The Future of Bike Infrastructure in Edmonton

I spent the summer cycling with my family in Europe. It was our first time riding in cities that take bikes seriously, and it was a real treat. From Utrecht, Holland to Strasbourg, France to all of Belgium, we had had no idea how transformative it is for a place to be filled with quiet, safe bikes.

And do you know what we never saw? We never saw good infrastructure that wasn't filled with people riding bikes. 

My seven and nine year olds enjoying the streets of Strasbourg, France.

While we were travelling Europe, Michael Walters and other municipal candidates were knocking on doors in preparation for the October election. What many of them heard, according to an article today by David Staples in the Edmonton Journal (EJ Paywall) is frustration about many of the bike lanes that have been installed over the past couple of years.

In fact, the backlash is so great that Walters and Brian Anderson are calling for a moratorium on new bike lanes in the city until a new plan can be drawn up. And while I disagree with some points in the article, with Walters' seemingly blanket statement that bike lanes are "superfluous" for example, I agree with the gist of it. I don't think the current strategy is working.

In summer 2012, my family took a bike ride out to the west end, and we stumbled upon some new bike lanes that had been painted on 69th avenue near the new Lois Hole Library. Great, right? Not so much. We chose to ride on the sidewalk. Here is an aerial view of part of the bike lane:

New bike lanes on 69th Avenue and about 176th Street

As you can see, just above the street is a nice wide sidewalk that is physically separated by the street. The choice to put my young children (and therefore myself as well) on that sidewalk rather than have them share the street with cars driving at 60 km/h is a no-brainer. Sorry, but that street, white bike-lane paint and all, is a dangerous place. White paint does not change the laws of physics.

In this example, as in many around Edmonton, the city chose quantity over quality. They put in quite a few kilometres of bike lanes that make current users, the strong and fearless cyclists who are already comfortable on Edmonton streets, marginally more comfortable and safe, while offering nothing for those not comfortable in traffic. And this is where I agree with Michael Walter's statement that “we need to move away from this quantity over quality attitude when it comes to infrastructure in Edmonton.”

The reason that so many people ride in the cities that I visited in Europe is that they have bike lanes that are comfortable and safe for all riders, including families with young children. And I welcome a plan of action that would have Edmonton stop spending money and political capital on half measures that make nobody happy.

I think that we, the cycling community, need to take a hard look at getting behind a short moratorium on building bike lanes under the current strategy. This would be a gesture of good faith and trust in our new city council that a new, well-funded, better strategy would replace it.

A new strategy would focus on building high quality bike infrastructure in the parts of the city where it is wanted and where there is enough density to support it (I wrote about where and why people already cycle in a previous post). High-quality infrastructure, built in a critical mass in neighbourhoods where people already cycle a lot, would be transformative to our city.

Can we trust this new city council to make a strong push to craft the strategy quickly, and to fund it well? I hope so. I'm impressed with Michael Walters, our new mayor Don Iveson, and many of the other councillors. Let's give them a chance to hit restart on our city's biking strategy. Let's choose our spots, and in those spots let's make any person who wants to cycle feel safe and comfortable. Then, cycling as a transportation choice will really take off in this city.

Check out some other pieces that I've written about Edmonton's cycling infrastructure over the past year:

Here are a couple of more examples of wonderful places that we rode this summer. 

Utrecht, The Netherlands. I would let my nine year old ride to school alone in this city. Incredibly safe, and the downtown is so quiet because there are so many bikes instead of cars everywhere. 

Belgium, near the coast. The cars are only going 30 km/h AND bikes have their own separated space. Awesome.

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Daily bike commuters here, and kids are daily bike commuters to school too. Old Scona + UofA area. We refuse to ride in the bike lanes because of safety concerns, and absolutely will not let our kids ride in the bike lanes.

Somehow we haven't been convinced that a painted line will keep us safe.

Unfortunate incident on Sunday in LA. Killed by a police officer no less.

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