Paths for People urgently calls on City Council to rethink Bylaw 20700 (Public Spaces Bylaw)

The new Public Spaces Bylaw, as currently proposed, prioritizes certain people’s use of public space at the expense of others. It will disproportionately impact and criminalize marginalized individuals in our city who have no choice but to be in public spaces.

The proposed bylaw will likely result in a heavy focus on targeted enforcement against specific groups, such as unhoused people, worsening inequity. This apparent focus on additional public restrictions and the very limited engagement have also led to a bylaw that creates numerous barriers for community organizations like ours, which promote active transportation, social-inclusion, community-building, and creative use of public spaces.

We are particularly concerned about:

  • New $250 minimum fines for: riding a bike on the grass in a park; using sidewalk chalk or paint on a public street or sidewalk; and using amplification to make announcements or play music at an event. This fine is the same as the fine for driving a 4×4 pickup truck through the grass in a park, implying that the City considers them to be equivalent offences.
    • Result: Biking up to your favourite picnic table in Borden or Buena Vista Park would be prohibited. Once you leave the shared-use path, you’re breaking the bylaw.
  • Increasing fines for riding a bike on the sidewalk from $100 to $250. Fines double for subsequent tickets and because of how certain people are targeted, many sidewalk riding tickets will be $500 (a 5-fold increase). This goes against the goals of the Active Transportation Network Expansion, which recognizes that some areas of the city have diverse populations who may experience social, economic or physical barriers to mobility, and that these areas are underserved by safe infrastructure.
    • Result: Not safe to bike on the road? No bike infrastructure available? Well that’ll cost you $250 if you’re caught biking on the sidewalk! Could be up to $500 if there’s no cycling infrastructure in your neighbourhood and you regularly use your bike, which we know is a lot of Edmonton.
  • New permit requirements for events involving more than 50 people in any public space.
    • Result: Additional barriers for events like Bike to the Bard, Bike to the Symphony, or fun bike parades! Regardless of resources, any organization or person trying to host such events will need to navigate applying for and pay for a permit.
  • Significant broadening of “inappropriate transit behaviour”, to include riding on transit past the same destination more than once, or waiting at a stop while multiple vehicles pass.
    • Result: Normal everyday behaviour (e.g. eating a snack while waiting for your bus, waiting for your friend to meet you at the station) and creative uses of transit spaces (e.g. riding the entire train line on a date or with your children) are prohibited and can be fined. If you or your toddler spills their snack at the transit station, there’s an opportunity for a $250 fine for the first offense and $500 if it happens again. If you sleep past your stop, you might be questioned. 

If implemented, these changes could create barriers to a whole range of formal and informal events in public spaces – things like the Valley Line LRT opening day parties, Coffee Outside, neighbourhood summer gatherings, or group bike rides. They also create additional opportunities for disproportionate enforcement in low-income areas and against people of colour.

You might not be personally concerned: officers can use their discretion, and it may not seem likely that they would issue you a $250-500 ticket if you take the LRT back and forth with your kid or ride your bike from the path to a picnic table. But this is part of the problem: these kinds of very broad regulations of largely inconsequential behaviour, combined with highly selective enforcement, lead to discriminatory enforcement and negative outcomes for society. 

The broadness of the regulation leaves the door open for unintended consequences: how will the staff issuing permits interpret the bylaw? These regulations leave room for inconsistency and discrepancy between which events will receive permits and which will be denied. Who will be ticketed and fined for riding their bike in the grass or waiting for an extended period of time at a transit stop and who will not? 

In our view, these bylaw changes do not reflect the principles that the City has committed to in its own guiding documents (e.g., the City Plan and Downtown Public Places Plan). Those documents commit the city to:

  • creating safe and inclusive public spaces, which include marginalized communities as users;
  • working to improve equity and make progress towards reconciliation; and
  • encouraging formal and informal use of public spaces year-round.

We question the rationale for many of these changes. We believe that this bylaw is inequitable, does not support the full use of public spaces in the city, and impedes the work of community groups, including Paths for People. Given the wide-reaching implications of these changes, we hope that the City will not pass this bylaw and direct administration to conduct further engagement and substantial revisions. 

On February 14, we call on City Council not to approve the bylaw in its current form, and to engage with a broader range of affected stakeholders before proceeding.

How can you take action? Write to your councillor using our letter writing campaign here.