We’ll say it again, it’s not because of bike lanes… Spring Budget Adjustment 2024

This is an op ed we’ve published in the Edmonton Journal.

The City of Edmonton has been struck by another, unfortunate proposed property tax increase of 8.7%, up from the 6.6% approved by City Council last fall. 

Every time tax increases are proposed, the Active Transportation Network Expansion funding comes under fire. “Why are we spending $100 million on bike lanes when our property taxes continue to increase?

Ultimately, this property tax increase is not caused by our investments in active transportation infrastructure.

Why are property taxes going up again? How big of an impact do bike lanes have on the tax increase?

When we talk about this further 2.1% increase, we should zero in on the facts. Property taxes are again proposed to increase primarily due to increased WCB premiums, inflation (and increased labour costs, due to union settlement), rapid population growth, and massive reductions in provincial funding. 

The $100 million for Active Transportation Network Expansion (otherwise known as crosswalks, shared use paths, and bike lanes) contributes approximately 0.02% to the 2024 Operating Budget. Since this is a massive infrastructure project, it is funded through the capital budget, and this spring budget adjustment focuses specifically on the operating budget. 

Canceling our $100 million investment in active transportation infrastructure would make next to no impact on this property tax increase, as it is funded through debt servicing and the costs are split over decades. People deserve access to amenities and infrastructure within their communities, and an effective, city-wide active transportation network is a key piece of that puzzle. 

Why do we need to maintain investments in active transportation infrastructure?

Edmonton’s population is rapidly growing. We’ve had 100,000 people move here since 2021 alone. With the equivalent of the entirety of Red Deer moving into our city, we need to prioritize fiscally responsible methods of mobility so that Edmontonians can easily move around their city. 

That means investing in infrastructure that moves people, whether that’s people moving in cars, via transit, on bikes, or on their own two feet. Our investments should reflect the City we want to become, and with the City identifying a target of 50% of trips taken by active transportation and transit as we grow to 2 million people, we need to invest in the infrastructure required to make this possible. 

We will continue to advocate for proportionally expanding funding for active transportation and transit infrastructure, since this supports building a City that provides more accessible and sustainable transportation options. 

Additionally, provincial infrastructure funding has plummeted since 2011, and municipalities are receiving less funding per capita even though our population continues to skyrocket. With less funding and more people to serve, we need to prioritize low-cost, and high-impact improvements to our City, like Main Street renewals or fixing missing links in our sidewalk network. Not building massive highways or overpasses.

Roads and mobility infrastructure are a service that municipalities should be investing in. They are, by definition, local. That is what property taxes are designed to go towards, and yet Edmonton has been forced to pick up the slack on downloaded provincial responsibilities, like homelessness, public health, and intermunicipal highways.  

So remember, when you see a further 2% increase in your property taxes, it’s not because of bike lanes. Building roads, including bike lanes, is part of a municipalities core mandate. It’s just the cost of what they do. The increase is an additional 2% because municipalities are being put in a vice, due to limited revenue generation and increasing responsibilities. Change is hard, but it’s needed now, in order to support our growth into a fiscally responsible city through cheaper ways to move around our community. 

So what can you do?

Speak up! Help us let city council know how much these investments matter, and send them a note by email, on social media or by phone. Contact your MLA to encourage the provincial government to step up and provide more support for our municipalities.