No one ever decided to move to New York City or visit Paris for those cities’ abundant, free on-street parking

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Dear Mayor Mandel,

I’m a homeowner in Valleyview, Ward 1, and I bike all over this city, including the proposed 2013 on-street bike routes. You bike in front of my house occasionally, on a road that is part of those bike routes. This simple fact makes me smile, because bikes are like that: joyful.

In 2010, you said:

“The fact of the matter is that this city never had a vision, and you have to be competitive. If we want my kid to stay here — which I desperately want my kid to want to stay in Edmonton — we damn well better have a city that they see has a future. And we weren’t having that.” [^]

Since 2010, you and your fellow councillors have developed and approved an award-winning vision for Edmonton. And you’ve codified that in bylaw and policy. Please don’t let that vision become a dust-covered trophy, abandoned before even a single term is over.

Part of that vision includes bike lanes. Why? To make the city a better place to live.

  • Bike lanes reduce injuries. In fact, they tend to reduce injuries for all road users, including motorists and pedestrians. [UBC] [New York City Office of the Mayor] [NYC Prospect Park Report]
  • Bike lanes encourage people to ride more. Women and children, especially: the most cautious of road users. [University of Minnesota]
  • More people riding means healthier active people and stronger, safer communities. A single hour of bicycle riding translates to a life-expectancy gain of 63 minutes (even without a helmet!). In special relativity, we’d call that time dilation, but happening at the pace of a leisurely bike ride. It’s also something of a lucrative panacea in terms of public health: heart disease, obesity, cancer, and a host of other diseases are all linked to physical activity and cost the Canadian economy billions of dollars each year. And lives. [Richard Johns, UBC]

Last week you re-affirmed your position that bike lanes, and the benefits they promise for quality of life in Edmonton, are a good idea.

But you also were quoted saying “it just seems someone…decided we’re going to eliminate all vehicles and only have bikes.”[^]

The bike routes are not about “eliminating all vehicles”. After all, bicycles are vehicles too.

Let’s look at 76 Ave: same number of traffic lanes (plus 2 bike lanes), and on-street parking is retained on the south side of 76 Ave from 99-95 St, and the north side from 78-75 St. Along 96 St south of 76 Ave, the newly created on-street parking is generally nearer to the businesses than the north side of 76 Ave, since customers don’t have to double-back to the intersection and cross the road. The additional parking is, in that respect, safer and more convenient.

You will certainly see other examples of the serious consideration put into the design of these bike lanes, including detailed parking analyses and examples of changes made based on feedback from stakeholders (that particular route underwent several changes, returning on-street parking to businesses, even before the public open house occurred).

But these very specific details, while providing insight into the design and consultation processes, are not my debate to win or lose. Instead, I wish to go back to your vision:

No one ever decided to move to New York City or visit Paris for those cities’ abundant publicly-funded, free on-street parking. Cities do not become livable, vibrant, desirable places through doggedly hanging onto every on-street parking stall, a fact that you acknowledge in your plans for our future.

Neither is this about ramming through the bike lanes to the detriment of businesses. We’re looking for ways to make this city better, including its cycling infrastructure, and EBC has inquired about various concessions to alleviate concerns we’ve heard from all types of road users.

But you can’t have effective infrastructure if your bike lanes dump cyclists back into mixed traffic every other block. Each additional compromise has the real potential to push contiguous, quality infrastructure toward the gutter of the haphazard and ineffectual: the potential to turn good designs into “crap”. So every change must be made with caution and full awareness of its impacts.

So is this all just about consultation? Well, you are aware of the many consultations leading up to the 2009 Bicycle Transportation Plan. There were also consultations with businesses, churches, community leagues, and other stakeholders in January 2013, prior to the public open houses. The assumption seems to be that the open houses aren’t open to feedback, but I observed plenty of feedback being given, received, and recorded. Your own staff, again, I’m sure can provide details about the process. You hire engineers and planners because they are proficient in engineering and planning. They can’t know the nuances of every road, so they hold stakeholder meetings and public consultations. Would it be more efficient for the City to present blank maps with no design work whatsoever, and redevelop the Bicycle Transportation Plan anew every year? Of course not.

Was all this enough consultation? How can consultations be improved in the future? The Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ Society is already meeting with communities that lie along future bike routes; we’d happily be involved in an expanded public consultation process.

