Bike project laid to rest

Although conceived with the best of intentions, it was born in confusion and became an object of hatred before people even knew its name. It’s presence spawned a backlash that seemed to blame cyclists for every evil you could name in society.

Although conceived with the best of intentions, it was born in confusion and became an object of hatred before people even knew its name.

It’s presence spawned a backlash that seemed to blame cyclists for every evil you could name in society.

The backlash spawned a special interest group that wants to take over city council, but which has yet to say anything positive about Red Deer.

Through its short life, it suffered multiple amputations, and on its last day was given a final symbolic decapitation.

So it was only fitting that the demise of Red Deer’s despised Commuter Bike Pilot Project should turn into a procedural dog and pony show.

There are 87 pages to the final project update prepared for city council’s review on Monday. The majority of it is negative, and because of the methodologies of the survey sampling, the statistics in it are hardly reliable, either from people for or against cycle commuting in this city.

But the numbers were hardly a concern in the minds of councillors, as they struggled to find a dignified way to put this episode behind them.

They all heard, loud and clear, the complaints that there are very few cyclists in Red Deer. They also heard that accommodating cyclists creates unbearable traffic congestion and unacceptable tax increases.

We live in a democracy and the facts about bike lanes were about as irrelevant to this discussion as George Bush’s claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Few resources were allotted to learning the actual number of cyclists who now commute every day in our city. The best estimate city engineer Michael Williston could provide from spot surveys around the city was that about 400 people a day bike to commute on city streets.

My personal assessment says that’s rather low, but — due disclosure — as president of the Red Deer Association for Bicycle Commuting, what should I know?

Monitoring auto traffic was easier, because that’s what traffic engineers do all the time. Increased congestion at the intersections most complained about, he said, was minor and fell well within engineering guidelines. If you want to see congestion that exceeds parameters for a modern city, you have to leave Red Deer.

No matter. The people have spoken.

So a three-part motion was passed that essentially froze the situation as it is, leaving future plans to a future council.

Then it was unpassed. Councillor Frank Wong wanted the last major section of bike lanes removed — along 39th Street, east of 40th Avenue. He was tired of all the griping.

For reasons that I cannot fathom, Diane Wyntjes supported his call for a revision of the motion to include special “attention” to 39th Street.

So council voted to rescind passing the resolution, so it could entertain an amendment about 39th Street. Never mind, as Cindy Jefferies pointed out, that it had been less than six months since council last adjusted the bike lane project, and the rules say you can’t do that without rescinding their decision made last April, too. Nobody wanted to go there.

Monday’s motion was rescinded, and they held a fire drill wordsmithing the amendment, until it no longer contained Wong’s intent, which was to kill the bike lane there altogether.

That’s because of the same problem council had putting bike lanes on the streets in the first place: cold weather.

Engineering could not guarantee that a call for private tenders to grind out the lane markings, patch them up and paint new ones could be completed before it got too cold. The whole street is slated for new pavement next summer anyway, so it would then need to be repainted twice.

So, even though a new council would inevitably be passing judgment on bike infrastructure anyway, council led itself to believe that an even better solution could be found for 39th Street in the next budget. With a complete off-road bike trail, and four lanes of traffic, no less.

Not to pre-judge the election, but it looks possible that the Red Deer First group that grew out of the anti-bike backlash could just blow the whole thing away anyway, after the next election.

After all the talk about lessons learned, and community inclusion, we’re back to the three main facts that started this whole exercise, three years ago:

• Cyclists have a legal right to the road. Not just the bike lanes and the bike share routes and the recreational trails. All the streets. And even the sidewalks, if they want to use them. That’s the law.

• Every year, more people discover how pleasant, cost-effective, efficient and healthy it can be to just leave the car at home when on their commutes. Red Deer’s cycling population grows every year, despite the willful blindness of people who say they’ve never seen anybody ride a bike in this town.

• People who do not commute by car pay taxes, and have every right to safety when using the public infrastructure their taxes pay for. There is no minimum number of cyclists needed for their safety to be a legitimate concern of city council.

So what’s the best, most inclusive and respectful-of-everyone way for taxpaying citizens to exercise their legal right to infrastructure that they paid for?

Something better than what we got Monday.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

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