Edmonton’s 83rd Avenue Bike Lane Should Actually Be On Whyte Avenue

Edmonton’s 83rd Avenue Bike Lane Should  Actually Be On Whyte Avenue
By Samuel Baron

The City of Edmonton has officially unveiled its proposed plans to implement protected bike lanes on 83rd avenue and 102 avenue. This is a huge step forward in a city that has for decades catered primarily to motorized transportation. Edmonton is on the urban upswing and there is ample opportunity for growth in ridership.

As a former Edmontonian though, I can’t help but feel that the City is unfortunately making the same mistakes as other municipalities by placing the protected infrastructure on a side street, rather than a high street. Other municipalities in North America (Vancouver included) opt for this approach as it is the more politically conservative approach (it angers drivers the least). 83rd avenue moves less vehicles than Whyte Avenue and already is safe for cyclists. A bike lane on 83rd avenue is for all intents and purposes practically useless. It is a side street, with a lot of residential, no commercial and little traffic. Already, without a bike lane it pretty much functions similar to Vancouver’s neighbourhood greenways. It already is traffic calmed.

Lets take a look at the context of where Edmonton will be implementing the 83rd avenue bike lane.

83rd Map
83rd avenue in red. The City will roll out a protected bike lane from the Mill Creek Ravine to 111th Street in what is one of Edmonton’s densest neighbourhoods.

83rd avenue runs adjacent to one of Edmonton’s most popular commercial streets – Whyte Avenue (82nd avenue). Whyte Avenue is a hub for transit, retail and is arguably one of the City’s most cherished destinations for culture, shopping and dining. Certainly, taking asphalt away from vehicular traffic would be a politically contentious move. But with 6 lanes of traffic, Whyte avenue has ample space to accommodate a bidirectional, protected bike lane. Whyte Avenue is an overbuilt road, surrounded with more than enough ample parking opportunities.


There is a lot of parking on and surrounding Whyte Avenue.

Given the human scale architecture and the large number of pedestrians who frequent the street, Whyte Avenue is the logical place to begin giving more space to people on foot and bike. A road diet on Whyte Avenue will bolster the City’s long term active transportation strategy and support its goal of making Whyte avenue more pedestrian friendly. Protected bike lanes make streets safer for people walking. The number of people injured while walking has dropped on streets where protected bike lanes were implemented in New York City.

Opting for the less politically controversial 83rd avenue route rather than 82nd avenue demonstrates a lack of forethought. Bike lanes and cycling are here to stay in North America and people who ride bikes shouldn’t be relegated to backstreets. It treats people riding bikes as inconvenient and awards them inconvenient infrastructure. It views cycling as something that is merely for commuter purposes. But what about running errands? How about making a quick stop for a bite to eat? What about window shopping and grabbing your groceries? It’s virtually impossible to do this without an extensive knowledge of the services on Whyte avenue (I guess you could stop and pull out your phone while riding on 83rd ave). Forcing people on bikes to side streets denies them the opportunity to window shop, denying easy access to all of Whyte Avenue’s great amenities. It makes cycling an inconvenience and treats it as such.

These decisions are no different than the infrastructure choices in Vancouver and harkens back to Vancouver’s at-one-time contentious Union Street protected bike lane. Eastside residents and business owners opposed the implementation of the protected bike lane claiming it would harm businesses on the affected block. “To slash and burn like this is not going to work,” Steve Da Cruz, Union Street restauranteur, told the Vancouver Courier.

However, the apocalyptic predictions fell short. Business are benefiting from the increased number of people riding by.  These findings are consistent with Slow Streets research on Union Street, where we found that 71% of surveyed businesses thought the separated bike lane was good for Union Street. Since the implementation of Union’s bike lane, the same concerned restauranteur has come out in support of it. “We definitely have benefited from the increased usage of the bike lane,” Da Cruz said in a more recent interview.

Lastly, it is a misconception that people on bikes and foot spend less than drivers. A 2012 study by Portland State University found that people walking and cycling outspent their driving counterparts. It is much easier for someone riding a bicycle or walking to stop in and make a spontaneous purchase than a driver.

When it comes to transportation choice, facilitating trips is about providing convenient and accessible infrastructure. Which street would you rather ride on? Where are people more likely to spend their money?

