Refocusing our Bike Plan, Erasing our Mistakes

After a great deal of reflection and consultation with constituents, I’ve decided that in order for us to move forward as a bike friendly city, we must admit our past mistakes and rectify them. Therefore two lanes in Ward 10, (40th Avenue from 119th street to 106th street and 106th Street from Whitemud Drive to 34th Avenue), should be removed. I will make a notice of motion at tomorrow’s council meeting to this effect. It will then be debated on July 7th.

 I will also put forward a motion that “That prior to the 2019 Capital Budget, that City Council refresh our bicycle transportation implementation strategy, review the planned network and return to council with plans for a high quality (segregated from traffic) network of cycle infrastructure in higher density communities and neighbourhood routes determined by our new approach to public engagement.” I will also propose that we create a Councillor-led Active Transportation Initiative to spearhead our work in developing multi-modal transportation systems with an emphasis on good bike infrastructure.

Recently, the Copenhagenize Index released its 2015 list of the Top 20 Bike Cities around the world. Edmonton did not rank in that list. Edmonton could be there in the future, along with cities like Montreal and Minneapolis that did make the list. While Edmonton really doesn’t need to be compared to other cities, it certainly can strive to be among the best at building a city for cycling.

Unfortunately, many of the on-street bike lanes that we currently have are not moving us in the direction of becoming a great bike city. My constituents have spoken clearly about the inadequate consultation that led to poorly designed and implemented routes and I have heard that feedback. There is simply too much “mode mixing” with cars, school buses, city buses and cyclists potentially all competing for the same space at the same time.

We’ve committed to becoming a bike friendly city, yet we continued to under-fund and under-achieve on bike planning and produce on-street lanes that are considered mistakes by a wide range of residents and prominent bike planners like Gil Penalosa. Instead, we should build a great network of cycle tracks and bike boulevards in the core and begin to work our way out.

If we want to be a Top 20 Bike City, we need to excel at creating a bicycle culture, one in which cycling is considered a safe and easy form of transportation. As I’ve spoken about on this blog before, the best way to do that is to focus on creating 8-80 bike infrastructure; lanes and routes that will work for an 8 year old and an 80 year old will work for everyone in between. The benefits of building a bike friendly city are well documented, with increased mental health and decreased obesity paramount among them. We need to create bike lanes that lead to these and other benefits.

I explain my decisions in greater detail in the sections below.


A Short History of Consultation

It has been a long process for me to arrive at this decision - some might say too long. The bike lanes on 40th Avenue and 106th Street went in a month before the 2013 election, and I immediately began hearing about them on the doorsteps.

I began my consultation on this issue in November 2013. I held a large community event planned with the support of the Centre for Public Involvement with almost 350 people in attendance, where there was almost unanimous agreement that the on-street lanes were not working well for the area. Even those who used the lanes felt that the lanes were not the best option for cyclists.

While the feedback was powerful, I knew that there was no appetite on Council to vote to remove lanes, especially ones that had only been in place for three months. I wondered if residents might like the lanes better after experiencing them in a summer season, and it was possible that we, as residents, would get used to them after some time.

In July 2014, we held the Tour de Ward 10, a biking event that travelled through the bike lanes in the Ward, so that residents could show me areas for improvement in our existing and future bike lane infrastructure. Around 30 residents participated, and the preference for high quality lanes completely separated from traffic was made pretty clear by residents.

The change that I had thought might occur hadn’t. Instead of getting used to the lanes, more and more people were becoming frustrated with them. We had waited, but the lanes weren’t working.

In the fall of 2014, I held focus groups with dozens of both drivers and cyclists to gather their feedback on the lanes and the direction they saw for cycling infrastructure in Edmonton. Again, unanimously, they spoke about the need for active transportation, but that the lanes on 40th Avenue and 106th Street were disliked and rarely used. We also received 250 individual responses to an online survey we conducted during this time. I've also heard from hundreds of residents via emails, phone calls and conversations over the past two years that these lanes just plain don't work for them, for a wide variety of reasons.

Starting again and getting a clear message

In early 2015, our administration began designing a new consultation process. The start of that occurred on June 12th, when administration held a community engagement at the Greenfield park (hot dogs and bouncy castles included) to discuss alternative forms of infrastructure that could be installed instead of the on-street lanes. Once again, the feedback from the 250 people who attended was consistent.