But if “more consultation” is simply a euphemism for “throw out the core routes of the Bicycle Transportation Plan if they require space currently dedicated to cars”, then I encourage you to think about where Edmonton is headed.

“Compromise” doesn’t mean telling cyclists they should go find circuitous, hilly paths to wind their way around the city in order to avoid any inconvenience to motorists. That is no compromise: that is the status quo, where cars have dedicated space on 4700km of roadway and cyclists eke out a meagre existence in the interstices.

The status quo doesn’t align with your vision–nor the City’s vision, nor with mine. Tellingly, it also doesn’t align with the City’s own policies & bylaws.

The MDP:

5.7.1.4 Support opportunities to reallocate existing road space for use by pedestrians, cyclists and transit service.

Policy C569:

The quality of service for cyclists will be more critical on roads that are part of the cycling network
- trade-offs will be necessary and sometimes roadways improvements will be made for one mode at the expense of another mode.

The Transportation Master Plan:

The use of travel modes other than single occupant vehicles will reduce demand on the road network.
7.3.b. Developing land use and parking policies that manage the supply of parking provided for a development with a focus on providing only essential parking and supporting Transportation Demand Management.

The Way We Green:

3.1.3 Encourages renewal and densification of mature neighbourhoods by ensuring superior living experiences that include priority to pedestrians and bicycles over automobiles:

So, please Mayor Mandel: I desperately want to live in Edmonton, too, and to help build its future. Does this city still have a vision?

Sincerely,

Christopher Chan
Executive Director
Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ Society
edmontonbikes.ca

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6 Responses to No one ever decided to move to New York City or visit Paris for those cities’ abundant, free on-street parking

  1. Lauren says:

    Not going to lie, I was excited for the bike lanes to come into Vancouver but once they were there driving downtown became a nightmare. Bikes taking up so much room, not obeying lights, and making right hand turns incredibly dangerous. Was glad when I moved out of the city and away from the daily annoyance. Not saying that they shouldn’t put bike lanes, but it was executed terribly. If bike lanes are put in more thought needs to go into it than just tightening up traffic space in an already tight area and hoping that bike obey traffic laws.

  2. Jessica Walker says:

    My son is 6 years old and goes to Westglen. I chose this school because it is in our neighborhood and it’s on the bike path on 127th Street. We bike to school and he loves it! We bike all over Edmonton; it’s one of our favourite things to do. I want my son to grow up here and feel safe on his bicycle. We want more bike paths!

    • Lorne says:

      Amen!!!
      Edmonton, with its abundant sunshine, flat terrain and space could be a cyclists dream. However, pulling a child in a carrier behind my bike, is just down right dangerous in this city if you’re not cycling on the trails in the river valley.
      I hate to say that even with its rain, hilly terrain and increased traffic congestion, I would choose to cycle in a city like Vancouver any day of the week then Edmonton. There are fewer interactions between motorists and cyclists in that city.

  3. Mimi Williams says:

    Hat tip, Christopher Chan. My spouse and I just agreed that if we weren’t already members, this letter would motivate us to join EBC on the spot this minute. More and more lately when issues in this city are debated ad hominem attacks and unhelpful hyperbole tend to dominate. Your reasoned response to unfounded hysteria is appreciated.

  4. Donald Darnell says:

    Thank you, Mr. Chan, for this informative, cogent, and compelling address, smartly penned. Your thoughtful and tireless action in support of this and other cyclist-friendly projects is a brave and commendable service to all of us in this city.

    I often drive an automobile on that section of 76 Ave. and occasionally visit businesses in that area. I strongly support the proposed bike lanes there, and the expansion of well designed bike lanes throughout our great city. I believe the city has done a good job setting reasonable policy, and developing a design that recognizes the full range of stakeholders. They should not back down on the design on 76 Ave. because of a few vocal naysayers.

    Let’s all keep in mind that every person on a bicycle represents roughly 1 whole vehicle not on the road. As we encourage and support safe cycling in our city, we lead the way to reductions in traffic, reductions in road wear and maintenance costs, and a reduced need for parking (on-street or otherwise). These benefits come as a kind of gift from cyclists, along with reductions in toxic emissions, greenhouse gasses, and noise. A safe place to ride seems the very least we can offer them in return.

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