Edmonton’s Cycling Infrastructure Funding

Edmonton’s Cycling Infrastructure Funding

The Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society sent out an alert through their Facebook group on Thursday, asking its members to talk to their municipal representatives about why funding for cycling infrastructure is important. As they wrote:

The bad news: the recommendation is not the $100M ($10M over 10 years) for cycling that we had initially expected. The city is missing out on a golden opportunity to save the city money and achieve its goals of having a more active city, less auto-dependent, with a compact urban form.

The city is not serious about getting people cycling. They are not dedicating the funds to making it safe and easy for people to cycle. Funding PR, such as the maps, promotional programs, and such won’t get people cycling: infrastructure investments such as on road lanes for bicycles will. It has been proven in other cities; New York, Toronto, Montreal, Copenhagen, Vancouver. If you want to get people cycling you have to make it safe.

This is the test for Edmonton City Council. Are we serious about cycling and reducing our auto-dependency, or are all of these plans just nice words?

Here is the letter I just sent to councillors@edmonton.ca and stephen.mandel@edmonton.ca – Edmonton friends, won’t you take a moment and write to them too?

Dear Mayor Mandel and City of Edmonton Councillors,

The Transportation and Public Works Committee is voting on the Active Transportation Strategy this Tuesday, November 17th.
I have read the report at http://www.facebook.com/l/978d8;ereg2.edmonton.ca/sirepub/cache/2/0tdddp2qbsyr3x45myv31a45/1325711122009114753247.PDF – and I am disappointed in both the relatively small investment being made in cycling infrastructure in this proposal, and how that funding is meant to be allocated. An increase in funding from 1.15% to 1.5% for projects shared between cyclists and pedestrians is disappointingly small. [Correction: actually, it’s a decrease in proposed funding: down from the original combined total of $286M over 10 years to about $22M over 3 years.]

When I moved to Edmonton as a graduate student in the early 1990s, I lived in the area close to the university, and I walked, rode my bicycle, or took public transit everywhere I went. I did not cycle as much as I could have at that time, because I did not feel comfortable cycling on busy city roads, and cycling paths in the river valley were (in my perception) the domain of recreational cyclists on beefed-up mountain bikes, not commuters on comfort or hybrid bikes. Buying my first car allowed me to explore parts of Edmonton that had felt completely off-limits to me – and when my bicycle was stolen shortly after my car purchase, I did not replace it. Cycling maps that indicate ease-of-use for the paved valley paths might have made my experience easier, but to encourage me to continue cycling at that time, on-street bike lanes and better bicycle parking would have made a huge difference, as would the ability to take my bike on public transit.

I am part of the recent boom in people who are taking up cycling as commuters (and blogging about it). I’m living in Terwillegar Towne, which is a convenient place to commute from by car (close to both the Henday and the Whitemud), and it’s become much more convenient to use public transit with the opening of the new transit hub at the nearby recreation centre site on 23rd Avenue and the imminent opening of the LRT line to the former Heritage Mall site. It’s also an extremely pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, with sidewalks and multi-use paths through parks. Now that my children are old enough to pedal on their own, I’ve gotten a bicycle again, and I’ve fitted it with big baskets so I can use my bicycle to reduce my dependance on my car for local errands (like trips to nearby grocery stores, which are a bit too far to walk to conveniently). When the schools open in our subdivision in September, we plan to ride back and forth to school. I hope we won’t need to ride on the sidewalk to do so, and that there will be easily-accessed bike racks of appropriate size for both adult and child bikes at the schools.

I’m also looking forward to taking my bicycle to – or on – the bus and LRT. To make that convenient, I’d love to see secure covered bicycle parking at major transit hubs, and a way to bring bicycles onto transit. Under the current proposal, funding for those projects would be deferred until at least 2012 and possibly later.

