On Tuesday October 11th, City Council unanimously voted in favour of a minimum bike grid for our downtown core. As bike lanes have been the most common issue raised over the last three years, I want to provide some additional information about where we have come from and where we are headed in 2017.
Bike Lane History
In September 2013, a month before the election, bike lanes were installed on 95th Avenue in the West End. I remember when this happened because the day after they were installed on 95th Avenue, the conversations I had at the doors and via email were dominated by those lanes. While I did receive the rare email of support, the vast majority of people were opposed to those lanes and felt they were a waste of money. What was interesting is that the majority of those conversations from people who opposed the 95th Avenue bike lane would also add that they were not completely opposed to any bike infrastructure but that it should be focused in the core.
It was that thinking that resulted in Council’s unanimous support for bike lanes on 102nd Avenue from 136th Street to 99th Street and on 83rd Avenue from 111th Street to Mill Creek Ravine. The reason I supported those lanes during the budget deliberations in 2014 was because we were building separated infrastructure in the core. Specific for 102nd Avenue, there would be no impact to those who drive in everyday along that stretch from 136th Street to 124th Street. Now that the 102nd Avenue bridge is open, you can see for yourself what that infrastructure looks like. I believe it is a fairly good example of how to build bike infrastructure in Edmonton.
While these lanes were under construction, Calgary City Council moved forward with a pilot in their downtown. As you can see by some of the more recent stories, their pilot has been quite successful. The success of Calgary’s grid spurred Paths for People to reach out to Stantec and see if they would be willing to support a similar grid in Edmonton’s downtown. Stantec agreed to cover half of the cost of a detailed analysis that would identify roads in our downtown core that are under capacity and could support the removal of a lane of traffic and still be under capacity. You can read the 55 page report here and by clicking on Attachment 1 of Item 6.4.
As you will have seen in the report, while there are some roads that will see a lane reduction (ex: 102nd Avenue) the volume of traffic can easily support that reduction. For 102nd Avenue specifically, there is already a bus/bike/taxi lane in each direction so this change would not have a noticeable impact on those that need to drive. That same report completed by Stantec also shows why they did not identify spots like Jasper Avenue as a location to remove a lane of traffic as it is already one of our busiest downtown roads. Although 104th Avenue was identified, you will notice that the approach is not to remove a lane of traffic but rather to widen some of the existing sidewalk infrastructure to create a multi-use trail. This is the type of analysis I would expect to see for any conversation around transportation infrastructure.
While the Stantec report is valuable, it does not address the financial conversation. Many, including myself, found the 95th Avenue bike lane to be a poor use of our money. The cost of painting and removing lines may have been low in comparison to other projects, but considering the 95th Avenue bike lane did not create new ridership, it was not money well spent. People often raised concerns about money needing to be spent on our repairing our roads as they were not in great shape. Thankfully that was addressed during the budget deliberations in December 2014. Council approved approximately $1.043 billion for repairing our roadway network from 2015-18. That is the highest per year investment ever made in our roadway network and it is starting to pay off.
Recognizing that our roads were finally receiving the proper investment, it made it easier to support an investment in active transportation. Active transportation includes sidewalks, multi-use trails and bike lanes. I have spoken with people who view any money spent on bike lanes as a waste but I feel that all methods of transportation do require some level of investment. Looking specifically at the separated downtown grid, the cost to build this does not require any new money. If you click on Attachment 2 of the report I linked to above, you can see exactly how this will be funded but I will provide a brief breakdown of the $7.5 million total:
- $1.7 million will come from the previously approved 102nd Avenue bike lane. The current scope of this capital profile includes the construction of bike lanes on 102 Avenue from 96 Street to 136 Street. Funds previously allocated for bike lanes from 96 Street to Railtown Park will be utilized for this same portion of the Downtown bicycle grid.
- $3.128 million comes from our previously approved Active Transportation budget which includes budget that was originally intended for Downtown cycling improvements analogous to the Downtown bike grid.
- $2 million comes from our previously approved Complete Streets budget. The Complete Streets program constructs roadway infrastructure that is needed to complete a street to ensure that the design reflects the surrounding area such as sidewalks, curb ramps, bicycle infrastructure, additional lanes.
- $700,000 will come from the Traffic Controller System Conversion capital profile which is intended to upgrade the communications systems of traffic signal controllers. This is work that would have taken place regardless of whether or not bike lanes were installed as the signals were approaching the end of their lifecycle.
Why I Support the Grid
Based on the cost breakdown above combined with the detailed traffic impact analysis, I was happy to support this project. I understand that we will likely never reach a point where a majority of people in our city will bike as their primary mode of transportation. Before June 2014, I never would have thought that I would bike year-round. I knew some people who did bike year-round and I was always shocked to hear they would bike in the winter.
It was only after I took a ride with a group of Ward 1 residents in June 2014 that I started to realize that cycling to and from City Hall was not as hard as I thought it would be. After a few months of cycling every day, I made the decision to try and continue cycling through the winter and what I realized was that winter cycling was no different than winter driving or winter walking. You put on a few extra layers to stay warm, you ensure that you have the right gear (ex: winter tires or boots with good grip) and you leave yourself an extra 10-15 minutes to get to your destination. It was surprising as I had always assumed it was for a small group of people who only needed to travel a short distance.
The point of the story above is not to convince people to start biking – although it is great exercise – but rather to make sure people know that people that bike are just like people that drive or people that walk. We all pay property taxes that go to infrastructure and services in the city and in most cases we all use multiple methods of transportation. Although I primarily bike, I still drive, walk and take transit. But regardless of whether or not people use other methods of transportation, I believe it is reasonable to spend a small percentage of our city’s transportation budget on active transportation. Creating safe infrastructure for people that drive, bike, walk or take transit is important to me and I hope this post has helped provide some context about why I believe the downtown bike grid was worth supporting.