From an operational standpoint, the bike lanes on 40th Avenue and 106th Street have not been successful. Ridership is quite low, and clearing and maintenance of the lanes has been a persistent problem throughout the two winter seasons that the lanes have been in place, and during the spring clean up period as well. The lanes have basically become underutilized, summer season lanes that don’t promote year round cycling.

For me, that June 12th meeting was the final straw. If many active and aspiring cyclists don’t support these lanes, what was the point? This breaking point, combined with the recent conversations on Council about problems with on-street lanes in other areas, made me realize there might be an opportunity for Council to make some changes to these lanes and the bike plan overall. In fact, Council has already headed in this direction by unanimously supporting two excellent bike lane projects in the 2015-18 Capital Budget. One is a cycle track on 102nd Avenue downtown and the other is a bike boulevard on 83rd Avenue in Old Strathcona.

Are these lanes really hurting anything?

In theory, the lanes we have today aren’t hurting anyone, and there would be costs associated with taking the lanes out, so why not leave them in?

The lanes are causing significant problems in the area. The area schools unanimously claim that they are dealing with messier congestion and confusion. School and ETS buses are especially struggling to navigate these areas, resulting in a few near-misses with school children and cyclists, according to direct consultation we’ve done with school principals. The principals also note winter maintenance of the roadways has, on the whole, deteriorated since the installation of the lanes.

We have also recently changed our consultation process for new bike lanes installation. I believe it would be unfair to leave these residents with the product of the previous consultation process that we have widely acknowledged was insufficient.

Lastly, we need to look at this through the lens of public engagement. Council has made positive and holistic public engagement a priority, and this means that when citizens speak reasonably and en masse, government is under a certain obligation to do more than just listen; we must act. If Council hopes to inspire confidence in the City’s ability to work with residents, we must be responsive when they speak out with well-reasoned, experience based concerns.

Leadership and a step forward

I would ask you all to see this motion not as a step backwards, nor as a victory for those who oppose bike infrastructure outright. Rather, this is a step forward in Edmonton’s journey to becoming a top cycling city. Edmonton’s bike strategy guides us to develop high-quality infrastructure that will promote cycling in the City. The City’s actions must be in line with this principle, and this is why I will be pursuing the removal of the on-street bike lanes I’ve mentioned here, with the future development of off-street or separated lanes in the area to be planned starting immediately.

This is why I am also making the motions to refresh our bike strategy so that by the time the 2019 Capital Budget debates comes around we have meaningful bike infrastructure to debate. Having a council led initiative on Active Transportation, in my view, will help us get there.

This will send a clear message to citizens and to our Administration that Council is committed to a high quality bike network. As it relates specifically to the new plan for Ward 10, there are some excellent community leaders and cyclists committed to assisting us in getting this right. In combination with our new approach to public engagement on this issue, I feel very optimistic about what we can generate in these discussions. There are already many great ideas being proposed to create the kind of bike lanes so many people say they’d like.

Lastly, I would like to thank all of the residents from the communities around 40th Avenue and 106th Street for their patience and work on this issue. You’ve come to consultation after consultation, and while I’m sure that the pace of change has been frustrating to you, I hope that this motion to remove the lanes will assure you that I was listening, and you are represented.


Update: June 24, 2015

Yesterday at City Council, I made notice of the following motions:

1. That Administration remove and fill the on street bike lanes on 40th Avenue from 119 Street to 106 Street and on 106 street from Whitemud drive to 34th Avenue with funding from Capital Profile Arterial Road Program - Arterial Renewal Composite #15-66-1020.

2. That Administration continue working with communities in the area surrounding 40th Avenue from 119 Street to 106 Street and on 106 Street from Whitemud Drive to 34th Avenue, to plan alternative infrastructure and routes with a report to return to the October 28, 2015 Transportation Committee.

3. That Administration, prior to the 2019 Capital Budget, provide to Council through Transportation Committee, a proposed revised bicycle transportation implementation strategy to include plans for a high quality (segregated from traffic) network of cycle infrastructure and neighbourhood (local road) routes informed by the 2015 -2018 Bike Lane Infrastructure Plan enhanced public engagement strategies approved by Council on June 5, 2015.

4. That Administration prepare Terms of Reference for Council's consideration to establish a new Council Initiative named "Active Transportation."