A colourful parade of about 75 cyclists passed through the streets of Red Deer on the weekend to show support for the city’s controversial new bike lanes.
The cyclists received encouraging honks from motorists, and only one negative comment — a senior citizen in a vehicle shouted, “You should be ashamed!” before the group left St. Thomas Aquinas School to head for the downtown public market on Saturday morning.
Cyclists took this latest verbal slam in stride.
The general consensus among parade participants, who ranged from children to seniors, was that it’s nice to have the bike lanes and be acknowledged as legitimate users of city roads.
“I feel a lot safer now,” said Louise Zanussi, 48, who uses the lanes whenever she can to get around Red Deer.
“I’ve always tried to stay out of people’s way,” Zanussi added, but there was a fear motorists were not always aware of the cyclists riding next to them. She likes that the bike lanes give cyclists their own marked out territory, raising awareness of their presence.
Dawn Degenhardt, 26, agreed, saying “It was always ambiguous before. Do we go on sidewalks, or roads? We were in kind of a no-man’s land.” The lanes now make it clear where cyclists and motorists each belong, she added.
Although various bike parade participants heard anecdotal reports of fellow bikers being spit on and targeted by can-throwing motorists, nothing untoward happened on Saturday — expect for that shout-out from the elderly woman, who did not accept the cyclists’ invitation to come and chat about her concerns.
“It was largely a very positive reaction. We got lots of honks,” said the organizer of the fourth-annual bike parade, Steve Merredew. He later took questions from city residents at a booth at the public market and discovered once people get more information, “it definitely tends to soften their stance.”
City Coun. Paul Harris, who rode in the parade along with his partner and Sunworks co-owner Terry Warke, said bike lanes have initially been controversial in every community that’s installed them. But each community has gotten used to the lanes over time, as motorists and cyclists gain familiarity with the new configurations, he added.
The local outcry “will settle down,” predicted Harris, who will not be in favour of removing bike lanes from 55th Street and 40th Avenue when a progress report on the pilot bike lane project is discussed at Monday’s regular city council meeting.
The councillor believes that would be a knee-jerk reaction. He prefers that the pilot project that was two years in the making be given a chance to play out before conclusions are drawn.
Harris was among several cyclists who used 55th Street during workday morning rush hour and did not witness any of the feared vehicle congestion.
In any case, Kim and Tim Wright, owners of the Wipe-Out Ski and Bike shop in Red Deer, believe people’s safety should prevail over concerns about traffic taking a bit longer.
“If you’re worried about it, leave five minutes earlier,” advised Tim, who’s from Edmonton and doesn’t think Red Deer has major traffic hassles, apart from some road construction delays.
The bike store owners are meeting more people who are cycling year-round, for health and financial reasons. “We service bikes throughout the year,” said Kim, who believes more education about the benefit of bike lanes will help bring opponents around.
While several anti-bike-lane petitions are making the rounds, Michael Wiseman is circulating a petition in support of the bike lane project. It has about 150 signatures, so far. It’s available at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/support-for-red-deer-bike-lane-pilot-project.html.