‘I’m allowed to bike by myself now’

Ten-year-old Francis Nelson has more freedom thanks to the separated bike lanes. The new lanes let him ride to and from school on his own, which in turn let him do what matters most to any kid — which is see his friends and play.

“I didn’t feel safe before,” Francis says of his rides to and from his home in Strathcona and his school in Ritchie. “I wasn’t allowed to go bike by myself to school. But then the bike lanes came in and now I’m allowed to bike by myself. I’m more safe. I like doing stuff by myself.”

Today, Francis’ daily routine — and he’s very proud it’s daily, including each day in winter — is to ride the blue mountain bike (which he built with his dad) for 15 minutes to school.

And when school lets out, Francis can now spend time playing with friends — he says they like to go mountain-biking in Mill Creek ravine — before biking home. Once he crosses Whyte Avenue, near the ravine, he’s soon able to ride in a painted bike lane, and soon after that a separated bike lane.

Before the City of Edmonton created the lane, Francis couldn’t do these things — his mom didn’t let him ride to school without an adult alongside because of the high amounts of traffic on Whyte Avenue and 99 Street. “I had to go home from school whenever my friend’s mom would go,” Francis says, “so I didn’t get to play after school as much.”

The increased freedom the lanes have given Francis also extend to his mom, Jody — who rides her own bike daily in the bike lanes, to her job at MacEwan University. “The separated lane on 83 Avenue has made all the difference,” she says. “We spend so much less time arranging somebody to be waiting for Francis to bike home. It was like arranging childcare to make sure he got to school safely. All of that negotiating doesn’t have to happen now. He has more of a sense of freedom and independence, and I like seeing that in him. As a parent those are the things you’re trying to foster in them.”

In two years, Francis will enter junior high school and that will require a bit of a longer bike ride, including a jaunt along 76 Avenue, where the City of Edmonton is considering finishing a bike lane it has started building. “It’s going to be done in two years,” Francis says, hopefully. “I need those [lanes] to bike to school.”