Are Car Drivers In Alberta Subsidizing Bike Riders? No.

With the roll out this summer of Edmonton’s dreamy new downtown bike grid, some old chestnuts of the bike lane debate having been appearing. One is the assertion that car and truck drivers are subsidizing bike riders if cities use tax dollars to install dedicated bike infrastructure.

I’ve seen a couple of analyses that emphatically reject the notion (here and here for example), but do they apply to Edmonton, Alberta? Let’s find out. *

*caveat: It would take days to write a scientifically-valid argument either way on this. How our three orders of government collect and spend taxes is very complex, and divided into many documents. I have done an overview, and I have explained my generalizations and rationalizations along the way.

How much money per year is collected in Alberta via fuel and carbon taxes, plus vehicle registration?

Short answer: $3.5 billion. (long answer here)

How much money do our governments spend per year in Alberta on vehicles?

Short answer: $4.2 billion. (long answer here)

Conclusion:

I’m not saying that cars are evil or that we shouldn’t have any or anything like that. However, we need to be honest if a mode of transportation is getting subsidized. Even though the gas tax is substantial, Albertans are heavily subsidizing vehicle driving. Never mind the fact that most of the federal gas tax is whisked away and spent on federal priorities in Ottawa.

Although these calculations are back-of-the-napkin at best, especially the municipal spending side, I wouldn’t doubt if they significantly underestimate how much we subsidize car driving. I left out massive costs, like the societal costs of sedentarism, days of productivity lost from collision injuries, pollution, and significant vehicle-oriented policing costs.

All this to say that, people who ride bikes in Edmonton are not being subsidized by drivers. In fact, the subsidy is going the other way.

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Downtown Bike Grid Coming To Edmonton Summer 2017

This post is a bit late in coming, but it seems that we didn’t update our website with the news: a grid of protected bike lanes is coming to downtown Edmonton!

Paths for People conceptualized and initiated this project, based on Calgary’s downtown pilot project, during the summer of 2016 (details here), and city council voted to fund and install the bike grid on October 11, 2016! A few thoughts:

We are now working on a campaign to get people riding the grid and engage with affected downtown stakeholders (businesses, etc., who are situated on the grid) to increase acceptance and ridership. We are optimistic that a more vibrant, livable downtown is just around the corner!

Our Campaign Begins – A Bike Grid For Downtown Edmonton

The Route – A Message from Paths for People

We have begun our campaign to help convince city council to vote for Stantec’s proposed 7-km bike grid in Edmonton’s downtown core. We unveiled yegbikegrid.ca – the campaign website presents the facts and helps people contact their councillors and released the videos The Magic Trick and The RouteOur social media campaign is going strong too. Write your councillor today!

A Downtown Bike Grid For Edmonton

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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!

– Conrad

A City For Life

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Gil Penalosa shares his vision with Edmonton.

Paths for People held our inaugural event on April 15-16.  Dubbed A City For Life, we kicked off the weekend with a dynamite presentation by Gil Penalosa of 8 80 Cities.

Gil was inspiring and informative, and one of the big takeaways was that we can change Edmonton now.

Mack Male attended the presentation and did a great write up of the event here.

On April 16, we hosted a workshop of Edmonton decision makers and thought leaders. Attendees included Mayor Don Iveson, Councillors Knack, McKeen, Henderson and Walters, MLA David Shepherd, City of Edmonton Chief Planner Peter Ohm, General Manager Integrated Infrastructure Services Adam Laughlin, Architect Vivian Manasc, and author Todd Babiak, among others.

Gil Penalosa gave a short keynote to kick off the event.

This is what Paths for People learned from Gil:
  • a minimum grid of walk/bike routes is crucial;
  • safety must be a priority, achieved through separated lanes and decreased vehicle speed on residential streets;
  • we need to work efficiently – a minimum grid can be achieved in 5 years;
  • now is the time – political alignment, economic opportunity, and quick success will drive further progress; and
  • a separated, connected grid is the way to get more people using active transport.

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Our MC, Councillor Michael Walters

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David Shepherd announces the creation of a bicycle infrastructure development guide by the Alberta Government.

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Standing Ovation!

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