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 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?