A Downtown Bike Grid For Edmonton.

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A Downtown Bike Grid For Edmonton - Thursday July 14, 2016

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Recent History

It’s been a tough year for people who want to ride bikes in Edmonton. First, the City took out bike lanes on 40th and 95th avenues. Those facilities were never good, nor beloved by any stretch of the imagination, but it still stung. Ugh.

Next, the City’s well-intentioned suicide barriers were erected on the High Level Bridge, making one of the very few decent facilities for biking and walking considerably less comfortable and more dangerous. Then, when someone’s frustration finally came to a head and they decided to build a short two-way guerilla cycle track on Saskatchewan Drive to accommodate movements already being made by many cyclists, the City reacted by removing it with a speed that was galling when compared to its sloth-like movements towards bike-friendliness.

Finally, the long-awaited bike routes on 83rd and 102nd Avenues are taking forever to build. They were approved in late 2014, and we found out this year that they won’t be complete until 2018, with the most important stretch of 102nd Avenue possibly another seven years away. Ugh!

Yes it’s been a tough year, but this week a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds. Before we talk about it though, we need to briefly discuss Calgary.

Calgary

Have you heard about Calgary’s cycle-track project? Last year they built a four-route grid of protected bike routes in their downtown core. The approach was new in a couple of ways.

First of all, they built the whole grid at once. Rather than build “Cadillac” quality bike routes one at a time over many years, like applying isolated, slow-motion Band-Aids, they put in a connected grid in three weeks. Potential bike riders are therefore more likely to choose to ride because most or all of their route is on an excellent facility.

Secondly, they used low-cost materials like bollards and temporary curbs to construct the lanes. This allowed for rapid deployment and flexibility (the 5.5 kilometres of routes were built in three weeks, as opposed to the three years that it’s taking to build the 16-blocks of the 83 Avenue route here). In conjunction with careful, data-heavy measurements before and after the routes were put in, the flexibility of the materials has enabled the routes to be like a real-time public engagement project. Rather than having 18-24 months of talking to people about a proposed route (like what they’ve done on 83 and 102 Avenues), they did a few months of public engagement, installed the routes, and then responded in real time to concerns.

So how’s it working out in Calgary? Ridership has exploded. They are routinely measuring 10,000 – 15,000 trips per day on the grid, at a time when vacancy in downtown Calgary is at record highs (keep in mind that some bikes are double-counted if they take more than one leg of the grid on a given trip).

Calgary is a winter city. Calgary is even an Albertan city. In fact, there is no city in the world that is more similar to Edmonton than Calgary. If Calgary can do it, we can do it. And with your help, we will.

Edmonton – A Downtown Bike Grid

Gil Penalosa inspired us at our City for Life event in April. What particularly stuck was this advice: “Do something. Now.” So we asked ourselves, “What is Edmonton’s most urgent, fixable bike problem?” The answer: downtown.

The downtown core is a hostile place for bikes. About 19 people on bikes get hit every year within a 5-block radius in the core, and virtually all of the streets look and feel like this:

Downtown Edmonton Street

Welcome to bike hell. Wide wide lanes and nowhere to hide.

However, within these bike-unfriendly streets lies opportunity: they are overbuilt. Many streets in downtown Edmonton have travel lanes that are way wider than required, and many of those are underutilized.

With low-hanging fruit (politically-speaking) laying around and sense of urgency, Paths for People started to shop the idea of getting a report written on how Edmonton could emulate Calgary’s success. We didn’t have to look for long because Stantec Vice President Keith Shillington  quickly stepped up to the plate. Keith offered to subsidize half of the cost of writing the report (it was Stantec  that designed the Calgary project), taking a strong leadership position on creating a better Edmonton.

We then pitched the idea to Councillors Mckeen, Knack, Oshry, Walters and Henderson, and we found more leadership at the highest level of the City.

On Tuesday July 12, Councillor Scott McKeen moved that the City take Stantec up on their offer. Stantec’s paper will strategically choose routes, estimate the cost of building them, and suggest ways to keep them clear in winter. Plus they will complete the paper in only a few weeks!

The news about the “study” broke yesterday, and some people’s initial reaction on Twitter was “we don’t need another study!” I’d like to suggest that this study is different. It will be done quickly, and it is being written to be acted upon.

Action

In September, the report will go back to council. At that time, Councillor Knack has told us that he will move that the grid be built. He is even talking about having a leg or two of it built this Fall! This is Edmonton’s chance, this is OUR chance.

Paths for People is running a campaign to get the grid of downtown bike routes built. We will be asking our members to take action closer to September once the report has been completed.

In the meantime, please become a member of Paths for People if you aren’t already (and/or follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook). We’ll keep you up to date and let you know how to help build a healthier, more livable Edmonton!

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