83rd Avenue Edmonton
83rd Avenue in Edmonton

82nd Avenue Edmonton
82nd Avenue in Edmonton

10 thoughts on “Edmonton’s 83rd Avenue Bike Lane Should Actually Be On Whyte Avenue

  1. I’m not sure why you suggest that Whyte Ave is “overbuilt.” The road suffers from congestion issues throughout the day, which slows traffic to 30 km/h from 99-104. I’m not sure how a bike lane would affect buses, either, as there are countless stops along the way. Whyte is only 4 lanes wide, not 6, as the curb lane is used for parking and bus stops, and it’s always full. The city has also been working with restaurants along Whyte to give them larger patio spaces. This means a wooden boardwalk extends onto the street for pedestrians to get around the expanded patio space.

    The city examined the bike route on 81, 82, 83 and 84 aves and determined (through feedback from the community) that 83 ave was the best choice. This provides the safest route, and will allow bikes to be a priority, not an afterthought along the route.


    1. Hi Gord,

      Thank you for your comment.

      When we say that Whyte Ave is ‘overbuilt’ we mean that the street design caters to and prioritizes vehicular movement. This is unfortunate, as Whyte Avenue is a cultural hub in Edmonton and should emphasize the pedestrian experience rather than being a space to move traffic East and West. Your references to ‘traffic’ and ‘congestion’ are simply referring to vehicle traffic and ignores other forms of mobility like walking or cycling. Streets(roads) are not simply about moving vehicles. They are spaces that form a substantial part of our public sphere and they support diverse activities. Dedicating so much space to simply moving vehicles, is a lost opportunity to increase business revenue and to increase the value and comfort for everyone on Whyte Avenue. If we want less vehicle congestion and traffic we must encourage people to take up other ways of travel (transit, walking and cycling).

      The 6 lanes reference is referencing the fact that there are 6 lanes on Whyte Avenue (4 of which are for vehicular movement, 2 for stationary cars – parking). Perhaps, a better choice of words would be 6 lanes dedicated to motorized transportation.

      If you are skeptical of dedicating less infastructure to cars on Whyte Avenue, here is a study that examines 460 road diets (lane removals) which describes the safety impacts (safety was improved for everyone): http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/cms/downloads/WhitePaper_RoadDiets_PBIC.pdf

      Additionally, here is a study in NYC where bike lanes actually improved travel time for car drivers: http://www.vox.com/2014/9/8/6121129/bike-lanes-traffic-new-york

      Slow Streets


      1. The problem with Whyte is that it’s a main East/West road for vehicles, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The nearest East/West corridor to Whyte is 63 Ave, 19 blocks away. We desperately need another vehicle corridor, and hopefully that’ll be 76 Ave ,once things are sorted out with the rail yards. If it becomes more congested with vehicles then they spill over to the adjoining roads – mostly to 83 Ave, since the bottleneck appears to affect West-bound traffic the most. This is one reason 83 Ave is excellent for a bike lane; it will hopefully prevent the shortcutters going West. I know when something has happened on Whyte in the afternoon because there’s a constant stream of people driving past my house heading West trying to skip ahead on Whyte.

        As I said before, that curb lane on Whyte is used for parking cars, but it’s also key for transit (bus stops), turning lanes, and will be used in the summer for patios. This certainly helps the walkability of the area. I don’t think that a bike lane could be added and still maintain the transit stops, or the patios, do you? (My knowledge of bike lanes is fairly limited; I’m not trying to be cocky or rude).

        As a resident of the area I use Whyte Ave to get places in my car, but I also walk it as often as I can. I see the arguments from both sides (car/pedestrian), but I disagree that bikes can be included without sacrificing a lot from other sides. Past bike lanes in the city have been so poorly implemented that “bike lane” causes people to shake their heads; the lanes were either in the wrong places, or residents were against them because they’d lose parking. With the 83 Ave lane the city has gotten something right; residents along 83 ave are thrilled to get a bike lane outside their door, cyclists are getting a safe place to ride (and hopefully the priority along the route), and vehicles aren’t “put out.”

        Unfortunately this city has such a car culture that baby steps have to be taken, otherwise there won’t be support for the project. Let’s prove that bike lanes can be done RIGHT in the city, then use that to champion their implementation in other areas of the city, THEN we can look at disrupting a major East/West corridor once there’s support from the general population for bike lanes.


