What Now? Making Whyte Ave Safer for Cyclists (part 1)

Owly Images

(photo credit: Chris Chan, Edmonton Bicycle Commuters)

In the wake of the tragedy that took Isaak Kornelsen's life recently, I'm wondering: what now? I'd like to see the cycling community present a vision of a safe, bikable Whyte Avenue corridor to the city.

I am writing a three-part series on approaches to bike infrastructure that the city could take:

  1. a separated bike path right on Whyte Avenue
  2. the "tempting alternative routes" approach: two off-Whyte bike routes to pull cyclists away from the Avenue
  3. A North-South Connector Along Calgary Trail

A separated bike path on Whyte Avenue (one, bi-directional path)

First off, I have eliminated on-Whyte painted bike lanes as a possibility. There is not a lot of data about whether they actually keep cyclist safe, but I'm going to go ahead and declare them a failure right now. I know that I wouldn't ride in them, especially when they would almost certainly put cyclists squarely in the door zone (the space on the road that an opening car door opens into) like they do on 76th avenue.

I will also not consider two separated bike paths, one on either side of Whyte. Although at first blush it may seem safer to have cyclists on either side of the road I think that the "total intervention" strategy, where every intersection is redesigned with the bike path in mind (rather than just having the bikes integrate at every intersection) would be safer in the end. The more disruptive option would do more to increase motorist awareness. (Plus, virtually every single image that appears when Googling "separated bike lane" is of a two-way bike lane. I think that it's the way the cities are going.)

(source)

A bike lane like the one pictured above, with bicycles riding in both directions on one side of the street, would involve a major re-engineering of Whyte Avenue traffic patterns.

This would involve disallowing turning off of Whyte by vehicles in some intersections (where there are no traffic lights), and the changing of some traffic signals to allow bikes to clear the intersection before vehicles turn off of the avenue. Some streets would encounter a dead end at Whyte Avenue, and traffic would likely have to be slowed (to 40 km/h) to increase safety at intersections.

It would go from Mill Creek bridge to 112 street.

There are precedents to this type of bike path (two-way, one side, along a busy street) in other cities. Here's a video describing Vancouver's Dunsmuir bike path:

Obviously, this type of bike path would drastically change Whyte Avenue. Traffic moving through the area would be much slower, making it more pedestrian-friendly (and safer for pedestrians I might add). The effect would be greater on the bike-path side of Whyte, reclaiming a large piece of the Avenue back to the human sphere. It would obviously also make the cycling experience safer and more fun.

Of course, there are disadvantages, the primary one being the howling rage of motorists who want nothing more than to get through Old Strathcona as fast as possible. This type of bike path would make it less convenient to move east-west through the city, and given that the next available option is Argyll Road, there is some validity to this complaint.

Next up: the "tempting alternative routes" approach: two off-Whyte bike routes to pull cyclists away from the Avenue

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Seriously? The suggestions for uber-major concessions/disruptions for vehicles, that only serve to give cyclists who do not obey the rules now as it is even more leeway to do what they wish, is, to me, ludicrous. I understand that your goal is, obviously, to have everyone in Edmonton riding their bikes during any kind of temperature, but... common sense dictates otherwise. Again, seriously?

Ed,

You lay several charges in that paragraph, a couple of which have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

"...cyclists who do not obey the rules..."

A tired argument my friend. Cars also don't obey the rules. They speed, roll through stop signs, etc. I'm getting bored just typing this sentence.

"...your goal...to have everyone in Edmonton riding their bikes during any kind of temperature..."

Ah, the "Edmonton has 15 months of winter so bikes aren't valid" argument. A real chestnut! Too late, the Whyte Avenue corridor is already full of bikes during any kind of temperature.

Finally, your "howling rage" is, in my opinion (and I apologize that this will offend you), symptomatic of the deep sense of entitlement that people have when they get behind the wheel. You demand that the city be designed entirely to get you around quickly, with no regard to the danger that you impose on others.

Are you aware that a cyclist died on Whyte Avenue recently? Is the pain felt by his loved ones really worth a few seconds of convenience for you?

You may be happy to know that I personally am not advocating for a two-way separated bike lane on Whyte. I know that the outraged motorists would be quite a force to fight, and I think that we should pick our battles. Please refer to this post and this one for my advocated solutions.

Ed's argument could be re-framed in a much more legitimate fashion if he left out the 'cyclists who don't obey the rules' bit. Most people that don't obey the rules on the road are piloting 2800+lbs of metal, rubber, glass and plastic.

HOWEVER, let us ignore that part and turn attention to the obvious fact that such proposed bicycle infrastructure would indeed disrupt traffic. From what I know about Whyte, it is a major east-west corridor, and it serves a variety of vehicles that do not originate or terminate in the immediate community; an unfortunate part of the layout of the roads, but current reality.

