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.
This is what Strathcona Centre's bike infrastructure looks like now:
The orange lines are off-street multi-use trails, and the yellow line is an on-street painted bike lane route that was installed a couple of years ago. I think it's quite amazing that the area has such high bike ridership with virtually no dedicated infrastructure.
The planned 83rd Street bike boulevard (shown in green) will make things better.
This will be an important commuter route, allowing people to by-pass Whyte Avenue comfortably. However, most people in Strathcona Centre will still live many blocks away from it. To become a neighbourhood like one in Amsterdam, one that people automatically start biking in when they move nearby, it needs to provide opportunities for all-ages cycling at every corner. I propose that the City of Edmonton turn Strathcona Centre into this:
The concept above would offer the tens of thousandes of residents of Strathcona Centre and the surrounding areas a rich, inviting, safe environment in which to ride their bikes. It offers multiple connections to the Farmers' Market, the University, Whyte Avenue, and the shopping district anchored by Save-On Foods on Calgary Trail. In short, it represents a critical mass of bicycle infrastructure, one that provides so many inviting options that it entices many, many people onto their bikes and transforms a neighbourhood, and with it a city.
Virtually everyone who moves to Copenhagen or Amsterdam gets a bike and rides it. Why? Because there is an awesome bike route steps from their house. Our strategy for our bicycle network rollout should be to "Amsterdam" one neighbourhood at a time, and we should start with Strathcona Centre Community.
Over the next couple of weeks I will write about each piece of my proposal to Amsterdam Strathcona Centre. While the monetary cost would not be insignificant, the political cost would be minimal because the changes would only minimally impact parking, and they would occur in a neighbourhood that will welcome them with open arms.