For more background that led up to this project, see this post: Bike Route, in Theory
There are a bunch of side streets in Vancouver that are designated bicycle routes. I like to ride my bicycle for fun, but mostly I’m riding to get somewhere. I frequently ride on East 10th Ave, Woodland Drive, Windsor St, and Ontario St (all “bike routes”). But something was missing from the bicycle routes around my neighbourhood. There were no clearly visible, obvious signs. You know, something that pops out at you and speaks in a clear assertive voice, “this is a bike route – expect more cyclists than usual!” You might think that a bike route is better to cycle on than similar, non-designated streets. You would hope it would be safer. And maybe, just maybe, a bike route would have fewer cars than a regular, non-bike route?
So. The dearth of signage…lead me to but one conclusion: We should make signs. They would hang at roundabouts alerting vehicle drivers to the fact that they are about to cross or turn onto a bike route. I’ve seen many vehicle drivers get caught on the bike route, with cyclists riding both ways – and they stop driving, seeming to not know how to proceed. I bet they would have chosen to avoid the bike route, had they seen a sign!
This project took quite a bit longer than anticipated. It also mostly took place over the summer, which in Vancouver is very distracting with parks and beaches bathed in sunshine, as long days ease into evenings. Another factor was that I didn’t know much about making signs, especially ones to be hung outside. Luckily, my housemate Jodi Mayne is a bona fide struggling artist. She’s painted several murals and outdoor signs for community gardens, among other things. And she was totally down with helping make this project happen, yay hooray! And she wasn’t the only one – we roped in many other people over the ensuing months.
We started collecting wood. Abandoned plywood pieces were found all around the city in alleys. Jodi asked Windsor Plywood in Vancouver if they would donate their leftover pieces of wood that were at least 3′ x 3′. They said they didn’t have much, but to us it was a bonanza! A pile of wood, even needed to cut some pieces down. We figured on square-ish pieces of wood, about 2-3 feet on each side.
Community involvement was part of the plan – so when we hosted our annual Block Party we set up boards, paints and an example. People were invited to paint a background, upon which we would later stencil the bicycle and word ROUTE in a contrasting colour. Quite a number of boards were painted that day. And over the next weeks, we invited friends, lovers and strangers to help paint the remaining sign backgrounds.
I made a stencil of a bicycle, another stencil with the word ROUTE, as well as a couple of arrows. Not as easy to make a bicycle stencil as I had hoped. I went for spoke-less wheels. Then, we began spray-painting the stencils onto each board. As it turns out, we couldn’t fit both the bicycle and word ROUTE on some of the signs. Oh well. Most had the room for at least the bicycle – and we didn’t want to obscure too much of the backgrounds in some cases with both stencils. Once painted, I added onto the back a stencil with Info: my phone #. I pondered over that for awhile – is this a good idea? It seemed like there should be some contact info in case someone has issues with its location. But will I get creepy phone calls at all hours? Nope, not a single one yet. They’ve been up for about a year though, so we’ll see. The grant funders said that as long as the signs are ‘artistic’, the community can make signs for their neighbourhood. Well, I do do Artistic…
After the paint had dried, holes for hanging needed to be drilled. Housemate who is a finishing carpenter? Good person to ask. Have I mentioned that we made 22 signs in total. That’s 44 holes. Thanks Shane!
With the holes drilled, the next and final, enduring, ongoing, neverending step was dumb stupid varnishing.
Want to hang wood signs with acrylic paint outside and have them last awhile? Need to weatherproof it. The best stuff for this job, I hear, is marine varnish (makes sense, seeing as boats really need to not leak). So I head down to the Fisherman’s Wharf near Granville Island. There is a bin full of rejected pails of whoknowswhat that I pick through, with the help of some kind dock workers. Sadly, nothing useful.
So…to the store to buy varnish, digging a bit past the grant money here, but what’s the point of coming this far only to have the signs disintegrate in the rain?! NO SENSE, we said, and so varnish we did. About 2 or 3 coats, front, back and edges. Weather had to be nice enough so they would dry outside – we didn’t have any varnishing facilities, as you might imagine.
After all the varnish had dried, next we had to hang them the hanging. We hung them on roundabouts with brackets and bolts – a serious bunch of metal bits, they are! Or, as it is known in the metal biz – ‘extruded aluminum’. I found the place where the City of Vancouver gets their hardware, and the nice folks there gave me the same unit price as the City gets on their bulk purchases! Thanks, Dyna Engineering.
UPDATE August 2016
I have kept an eye on the bike signs through the years. Most are still there. Some have just disappeared. Some were relocated, when the City dropped the median signs to be shorter (they kindly attached the bike signs on the inside, instead of throwing them away). I collected them back as they were moved. Then one sunny day in Summer 2016, we went and gave the reclaimed signs new homes along Slocan bike route and nearby. Bike signs live on!