Get bike lanes back on track

Do bicycle enthusiasts in Red Deer, and particularly those who use their bikes to commute, have reason to be distressed at the city’s lack of progress on the bike lane pilot project?

Do bicycle enthusiasts in Red Deer, and particularly those who use their bikes to commute, have reason to be distressed at the city’s lack of progress on the bike lane pilot project?

Based on the lack of communication about the progress of the project, and a comparison with Calgary’s recent progress on its own pilot project, the answer is yes.

Calgary has launched a three-year, $28-million project to improve that city’s infrastructure for bicyclists. The project is intended to upgrade and expand downtown Calgary bike lanes, and other related infrastructure.

The report that frames the Calgary project says that cycling is the second most popular transportation mode (at 28.2 per cent) on Calgary pathways. Walking is first, at 50.7 per cent.

On foot, or peddling, the conflict for space on paths and roads is real, and often dangerous. And the demand for bike-only space is growing in Red Deer, and elsewhere. Bike lanes simplify traffic flow, ease pressure on paths and help prevent conflicts with bicycles and cars on roads.

Last fall, 75 people rallied to support a more bike-friendly traffic system in Red Deer.

“I think bike lanes aren’t just for cyclists. They’re for drivers, too. I know that most people are happy to see more bikes on the road but when those bikes are interfering with the flow of traffic, sometimes they become disgruntled — or not even disgruntled, but careful to keep us safe and they’re going out of their way to do that,” Mike Kozlowski told the rally.

“(Bike lanes) can help to ease tension in the relationship between cyclists and drivers. So it’s a win-win for everybody. Bike lanes won’t take anything away from drivers and it will only make cyclists safer.”

But the Red Deer project to provide bike lanes has been delayed. And to bike enthusiasts, that is both perplexing and distressing.

Cyclists complained last week that Red Deer’s project appeared to have been scaled back, at least this year, without consultation.

“It’s hugely disappointing,” Red Deer Association for Bicycle Commuting spokesman John Johnston said last week of an email from the city that apparently announced the changes in this summer’s plans.

“Council said they were supporting this, engineers said they were supporting this. There was money in place. We’re not sure why things have been scaled back.”

Red Deer city manager Craig Curtis hopes to set up a meeting between biking proponents and members of city council, in an attempt to get this city’s bike lane pilot project rolling again, despite some logistical difficulties.

“We are totally committed to working through with this bike lane project,” said Curtis. “It is just a matter of dealing with some of the challenges and working with the group.”

Red Deer city council has set aside $800,000 ($8.70 per capita, roughly) for the bike lane project, a far cry from the $28 million ($25 per capita, roughly) established for the same purpose in Calgary.

Council made a commitment to the project and even its members are surprised by the delays. “I’m a bit surprised because we were quite adamant that pilot (project) to go through,” said Councillor Paul Harris of the delay.

Council has yet to see blueprints of the bike lane plan.

The disconnect is threefold:

l City staff have apparently not understood the growing public demand for bike lanes, or council’s professed passion for the project, and have failed to adequately inform the public and council about delays.

l Council members have apparently not stayed connected to the details of the project, perhaps assuming that city staff would simply shepherd it through without their close attention.

l Council’s financial support for the project would appear to be minimal, based on a per capita comparison with the Calgary project’s budget.

Any way you cut it, the initial stages of the bike lanes project leave much to be desired. Getting it back on track, and keeping the public well informed about its progress, should be front of mind for city staff and council.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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