cycling

Submission to council: bike infrastructure


March 13, 2013

Dear city council,

Let me introduce my family: Conrad (myself), Rechel, and our two kids Jacob and Luc. We recently built a new house in Strathcona Centre Community, and we are committed to our wonderful neighbourhood and city.

When Rechel and I first married in 1999, we lived the sedentary lives of office workers, driving to work and to most other places too. We realized that our habits weren’t healthy, so we decided to make some changes.

Since then, our family has participated in active transportation. We walk or bike almost everywhere. In fact, four years ago we went car-free. We love being outside and experiencing the city up close.

Our family is happy, healthy and active. However, we don’t feel that the city is doing enough to keep us safe on our bikes. Last year, Isaak Kornelsen died only a few blocks from our house. In my opinion his death was due to a lack of bicycle infrastructure.

Please keep us and our children safe on the road by building a high-quality bike infrastructure network. Bike infrastructure saves lives, and it promotes an activity that saves Edmonton money and keeps Edmontonians healthy.

Sincerely,

Conrad Nobert

Bikes and the City

Mayor Stephen Mandel breaking Edmonton's bike laws by riding on the sidewalk. Who can blame him, there's no bike infrastructure! (photo source: Edmonton Sun)

What a month it has been for Edmonton's cycling community. The city started its consultation process for the next phase of on-street bike lanes that will (hopefully) be rolled out this summer. Once residents of Ritchie discovered that they would be losing some on-street parking, they started to complain to the media.

The first consultation meeting at Hazeldean school was tense. Well attended by cyclists and non-cyclists alike, apparently there were some vocal discussions. Councillor Diotte complained that "hard-core cyclists started it" (paraphrase). I wasn't privy to any of the so-called shouting matches, but someone did rudely initiate a "conversation" with me about how cyclists should be licensed. He must have been a hardcore non-cyclist; and yes, he started it.

Of course, the next morning our mayor ludicrously called the bike plan a "nightmare", throwing his employees under the bus for good measure by declaring "seems someone behind [the] scenes out there has just decided we’re going to eliminate all vehicles and only have bikes".

The Pushback

The pushback to this anti-bike lane pushback has been impressive. Over 150 pro-bike lane phone calls were received by the mayor's office the week of his unfortunate comments, and many people defended the bike lane plan on comment boards and on Twitter.

However, I personally found it exhausting reading and responding to the vicious input of a segment of "hard-core motorists" with no empathy for us most-vulnerable of road users. Outbursts like "once you get licensed and insured...", "once you all start following the law...", and "there are only 40 cyclists in Edmonton anyway" are discouraging at best.

PIMBY

We have achieved critical mass. There are enough pro-bike infrastructure Edmontonians that we can make things happen. I suggest that, rather than passively letting the city underfund a watered-down barely useful compromise of a bike plan, we decide where we would most like to see excellent bike infrastructure, and we ask for it.

Please, In My Backyard (PIMBY) groups are really fun to be a part of. I found it refreshing to attend a meeting about getting good bike lanes in Oliver and Downtown after spending the week arguing with jerks on Twitter about why I deserve to exist. A proactive, coalition building group asking for excellent infrastructure is a joy to work with, and has the best chance at making everyone (including residents) happy about new bike lanes.

We have alread formed a group for 83rd Avenue and 104th Street bike lanes called Complete Streets Strathcona. The "west of downtown" group had is inaugural meeting last week. What other areas in Edmonton need high-quality bike infrastructure?

Quality vs. Quantity

I'm repeating myself here, but Edmontonians who cycle need something decent to ride on. The current bike plan will install so-so bike lanes, and often in places where few people bike. Paula Simons wote a nice column about the issue.

I will continue to push the issue forward in Strathcona, and I encourage you to start or support a PIMBY group in your area. As for the 2013 plan? It's better than nothing, and I will be speaking to city council on March 13 (with my bike riding family in tow) to try to save the best parts of it.

RIP Isaak Kornelsen: Thoughts from a fellow cyclist.

Have you experienced death yet?

I was 37 when the true devastating effect of losing someone hit home. Last year my friend Graham Miller was killed on his motorbike, through no fault of his own (not that it matters - he's gone regardless). He was someone who was important to me, and whom I talked to most days. His death left me reeling with grief and loss.

That's part of the reason that I felt sick when I heard about the tragic event that took Isaak Kornelsen's life on Monday morning. That feeling of mild nausea is accompanied by anger, because it didn't have to be this way.

I'm sure it was politically expedient many years ago to lump cyclists with motor vehicles when Alberta was writing its traffic laws. At the time, cycling was a fringe leisure activity, and there were fewer cars (I'm guessing) per kilometre of road than there are now. Furthermore, cycling would occur mostly in the suburbs, by kids and their parents on Sunday rides.

Fast forward to the modern age, when many Edmontonians want to treat the bicycle as the legitimate transportation choice that it is. When I started cycle commuting 15 years ago, it became clear to me that there is no legal safe place for bikes in many situations. Unless a bike commuter is willing to get off the bike and walk it on the sidewalk (if there is one) many times every trip, there will be times when a cyclist is in danger if he follows the law.

Legally and structurally, there is simply no room for cyclists on many Edmonton streets.

That's why it's so maddening to hear the Edmonton Police dismiss the event as a "freak accident". When a relatively slow-moving, fragile human body is forced to travel between parked vehicles, from which doors could fly out into the lane at any time, and 60,000 pound cement trucks, there is nothing freaky about the inevitable tragedy.

Isaak didn't stand a chance. He was obeying the law, as opposed to the many living, safe(r) outlaws who rode Whyte's sidewalks on Monday.

We need to have a frank discussion in this city about how to make cycling safer.

That discussion needs to give the pain and suffering of victims and their families more weight than it has in the past. Until now, motorist convenience and saving money have won the day.

We need to put everything on the table. Separated bike lanes, bike-oriented traffic controls, speed humps to slow cars down, slower speed limits, allowing bikes on some sidewalks. I even think we should consider banning bikes from the most dangeous routes (after having provided alternative parallel bike routes).

If you've known death, you'll know that paying a few more dollars in taxes or sitting a couple of minutes longer in traffic is a small price to pay to avoid the loss of the precious people around us.

My heart goes out to Isaak's family. Today, theirs is a burden I wouldn't wish on anyone.