Edmonton Housing: The Bad and the Good

I work in Windermere (on the southwest edge of the city - south of Henday Drive) and see the kind of houses that are being built and find it kind of depressing.  Houses are framed with significant thermal bridging, there’s no thought towards orienting the streets or individual houses for maximum solar gain, many homes have just double pane windows and there’s not a single solar panel anywhere.

 
It’s not possible to squeeze another north-facing window on this house. These will be a net energy loss every year for the entire life of that house.


When I was a boy if we didn’t close the entrance door fully in the winter time, my father would chastise us by saying “What are you doing, trying to heat the great outdoors?”.  Apparently that’s what this house is designed to do as it has an outward facing gas fireplace built in to its side.

It was against the backdrop of the above that I ran across Oxford Phase 2 - a neighbourhood that requires all homes to be certified by either BuiltGreen Canada Gold, LEED Canada for Home, ENERGY STAR, R2000, or achieve a minimum EnerGuide rating of 80. Not only that, but people lined up overnight just for a chance to buy a lot!

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/Land+rush+hits+Edmonton+hopefuls+camp+overnight+individual+lots/9820878/story.html?__federated=1

http://www.edmonton.ca/business_economy/land_sales/oxford-subdivision.aspx

There is a demand for energy efficient homes in Edmonton.  I suspect that one of the primary reasons for someone to buy a lot in Oxford is the fact that you wouldn’t have to risk developing an advisarial relationship with your builder by pushing them to build a high efficiency home.  By building in Oxford, you can make the city the bad guy and say “I’d love to buy your standard home but, gosh darn it, the city is forcing me to get a certified house” then get the house you really wanted in the first place.

Ken

City Council Reboots Bike Initiative

Edmonton's planned high-quality bike routes 

After the bike wars of 2012, Edmonton city council has decided to rethink and reboot their strategy. Following the strong leadership of new councillor Michael Walters, YEG has decided to focus resources on building excellent, family-friendly bike infrastructure where cycling rates are already high, the city's core neighbourhoods.

So administration released the above map last week. Except for the 51s Avenue route, which to me doesn't follow the "build it in dense areas where the demand is highest" rule, I love the routes that they've suggested (these routes aren't set in stone, as they are subject to a new, very thorough consultation process that leaves the exact route as an option for the community to decide).

I did see something missing in the Strathcona area though. While there is a really nice grid downtown, there are no north-south routes in Edmonton's busiest cycling neighbourhood. So I attended a meeting of our most responsive level of government yesterday, and I was delighted with the results.

My proposal is to add a north-south route in the counterflow bus lane that travels north, parallel to Calgary Trail. I blogged about the idea here, and these are the simple pictures that I showed the transportation committee:

Proposed two-way cycle track on the 104 Street counterflow bus lane 

Location of the proposed two-way cycle track, the 104 Street counterflow bus lane  

I was very happy when the committee put forward a motion for administration to look into north-south routes in the Strathcona neighbourhood. Overall, the councillors were thoughtful and intelligent (With the exception of the always-hilarious Councillor Catarina. I know that I shouldn't say anything if I don't have anything nice to say, but Catarina's rude, uninformed manner were an insult to his post yesterday). 

What's Next?

Council is on the right track with its idea of only building Holland-quality routes, and putting them where they will be appreciated. So what in in store for the next six months? First of all, these routes are not yet funded. This Fall, council will vote on a four-year capital budget that may or may not fund the routes. It is critical to Edmonton's future as a cycling city that all of the routes (perhaps with the 51 Avenue one being replaced by a north-south Strathcona route) be fully funded. Secondly, these routes need to remain high quality. We, the cycling community, cannot accept any but the most minor concessions to them being high quality routes. No more sharrows! 

Action

There are two consultation processes going on right now, one each for the 83rd Avenue and 102 Avenue routes. Participate in either or both processes (83rd here, and 102 here), and stress the need for safe, comfortable, high quality routes. Also, contact your city councillor about funding these routes in the Fall. They will be under pressure to save money in the budget, but the comparitively (to other traffic infrastructure) modest outlay that they will require needs to be allocated. 

Edmonton's bicycle riders have waited many years to have some infrastructure available to us. We are many years behind cities like Calgary and Vancouver. It's time to get these routes funded, and to build them well. Council didn't disappoint me yesterday, and I expect even more of them when it comes time to finally fund these safe, family-friendly bike routes.

Amsterdamming Strathcona: 84th and 85th Avenue contra-flow lanes

Strathcona Centre Community, if it were given the Amsterdam treatment. 