I’m fortunate to be living in a new neighborhood with such amenities, and I feel strongly that all parts of Edmonton should have such opportunities – which is why I strongly support the sidewalk and curb ramp rehabilitation and renewal programme outlined in the report, and other city policies that support renewal and family-friendly infill development in older, established Edmonton neighborhoods. I do not think that any infrastructure rehabilitation projects in these neighborhoods should be deferred in an effort to find funding for new projects. I would prefer that roadway expansion along the Henday be deferred, if necessary, to allow funding of inexpensive cycling infrastructure projects (such as repainting key roads to identify cycling lanes) and quicker implementation of projects that will allow commuters to combine bicycle use with public transit. I support that strategy, even though deferring completion of some planned projects along the ring road would affect me personally, as a driver who uses the Henday regularly and who has benefited from the ease with which it allows me to reach far-flung parts of the city. Deferring roadway expansion along the Henday could allow projects to move forward that will make it easier to commute by bicycle, reducing traffic volumes and making it easier to find automobile parking in congested areas like downtown and Whyte Avenue – so drivers would also benefit.

Thank you for your hard work in making Edmonton a more sustainable city!

Warmest regards,

UPDATE: I’m also helping Edmontonians Supporting A Green Economy (E-SAGE) to draft a letter about this. From that letter:

We appreciate that the City of Edmonton is working hard to craft policies that support a more sustainable future for its citizens. However, we worry that in limiting the immediate funding for the creation of cycling infrastructure – and combining it with the funding for pedestrian infrastructure – that the City may miss a golden opportunity to capitalize on a boom of interest in commuter cycling by making it easier and safer. Making it safer to cycle in this city will result in fewer accidents (both bicycle-auto and bicycle-pedestrian), and will encourage more people to use their bicycles. More people cycling to work, or combining cycling with public transit use, would translate into less vehicle traffic and more parking in congested areas like Downtown and Old Strathcona. It would reduce requirements for road repairs and road widening, and subsequently save the city money in the transportation budget. It would help the city meet its goals for reducing its carbon footprint, along with other environmental and public-health benefits. Making it possible for families to do without their cars, or for two-car families to make do with only one, would provide them with additional disposable income that would be spent in our community, stimulating the local economy.

For more information about the benefits to cities of increasing cycling infrastructure, we invite you to read the following articles:

The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Infrastructure Investments (a point-form summary on EcoVelo of a policy research report by The League of American Cyclists): http://www.ecovelo.info/2009/08/18/the-economic-benefits-of-bicycle-infrastructure-investments/

How To Get More Bicyclists On The Road, an article from Scientific American:

Bucking The Cycle (an article from the Los Angeles Business Journal about the connection between cyclists and shoppers at local businesses): http://bicyclefixation.com/bikebucks.html

2 thoughts on “Edmonton’s Cycling Infrastructure Funding

  1. Deborah, I totally appreciate you taking the time to write that letter. And as a fellow Terwillegar-Townie, I’d like to note that it took nearly 10 years to get that sidewalk from our subdivision to the grocery store. About 9 years too long, in my book. I would also cycle more if I felt safe enough to do so.
    If this community was built to be walkable, I find it truly lacks, especially in comparison to Calgary’s McKenzie Towne. I can go for a walk or a bike ride – it’s lovely – but to actually get any errands done? Not so much.
    On the report card? “C” for effort and execution. I think we can and should have better!

  2. Hi Sherri, thanks for your comment! I can’t compare with the community in Calgary that you mention, since I don’t know it. But the long-range plans for this area have always been pretty forward-thinking compared with the 1980s sidewalk-less suburbs in some other parts of town. I have to agree that the sidewalk on 23rd Ave was way too long in coming (it had to wait for the former landfill, where the rec centre is being built and the new transit hub is located, to have lain fallow for a certain period of time and to have passed its EIAs before any construction there could proceed). However, we have had safe sidewalks to get to the Sobeys & Save-On for much longer than a year. Try exploring the paths through the parks and our neighboring subdivisions (you can see most of them in the satellite view on Google Maps); it’s actually quite a lovely, and fairly direct, walk through the residential areas to Rabbit Hill Road. On the other side of us, we could use the sidewalks along Haddow Drive and Riverbend Road to get to the area near the Safeway for errand-running. I have done it a couple of times with my kids in a stroller or a wagon – but the walk was pretty time-consuming, and was as much a point of the excursion as doing any errands. I’m looking forward to slicing the time to a third or less by using a bike; hopefully that will make it convenient enough that I can overcome the temptation to just hop in my car when I need a few litres of milk. The new schools and the retail area planned for across the road from the Mac’s will make our community much less car-dependent, too – I’m hoping we’ll get a nice cafe, a bakery, and maybe a used bookstore or yarn shop in there. 😉

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