There’s mixed reaction in the community following city council’s decision to make changes to the bike lane pilot project before it cycled its course.
In light of overwhelming community response, city council decided on Sept. 17 to remove the designated bike lanes on 55th Street and 40th Avenue north of 52nd Street; and 59th Avenue north of 70th Street; and revert the roads to their original configurations.
“I think they realized there’s a lot of people out there who are concerned with the amount of money we’re spending especially when we’re $200 million in debt,” said Ryan Handley.
“That makes me think that maybe it was a bit soon. Maybe we should work on getting out of debt. And when we have some extra funds we should do some upgrades.”
The two-year $800,000 pilot was scheduled for a review in the fall of 2013 after receiving the green light in 2011. City administration delivered a progress report highlighting some of the specific concerns and provided several recommendations in council chambers on Sept. 17.
The cost to remove the lanes has not been determined.
City administration, however, said the price tag would exceed the funds allotted for the pilot.
The city will drawn on its surplus funds in its operating budgets to foot the bill.
The removal of the bike lanes should be completed by October.
Handley started the 3,000-signature survey calling on city council “to stop the pilot program and not spend any further money on bike lanes on existing streets. This petition also asks council to “remove bike lanes on streets that have demonstrated severe traffic issues due to loss of entire lanes and loss of off-street parking in front of residences.”
Coun. Chris Stephan mentioned the petition along with another petition in support of the lanes in council chambers.
Handley was disappointed council did not agree to remove the lanes on 40th Avenue and 39th Street, as put forth in an amendment by Stephan.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” said Handley.
“I think council on the whole has seen there was some concern for sure for a lot of people. I think they are making some right decisions, going in the right direction . . . It was a little closer than I thought it would be. I am just happy they are starting to listen to the majority of the citizens.”
Lynne Paradis said more communication with key people before the lanes were painted would have saved the city the hassles and headaches.
“I think the concept of encouraging people to utilize bikes in lieu of cars is very positive but I think there was a missed opportunity to roll out an information awareness campaign to fully inform parents, students, the general public,” said Paradis, who is the Learning Services associate superintendent for the Red Deer Catholic Schools.
“I think the timing of (the completion of the lane installation) around the beginning of school created some unnecessary anxiousness because of the flood of people who would be travelling in cars in those highly congested school zones.”
Paradis said there’s the safety aspect but there’s also the fiscal responsibility of city council.
She said people would understand better what it costs to put them in if they understood the project.
She said there’s lots of positive things about the pilot but most people do not know what the plan was nor were they given guidance on how to implement the plan.
“We could have gotten 10,000 letters out and 15 minutes of instruction with every kid,” said Paradis.
“I think there would have been a much more positive reaction to it because people wouldn’t have been fearful. I think people were lacking the knowledge.”
Al Coker, a long-time city resident, said removing the lanes was the only decision because they should not have been painted in the first place without more public consultation.
“I think they should also move them off 39th Street and anywhere they took four lanes and put them down to two,” said Coker.
“I know they want to have people riding bikes but people don’t ride bikes for the most part. They drive cars. Even with the gas prices with the way they are, the highway is full of cars. They always will be and the city is only going to get bigger. They didn’t put much thought into it. I don’t think.” Rene Michalak, a member of ReThink Red Deer and the Red Deer Association of Bicycle Commuting, was disappointed with the outcome.
“I understand the criticisms,” said Michalak.
“What I don’t understand was how quickly they were heated. They rescinded on the commitment to see this pilot project through to next year and then make the changes. Basically council bowed down to the dissenters. They didn’t stand firm with the decision that was originally made.”
Michalak said he is not concerned so much with the council’s decision but with the behaviour and feedback he has received as a cyclist in the community. He said there is a right to be engaged in civic matters but there also comes a responsibility of being properly informed, civil, mature and communicating in a respectful way.
“They do not have historical context nor have they done the work to understand history of the whole project,” said Michalak.
“This project has been in the works for at least 10 years.”
Stephen Merredew, a member of the Red Deer Association of Bicycle Commuting, said he hopes the change is one step of many towards many of making bicycle commuting safer.
“Hopefully this leads to some better options for bicycle commuting if they have determined that one is not a viable option,” said Merredew. “It is certainly a step backwards but at the same time sometimes it is two steps forward and one step back.”