Feb. 25, 2009 - Issue #697: Shout It Out Loud
Cycling: City cyclists look for momentum
Long-awaited bicycle transportation plan finally goes to city council
After two years of planning, cyclists in Edmonton will finally learn next week whether city councillors will support an ambitious new plan aimed at encouraging more Edmontonians to get out of their cars and onto their bikes.
Cycle Edmonton: The Bicycle Transportation Plan, which will be presented to council’s transportation and public works committee on March 3, is the first major update addressing cycling in the city since 1992.
The plan proposes spending $100 million over the next decade to create a comprehensive city-wide network of multiuse trails and bike lanes linked by neighbourhood connector systems. The plan envisions adding 489 kilometres of bikeways to the existing network and calls for an expansion of end-of-trip facilities for cycling, increased integration with transit and improved signage along bike routes.
Zoe Todd, project coordinator with the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ Society, says its time for Edmonton to take a major step in cycling infrastructure given how much the city has expanded since 1992.
“Right now cyclists are benefiting from those changes that were recommended and implemented in the ‘90s, but there are certain issues that are arising that are preventing some people from seeing cycling as a viable way of getting around the city,” she says. “The recommendations they’re making will help ensure that Edmonton moves forward and continues to invest in cycling infrastructure. We are a big city, we’re expanding and we need to revamp cycling infrastructure to ensure that it isn’t left behind as we grow outward.“
A 2005 household travel survey conducted by the city showed that cycling trips increased by 150 per cent between 1994 and 2005. While cycling still accounts for just over one per cent of all trips in the city—up from 0.4 per cent in ‘94—some 25 000 trips are now made by bike every day in Edmonton.
Todd argues that if it’s passed by council the updated strategy will encourage other Edmontonians who may be nervous about riding in the city.
Tim Nolt, a bike mechanic at Edmonton’s United Cycle, agrees with Todd, calling the plan a “once-in-a-decade opportunity to change the city of Edmonton in a profound and dynamic way.”
Nolt says that he frequently hears from people who are discouraged from cycling because they don’t feel safe on the routes that are currently in place.
“It’s something that I’ve heard for a number of years because I work in the bike industry,” he says. “So to build this bicycle network and make it so that the average person can travel from one sector of the city to another in relative ease and safety is really important, because I know that riding on the streets and commuting in Edmonton can be quite difficult. In fact, depending on where you’re going it can actually be treacherous.”
While she is excited about the potential of the plan, Todd recognizes that the pricetag might be a tough sell for some Edmontonians given the current economic turmoil.
“I am concerned, given the economic climate, that it will be passed without adequate funding and that it will just sit on the shelf,” she admits. “But I’m hoping that there’s enough momentum in Edmonton towards investing in green infrastructure, and I think citizens are becoming more aware of the costs of relying solely on vehicles as a way of getting around the city that council will hopefully look ahead and invest in this, put money into the plan as well as approving it.”
An amendment made during last year’s budget deliberations added $10.8 million over three years to the city’s capital budget for all active transportation, which includes sidewalks, multiuse trails and bicycling infrastructure, bringing total funding to $17 million over the next three years. The total budgeted for roads over the same period was $350 million.
Ward 5 councillor Don Iveson, who has been an outspoken proponent of active transportation on council, admits that even though the ammendment was a major step, it’s not enough to make the bike plan, which calls for $100 million through 2018, with $34 million for the period 2009 to 2013, a reality.
“We more or less tripled the funding available for the next three years, but that isn’t going to fund the whole thing,” he says. “That was to get some of the basics moving as a minimum. Just the existing program of works with the backlog of broken links in the sidewalks, the backlog of multiuse trails in the network and even improvements to the existing bike routes, that would soak that up. So it’s just to ensure that those existing commitments that we have we can begin to move forward on.”
Iveson says that while it may not seem like the ideal time for a plan like this to come forward, the current recession might actually make the plan more feasible.
“I would argue that it’s a great time to be investing in this kind of infrastructure,” Iveson says. “We’re seeing costs come way down for the first
time in a few years on concrete and asphalt and the labour to put it in the ground, so now’s a good time to be making all kinds of infrastructure investments.
“Some people would say, ‘Well, fix my roads before you put in the bike infrastructure,’ but we need to provide transportation alternativesm because there’s a demand for them, on the one hand, from elements of the public, and two, we have a need to diversify our transportation patterns in the city to reduce our emissions and potentially even achieve some good public health outcomes with more people cycling and walking and so on.”
Kim Krushell, one of the city’s Ward 2 councillors, agrees that cheaper costs mean now is the time for infrastructure investments, but argues that demands for everything from LRT expansion to fixing crumbling neighbourhoods means that the city might not be in a position to fully fund the plan, which she says she supports. It’s a concern Krushell raised during budget discussions last year.
“My issue was we only have so many capital dollars to go around, and my top priority on the capital side would have been the north LRT line, because that’s a lot more people,” she explains. “So what I said of the bike plan was the thing that I really wanted to see get funded, the component that I thought was more on the critical side was to look at some of those big bikeway paths, to finish off the rail corridor line, because that gave us the biggest bang for our buck in my opinion, because it took the bikes off those downtown routes where they’re interacting with cars.”
While the ideal is obviously to have the plan fully funded, Claire Ellick, a sustainable transportation engineer with the City of Edmonton, says there are elements that can go ahead as soon as council approves the plan, even with current levels of funding.
“Certainly we’ll work with what we’ve got to start implementing the plan. It has a lot of different components because it’s the comprehensive document that says ‘Here’s how we want to get more Edmontonians cycling more often.’ So there are a lot of different aspects to how you would do that and certainly the more complete the approach the better it is,” she explains.
“It won’t be a one- or a two-step thing, we’ll try and do what we can to continue to expand our bike parking program, to continue to expand some of our on-street routes. Another thing that we’ll be looking at doing is marked-on-street routes, which is pretty different from what we’ve done in the past, where we’ve got shared-use lanes but they’re not marked so they’re not that visible. So it’ll be several different things just maybe on a smaller scale depending on the funding.”
While Zoe Todd recognizes the budget constraints the city faces, she hopes more funding can be found as the plan moves ahead, arguing that it’s an investment that will pay off for the city in the future.
“On the surface $100 million seems like a lot of money, but over 10 years its really just a drop in the bucket,” she says. “The mode split for cycling in the city is only one per cent, so even if we were able to shift that to two per cent we’d have 256 000 fewer car trips per day in the city and that adds up over time and could help the city save money in its road repairs and building new roads and all the things it does to accommodate cars in the city. So it seems like a lot, but if you do the math and you look at the long-term it’s really not a lot of money. Cycling infrastructure is a lot cheaper to maintain and there’s also the health benefits—a healthier city is a cheaper city. There are all kinds of other benefits that come out of it, so it’s worth putting in that $100 million.” V
Individuals interested in presenting to the committee on the proposed bike plan can register to speak at the March 3 public meeting by visiting edmonton.ca/bikeplan.
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