[Update - March 7, 2013: The report scheduled for discussion on March 13th has been posted here including some very interesting fall 2012 survey data here in Attachment 2 pf the report showing that more than half of Edmontonians already cycle, and that many would ride more with better facilities, including bike lanes.]
Last week the effort to increase cycling opportunities in Edmonton hit some bumps.
First, a consultation session designed to share information and get feedback about routes planned for implementation this season degenerated into a shouting match, which hindered the City from getting precisely the input they were there to hear. (The details of the proposed routes are here.)
The next morning the Mayor added fuel to the fire with a sharply worded inquiry that garnered a lot of media attention at the Transportation committee (you can watch the comments here by clicking on item 2.1 and waiting about 30 seconds).
The inquiry will result in a report for discussion at the March 13th Transportation Committee. I won’t be at all surprised at that point if the whole program is put on hiatus for ‘study’, rather than having a real debate about whether Council actually supports making some tough decisions to enhance transportation choice. (Some of the city-building benefits making these tough choices are well articulated in this blog post from Executive Director of the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ Society.)
One of the more constructive suggestions I heard last week was from Paula Simons, which was to focus our efforts on high quality cycling facilities in the core (such as Downtown and Oliver, Strathcona and University areas).
This makes sense. I’d like to see those routes prioritized too. That’s where existing demand is highest, and where the greatest short-term potential is to attract new riders.
However, the City’s Bicycle Transportation Plan still calls for a citywide network of bike lanes to provide enhanced choices for all Edmontonians, and better facilities for those who already choose to ride.
More travel options are crucial to dealing with worsening traffic congestion. Those options can also lead to a healthier city, cleaner air, and savings for individuals and the City.
Yes, most Edmontonians drive, but if we aren’t willing to endure some changes to make way for new choices, then traffic congestion will only get worse. That’s the real inconvenience to everyone, including present and future drivers. That’s the big picture.
Getting into the details, some people wonder why certain roads have been selected as cycling routes, but there is logic to it in the plan. The routes generally have two characteristics: 1) they are through roads, and 2) they are less busy. 106 Street instead of 109 Street, for example. People have suggested the city use local roads, and where they run through this makes great sense (like 83 Avenue between Mill Creek and 112 Street).
In any case, I don’t think the routes are the real issue.
The fact is there is simply no way to make space for bike lanes without making some changes to the roads they would share – and the same tensions that have come up (mainly around lost parking) will come up anywhere. This happens in every city that has tried to make this shift.
More engagement with residents and businesses is good; the City can always learn from the public when making changes to an area. I know the implementation of bike lanes in my ward benefitted from local knowledge – in many cases protecting parking for schools, businesses and churches based on feedback.
But I don’t think this is really about consultation either.
To me, this is about comfort zone: is Council willing to work through the discomforts of change to deliver on the vision for more transportation choice in our city?
All I know is that people are surprisingly resilient to change. They clear out their garages. They park around the corner. Sometimes they even chose to walk or bike more. If we move ahead it will work out; after all, the sky hasn’t fallen anywhere in my ward where the lanes have already gone in.