  2. one of the compelling reasons to place the lane on 83 ave was to achieve traffic calming on that street which is a victim of high speed traffic short cutting through the area to avoid whyte ave congestion. this was a request by the local stakeholders, including the cycling community and local residents.

    after many years of cycling on toronto streets, i almost always avoid busy main streets, even when they have cycling infrastructure on them. i rarely have the ability to window shop in these areas because there are such high volumes of pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular traffic to be mindful off while riding. not to mention high bus/streetcar frequencies that introduce many potential points of conflict.

    while i agree that some shopping streets greatly benefit from this type of treatment, given the local context around whyte ave and the users the cycle facility will be serving, i think the city is going to build a very successful project. i would still like to see traffic lanes reduced on whyte and sidewalks extended to make space for patios and pedestrians. if that were to also occur, these two streets together, in partnership, are part of a vibrant precinct that has, hopefully, will see safety improvements on both 82 and 83 as a result of investment in the area. there is definitely work that is needed on whyte ave to improve safety, but i don’t necessarily think cycle tracks are the best way to achieve that outcome


  3. I agree 1000% with GordLacey above. Until CP Rail moves out and 76 ave is (hopefully) developed as an East/West corridor for the frankly stupid amount of traffic (commercial and otherwise) that currently clogs Whyte Ave, 83 ave is the best option. Taking away further asphalt for a protected bike lane without offering another place for those vehicles to go would be incredibly short-sighted.

    (Not to mention…the summer patios/extending the sidewalk for pedestrians is already taking up the parking lanes in many places, and is a massive draw for pedestrians in the area and the businesses. Since it’s already in place, changing that now would cause an uproar.)

    As a resident of the area (I live on 84 ave) I’m even in favour of shutting Whyte down completely to motor vehicle traffic–eventually–but certain other things need to be taken care of first. Once 76 ave is open, for example, commercial traffic congestion could be reduced dramatically and a protected bike lane, along with widened sidewalks, large outdoor patios, and multiple new uses for Whyte would be viable.

    The City went down this road before, and I know a lot of people were dismayed and confused, for example, by the bike lane on 106 street–we lost street parking in a very dense neighbourhood that is a hot destination for shopping, dining, theatre, bars/pubs, festivals, and community gathering events (like the farmers market or ArtWalk) that sparked an increase in illegal parking on private property, for example. And it didn’t dramatically increase ridership. I see very few people using that bike lane today, as the serious commuters seem to brave the traffic on 109 or Gateway Blvd instead.

    This time around the City consulted residents and users of the proposed 83 ave bike lane, and ran trials last summer which were a huge hit. It’s the best place for this to go now.


  4. I agree with both sides, somewhat diplomatically.

    In concept, the bike lane should be on whyte for all the design ideals mentioned here. With the mention and talk of patios, the major factor is the side of street. The patios are and will continue to favour being on north side of the street to access south facing light, whereas south buildings shade the sidewalk consistently by the streetwall. Naturally the best patio businesses are already on the north side (Julio’s, obyrnes etc.)

    many south side restaurant businesses are grade separated as well (billiards, squires, mcnasty) making sidewalk service more challenging as a business.

    I don’t connect the argument that as a major artery it would automatically further congest whyte in the case that parking lane was stripped for a separated bike lane on south side of whyte, preserving all current traffic lanes. Buses are a true concern but may come down to design details if explored.

    The conceptual design person in me would like to see it on whyte too. The practical one agrees with comments made in the pro 83rd side actually referencing that they’ve done consultation on it etc. my neighbour is actually very involved with this at the city I’m going to ask her about consideration for the bike lane on whyte and what else might have (or have not) been considered.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I live on 83 Ave and this new bike lane project is a nightmare. I have been googling to see if there are any other complaints when I came across this older article.
    This is a highly populated area and they have taken away all of our street parking on 83 Ave from 99 Street to 101 Street. We are already fighting over parking around here, and this had made it worse.
    What can we do!?!?!


    1. I doubt there’s anything that you can do. The project was decided a few years ago, and is now implemented. The time to provide feedback over the design was during one of the many community input meetings that the city held.


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