The City of Edmonton (and any City, for that matter), are conducting hundreds of projects at any time. We have the large infrastructure projects (bridges, rail systems, parks… in Edmonton, these are the projects that carry on for twice the planned time, and usually feature at least one spectacular blunder), and smaller infrastructure projects that most of us don’t notice or pay interest to (rehabilitation projects like potholes, city “beautification,” etc.).
The City’s decision to install bike lanes downtown is not one of those decisions. Edmontonians have taken notice, and as with most modern political discourse, have fallen into one of two camps: 1) bikes represent a progressive city and bike lanes are a part of it; or, 2) the City’s downtown arteries are clogged enough, and it’s foolish to close off roads for yet-to-be-seen results.
As someone who lives in the core, rides a bike, but also drives a car, I feel comfortable sharing my moderately-informed opinion.
Edmonton has some startling realities we will have to face sooner or later. With the downtown core springing to life, and no major highway leading into said core (Edmonton is unique in North America in this regard), travelling to and from downtown will become a growing challenge in the years to come. Accordingly, a forward-thinking city should encourage bike commuters for a number of reasons – traffic decongestion, general health of its citizens, increased livability, and additional access to downtown, to name a few.
For these reasons alone, I am in favour of the lanes. If they indirectly force people to re-consider their transportation methods, perhaps this is a good thing as we continue to rip out above ground lots and build towers.
But a bike-lane policy downtown doesn’t jive with the rest of the City’s actions. We continue to annex land and build out into the middle of nowhere. Edmonton’s a wonderful place to take your bicycle out for a leisurely jaunt, but it’s very difficult to commute anywhere except the downtown. Edmonton’s core is a forward-thinking bubble, while the rest of the City aspires to be Houston of the North; cookie-cutter, sprawling communities, devoid of any culture with a drive-only philosophy. Let’s not forget, we recently removed bikes lanes that had been installed only two years earlier.
I am just one man, but I live centrally and work on the Southside. I have taken my bike to work on two occasions, and don’t mind a longer commute to work if it means I feel better, save on the stresses of car travel, and get some exercise. But I won’t go again, because it’s a mix of treacherous and aggravating. There is no good route, as I’m forced to zig-zag across major thoroughfares and into unmarked residential areas.
If Edmonton wants to become a better city, it must have a shared, consistent focus throughout. We need train stations that carry on far enough that commuters don’t need to drive to them; we need to spend the money to plan and create a system that works, rather than jamming a train into an important junction of the city with no coherent thought, outraging everyone. And we need a mayor to lead this, rather than one complaining about bikes when he and his council narrowed the busiest bike corridor in the City.
It’s the maddening inconsistency of the City’s leadership that gets to me. I hope that the City’s downtown bike lanes are not a one-off, but rather the beginning of a new focus on helping Edmontonians get around.