What Now? Making Whyte Ave Safer for Cyclists (part 2)

Proposed pedestrian/bike crossing, 80th Avenue and 103 Street

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

The "Tempting Alternative Routes" Approach

Chris Chang-Yen Phillips blogged last week about why Isaak wasn't riding on 83rd Avenue. The answer of course is that alternative routes to Whyte avenue are narrow, clogged with cars, blocked by rail roads, and (in 83rd ave's case) partially one-way. I ride east-west along the Whyte Avenue corridor almost daily, often with my children (ages six and eight) and my route is a zigzaggy compilation of moonscape-like residential streets and back alleys.

A wonderful way to make cyclists like myself and my kids safer is to provide a safe, bike-friendly alternative route to Whyte Avenue. In order to accommodate those who live south of Whyte Avenue in the neighbourhoods of Ritchie, Hazeldean and beyond, it only makes sense to provide two such routes, one south of Whyte and the other north of it.

The South-of-Whyte Route

Any bike route that will entice cyclists to ride south of Whyte Avenue begins and ends with the CP rail line. I think that most people dismiss such a route out-of-hand because of the line, but has the city actually ever pursued a new railway crossing?

A new pedestrian/bicycle railway crossing, complete with ding-ding lights and barricades, would be a game-changer for the entire neighbourhood. It would get more people on their bikes and walking (and more cyclists = better cyclist safety), as it would be more convenient to leave the car at home for many residents. 

Here is the view across the tracks from 80th Avenue and 102 Street:

We're talking 25 feet of crossing across two tracks. 

The rest of the south-of-Whyte bike route infrastructure I will leave for another time. The railway crossing is the key, and I can't think of a single reason that we can't have it.

The North-Of-Whyte Route

An alternative route, north of Whyte Avenue, is already in the works. Here is a (terrible) screenshot from Edmonton's Bicycle Transportation Plan Network Map (pdf file here).

Bike Boulevard, 83rd Avenue

The yellow line represents a planned bike boulevard that will be built sometime in the 2013-2015 time period. A bike boulevard is defined (in this pdf document) as  "roadways that function as through streets for cyclist, while maintaining limited automobile access for local residents" (p. 29). I can't find a more solid definition or illustration, but I believe that an honest effort to build a bike boulevard would yield a very pleasing two-way route for cyclists that would draw them away from Whyte Avenue.


I prefer the "tempting alternative routes" approach to making the Whyte Avenue area safer and more friendly for bikes (and pedestrians).

A separated bike path on Whyte Avenue would entail a major political cost. In fact, it seems impossible that our city council would vote for it in the face of the predictable motorist outrage. Furthermore, while it would make travelling the last block to reach a business on Whyte Avenue safer and more pleasant, I don't see it providing a major benefit to cyclists. Besides safety, one of the reasons that I avoid Whyte is the traffic lights. Riding on Whyte would negate a major advantage of bicycling, the ability to avoid lights by riding through slower residential neighbourhoods.

On the other hand, having two alternative routes to Whyte Ave. would make the lives of cyclists much easier. The railway crossing would totally alter non-automobile traffic patterns in the neighbourhood, and I think it would really open up the Junction district that is south of Whyte, wedged between the railway and 99th Street.

Plus, the political cost of these two routes would be smaller than putting a separated bike path on Whyte. Don't get me wrong, there will definitely be howls of protest due to losing parking on 83rd Avenue. For once, though, we need to make sure the city doesn't back down to those who insist on having their transportation choices overly subsidized. Parking is a public subsidy, and it shouldn't be a guarantee in every circumstance.

It's time for Edmonton to start investing in a bikable city. There are so many reasons why this is good for everyone (motorists included) that it's almost cliche to start listing them off. Let's see some action on city council's part. Cyclist deserve some useful, dedicated infrastructure, and the Whyte Avenue area will be better off for it.

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There are so many reasons I would love to have a rail crossing south of Whyte. So, so many reasons. And, you make a good poitna bout the Junction. I usually end up going around it, despite all the wonderful shops there.

I think that the 80th avenue pedestrian/cyclist crossing of the tracks is a brilliant idea. In fact, if this is the only thing that comes out of this effort, I may almost be happy. There are so many advantages to this crossing:
1 - Easy walking distance from the east-side condos to the stores on the west side (daily groceries?).
2 - Much easier bike access to those stores for anyone living on the east side of the tracks.
3 - Great potential for revitalization of the area between 99th street and the tracks, south of Whyte.

There are some really cool old buildings in this area (one on 80th avenue and 102nd street was a Fringe stage) that could be used for businesses. CP has slowly been abandoning the end of this track and no longer crosses 83rd avenue. In the long term I see the stretch between 83rd and 80th be turned into a green space with a sidewalk, bike path and park benches. That way we will even be able to admire the east façade of the historic train station again, now blocked by the new condos.

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