Impeding that movement of vehicles potentially doesn't just 'inconvenience' people as much as it might affect people/business/etc. beyond the immediate community. I don't know what the traffic numbers on Whyte are like in a given day, but I would be willing to bet that plugging up an east-west artery puts pressure on other areas.

So there is another kind of entitlement, I think. One that says, "I deserve my own ______ because the current way isn't convenient enough for me." In two years of full-season 83rd/84th ave cycling I have only had two 'the city should fix this' moments: signage and potholes. I usually dismount 109th and 99th.

I can see the advantage of a segregated lane off Whyte because it would make MANY people feel safer. But because I don't particularly feel the need for one myself, I can't really demand it. That would be entitlement.

Fair comment cryptocyclist, and thanks.

You're right, losing a lane on Whyte would be a major disruption, one that would have a big impact, and one that I acknowledged at the end of my post.

As far as entitlement, I think that there's a big difference between demanding safe, comfortable places to travel (comfortable as in, cyclists don't need to feel afraid or in danger) and demanding speed. Shouldn't everyone actually be entitled to a safe place to travel? On the other hand, people shouldn't necessarily be entitled to drive fast, all of the time. Especially when the lives of others are on the line.

Yes indeed there is a major difference, but I think it's a little presumptuous to assume (yet I am now also going to make an assumption) that motorists are only demanding speed.

Everyone should, of course, have a safe and comfortable infrastructure on which to travel, but how feelings of safety and convenience translate into said infrastructure is a tough nut to crack. I feel very safe on my commute, but that could simply be ignorance - conversely some people could feel very afraid in much the same way.

It will be interesting to hear thoughts and ideas coming out of the 'town hall'. I'm glad you've drawn attention to the various perspectives on improved cycling infrastructure in this area.

Just for curiosity, cryptocyclist, what would motorists stand to lose except speed? It might take longer to drive (=less convenient, same thing) and there might be less parking (also about speed--"it shouldn't take me this long to find parking"). What am I missing here?

Having been both a taxi and bus driver, as well as having owned a few motor vehicles,and been a Garneau-living year-round commuter for 25 years on bikes, I feel that I can look with a sensible perspective at both sides.
This whole business of bicycle activism and promotion is great....but it gets scary-dumb when the ideology overrides your common sense.
Getting out into busy traffic because you have Rights....is just dangerous and Dumb. One street over is tranquil....next to no traffic.
It looks to me like being happy isn't making these cyclists happy....making someone else unhappy will do it for them, though.
Explain to me why someone would even want to BE on the street with all the cars when we could cycle....or even have the bike lane one block off the busy street.
Did the RailsForTrails....Trails across Canada fight with traffic on The TransCanada Highway....for rights to their own lane?
No! They get completely away from the traffic by using renovated train tracks. Isn't this tranquility and closeness to Nature what cycling is about?
What is it about cycling in the city that makes people so NUTS
that they not only want to ride on the busy/polluted street....but also fight to take away some room for the cars....just so the cyclist can assert his rights....to be in all that pollution?

Thanks for the comment Chris.

Let's look at recently deceased cyclist Isaak Kornelsen, shall we? He was commuting to his job at Cafe Mosaics from the east. 83rd Avenue is one-way, heading east, as of 104 Street.

Is it reasonable to have expected him to ride four blocks out of his way (from Whyte to 84th Avenue and then back) to find a safe route?

How far do cars have to drive out of their way to find a safe route?

This is not about ideology or taking anything away from cars. It's about providing reasonable safe alternatives to a marginalized, endangered group of commuters.

One more point, biking isn't necessarily about nature (ie. recreation) anymore. The high number of cyclists in and around the Whyte Avenue corridor are getting around, not going for pleasure rides.

The Whyte avenue area is one of Edmonton's few gems. It is one of the few places that draw people to socialize, walk, eat, drink.

To also maintain Whyte avenue as a main vehicle through fare is insane.
When I drive I go 63 Ave. It is usually faster than Whyte anyway.

Look at cities in Europe. They know how to build livable cities by routing through traffic around areas where people aggregate to walk, bike, and socialize.

Some create pedestrian/bike streets (e.g. Stroget in Copenhagen) Some allow deliveries and local traffic, but discourage through traffic by e.g. low speed limits and other traffic engineering means (In countries like Germany people simply obey "no through route" signs. In France automatically retracting "bollards" using RFID allow the delivery vehicles, but keep private cars out during peak pedestrian times)

Getting the through traffic off Whyte will be a win, not specifically for cyclists, but for everyone!

Martin

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