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.)


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

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. 

Walltherm wood stove & boiler

I found something interested on last weekends Edmonton Eco Solar tour: A wood fired fireplace / boiler.  Made by Wallnofer (from Germany, I believe) and distributed in Canada by Power Strength & Energy Solutions Ltd. (PSES, http://www.pses.ca), the boiler has two combustion chambers.  When a control arm of the side of the boiler is opened, an internal plate is lifted and the upper chamber of the boiler behaves like a normal fireplace.  This setting is used for 8 or 10 minutes after lighting the wood.  Once up to temperature, the side control arm is used to close the upper chimney port which forces the exhaust gases down to the lower combustion chamber where additional air is added causing the gases to burn a second time.  The gases then circulate up a chamber at the back of the boiler, past a water jacket that picks up some of the heat, and them up and out the chimney.  Interestingly, this design does NOT require the use of an electric fan to push to exhaust gases down.  (Obviously the pumps to circulate the water through the water jacket within the boiler require power.)  Note that in the pictures I took with my phone, a cover was removed from the side of the boiler to show the piping connections.  Under normal use, these would not be visible.

The results are impressive: an efficiency rating of 93%, 14.9kw/51,000BTU with 70% of the heat going into the water to be used for space heating or domestic hot water and 30% radiating into the room.  Given how much heat goes into the water, the representative I spoke to said that a storage tank of at least 600L was required and that 1000L of storage was better.

Here's a link to more information on the boiler: http://www.pses.ca/downloads/walltherm.pdf

The Riverdale Net Zero duplex (http://www.riverdalenetzero.ca) has a series of solar thermal collectors that store heat in a 16,000L water tank - practically the size of an in-ground swimming pool - built with concrete walls when the basement was poured.  I've understood from discussions with some of the people that worked on that project that there's a certain amount of heat loss just trying to store the heat from September into January and that the cost, complexity and performance means that design probably won't be used again.  When considering how we could store solar energy collected in the summer to use months later in the winter, it seems to me that nature provides us with the perfect solution: trees.  I find the Walltherm boiler to be a genuinely interesting design that allows us to use wood for more than just space heating.


Alberta Election, 2012

These are dark days for progressive-voting Albertans. The PC dynasty is finally, FINALLY vulnerable to being voted out, and the party that might take over is a small-thinking, science-denying group of angry white men.

Nonetheless, we must do what we can.

I would encourage everyone to check out the Change Alberta website. It provides advice on voting strategically for progressive candidates. That said, I disagree with Change Alberta's recommendation on Edmonton-Rutherford.

Michael Walters, Edmonton-Rutherford Alberta Party Candidate

Michael has run a very strong campaign in Edmonton-Rutherford. A natural leader, Michael's opinions and work on the local food issue alone make him a refreshing and compelling candidate to vote for (he was instrumental in organizing Edmonontonians in support of local farmland when he was with GEA). I think his chances of winning are decent, too.

I also am a supporter in principle of the Alberta Party. I'm so damn tired of watching the perennial loser parties of the NDP and the Liberals - split votes and refuse to consider merging or even cooperating. I can't support either one of them anymore. I mean seriously, the Liberals? "Liberal" is a freaking swear word in Alberta! They could call themselves the ass clowns and get more votes.

Rachel Notley

Having said that, I will be voting for Rachel Notley in my own riding of Edmonton-Strathcona. She is an excellent MLA and a good person, so she has my vote.

However, I would like to register my displeasure with the NDP for insisting, like they do all over the country, on advocating for cheaper electricity and gas. Subsidizing energy use (wastage) is absurd. It's a tired piece of NDP populism that doesn't help poor people (it subsidizes the rich energy wasters way more) and of course encourages fossil fuel consumption.

Let's just hope that somehow the polls are wrong and that any result other than a Wildrose majority happens on Monday. I never thought I'd be hoping for a PC victory in Alberta. Never in my scariest nightmares.