Edmonton is attempting to turn itself into a bike-friendly city. There have been a few bumps along the way, as some neighbourhoods fight the change by pushing back against city council. Furthermore, much of the bicycle infrastructure that is costing our councillors this political price is arguably of low quality. It does make things better, especially for existing cyclists, but much of it is not high-quality enough to entice a large number of people onto their bikes.

I believe that our current city council is willing to fund some great infrastructure, and I am proposing a strategy that will minimize the political cost if the funds are there. Along with keeping the high-quality infrastructure that is planned in the current transportation plan (including 83rd, 102, and 105 Avenues), we should make certain neighbourhoods "perfect" for bikes. That is, we should Amsterdam them, make them into places where people automatically bike because there are great spaces for cycling all around. Beginning with Strathcona Centre Community, this strategy would entice a critical mass of people onto their bikes, creating a virtuous cycle where more people on bikes equals more people on bikes. It would help to prove the value of high-quality, high-density cycling infrastructure, and lead the way for more neighbourhoods to get the treatment.

I am writing a multi-piece series on how Edmonton could "Amsterdam" Strathcona Centre neighbourhood at minimal political cost:

  1. Amsterdamming Neighbourhoods: An Edmonton Bike Infrastructure Strategy 
  2. Amsterdamming Strathcona: 84th and 85th Avenue contra-flow lanes


Amsterdamming Strathcona: 84th and 85th Avenue Contraflow Lanes

 This is a contraflow bike lane:

(source

When a one-way street provides an inconvenience to a motor vehicle, a contraflow lane can eliminate it for cyclists. I think that providing someone on a bicycle an exclusive advantage over cars is an important piece of psychology that entices people onto their bikes. In Stratchona Centre Community, we have an opportunity to provide this convenience without losing a single car parking stall, and whilst providing no extra inconvenience to vehicles.

As an aside, I have railed against "just paint on roads" bike lanes before, so why am I in favour of contra-flow bike lanes in some situations? There are two answers. Firstly, if cars go slowly on a street (30 km/h or less), then cyclists can share the road with them safely and comfortably. On 84th and 85th avenues, although the speed limit is a ludicrous 50 km/h, the conditions usually lead to vehicles driving quite slowly on them (I state this from extensive personal experience rather than hard data). Secondly, I consider these contra-flow lanes high-quality infrastructure because they offer people on bikes a special convenience that vehicles don't have (rather than just providing a redundant place for bikes on an already-safe strip of residential road, for example) .

Proposed contraflow bike lanes for 84th and 85th avenues, between Gateway Boulevard and 109 street. 

Some time in Edmonton's past, city planners decided to make 84th and 85 Avenues, just north of Whyte between Gateway Boulevard and 109 Street, one-way streets.  read more... »

Amsterdamming Neighbourhoods: An Edmonton Bike Infrastructure Strategy

In a city like Amsterdam everyone rides bikes, young or old. 

The City of Edmonton has a growing number of bicycle riders that it wants to support for all kinds of reasons. However, initial attempts to build out a network of bicycle lanes have encountered resistance from some communities. So much so that Ward 10 Councillor Michael Walters made a campaign promise to have a meeting about the newly-installed lanes in his ward within a month of his getting elected.

The thing is, as I argued in a recent post, the painted, on-street bike lanes don't offer much to new bike riders, those not already engaged in the activity. They do increase safety for those on the road by 50% (source). However, most people do not want to share the road with fast-moving vehicles. So the current strategy, in my opinion, will not provide us with the breakthrough in ridership that our city needs to increase livability and offer the high levels of safety provided by large numbers of bike riders on the road.

The city has already decided to prioritize the construction of major bike routes on 102 Avenue and 83 Avenue. This is a step in the right direction, as those routes are high-quality infrastructure (not just lines on the road), and they are located in dense areas where ridership is already high.

However, I would like to propose an even more aggressive strategy. I think that we should "Amsterdam" neighbourhoods, one at a time, to create a critical mass of infrastructure in these dense, bike-friendly areas. These neighbourhoods would become showpieces and destinations. They would fill up with bikes, and their success would be obvious to critics and supporters alike. This strategy would create truly safe biking environments, and it would create space, politically-speaking, for more infrastructure elsewhere.

Strathcona Centre, arguably the cultural heart of the city, has 10,000 inhabitants, 5% of whom bike to work most of the time (with a much higher percentage making bike trips for other reasons).  Furthermore, it is surrounded by the city's other highest percentage biking communities (Belgravia, Mckernan, Ritchie, Park Allen, Queen Alex, Garneau, and of course Strathcona itself are in the top 10). It is the epicentre of cycling in Edmonton, and it should be our pilot project for Amsterdamming neighbourhoods.

As an important bonus, I will propose a way to do it with minimal loss of parking and disruption to drivers.  read more... »