both of which offered complimentary bicycle usage for their guests – finding a bicycle rental shop could be considered impossible. When I was there, the rental shacks were closed without indicating when they were open, improperly marked, or ran out of bikes. This goes to show good quality cycling infrastructure does not guarantee the ability to take advantage of cycle tourism, given tourists must also have a convenient way to use them. With San Juan's fitness-oriented culture, that city could make a killing with a public bike share system.
If only San Juan got this message ...
As with Toronto, San Juan also had issues of vehicles parking in painted bike lanes and sharrows, which several recent reports discouraged their use.

Sint Maarten / Saint Martin - Sometimes Less Is More
Front Street in Phillipsburg
On the Dutch side of the island (Sint Maarten), I did a bike tour around the capital of Phillipsburg and nearby Fort Amsterdam. While Phillipsburg did not have any bike lanes, it was surprisingly pleasant to ride. The main road – Front Street (Voorstraat) – almost resembled a Dutch style Woonerf (neighbourhood street) where it was impossible for motorists to pass cyclists with only one traffic lane. Pedestrians could regularly be seen walking on the road, which appeared to blend with sidewalks at certain parts. For those cyclists wanting to avoid cars, the boardwalk served as a good option and parts of Front Street were occasionally closed off to motor vehicles. Little Bay Hill and Fort Amsterdam provided a good challenge, though less experienced cyclists ended up walking their bikes uphill. Still, the hills provided great views of the beach and town, as well as of pelican nesting areas by the fort. Another factor in providing a safe cycling environment was the presence of 30 km/h speed limits. For bicycle parking, Phillipsburg used green metal pedestals with two holes at the top.
Pelicans nesting by Fort Amsterdam
While the tour I did was the shortest of the three offered by Tri-Sport – the other two required a minimum group of four when booking through the Carnival cruise line – the guides provided a thorough history of the island and its tourism origins. Also never hurts to enjoy a beverage with fellow riders near the end. After the tour, one of the guides informed me Tri-Sport offers solo bike rentals in addition to tours, which I would consider for the next visit. Their website indicated those arriving by cruise ship could make reservations for an additional fee to pick up the bikes near the dock, as opposed to travelling over 10 kilometres to Simpson Bay near the Airport.
View of Phillipsburg from Little Bay Hill
Closing Thoughts

While there were some topics I was unable to cover such as education, winter sports, and partnerships with other community groups, this blog series proved the world of cycling is larger and more diverse than what meets the eye. In case you missed my previous posts, here are the links in the form of the final verse.

Twelve tourists touring
Eleven trails a blazing
Ten quaxers quaxing
Nine lives a saving
Eight curbs a calming
Seven pots a planting
Six noodles swaying
Five flashing lights

Four Lake Shore spans
Three book rides
Two legal friends
And a bike lane on Bloor Street!

Stay tuned for some Caribbean travel posts in the weeks ahead!

Rob Z (e-mail)

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