Red Deer’s bike lane pilot project is neither perfect nor perfectly foolish.
Somewhere in between is a happy medium that can serve the various transportation needs of a growing, progressive city that wants to limit its carbon footprint, and move people safely through a variety of means, but is practical enough to know that cars and pickup trucks aren’t going to disappear off our streets.
First, a confession: I ride my bike to work every day that weather and circumstances allow, which is roughly four out of five days in spring, summer and fall. I never ride in the winter, although I will walk the same route I ride if a winter day is mild enough. For the most part, my route allows me to use paths. The roads I do travel are not high-traffic areas.
Second, a simple lesson in economics: although I ride a bike regularly, my wife and I also own a home in Red Deer (for which we pay property taxes), have two cars in the garage (for which we paid GST when we purchased them, for which we pay annual registration fees and insurance, and for which we pay for gas and services at city businesses, which in turn pay taxes). We pay our income tax, provincial and federal.
In short, we pay for the right to use whatever transportation we choose: walking, bicycle, city transit or personal vehicle.
The argument that those of you who choose to drive exclusively have a greater economic claim to the various roads and walkways in this city is so much nonsense.
(It’s insupportable economic bullying, in fact. The notion that those who contribute more to the economic well-being of our community have greater rights than those less fortunate, or those who are more careful about how they spend their money, is simplistic and elitist.)
But that doesn’t mean I think we need bike lanes everywhere.
In fact, some of the bike lanes established in the city’s pilot project would seem downright dangerous. Certainly they are counterproductive. Cars and trucks need space to move, and bike riders need to be safe, on the street or on paths.
The lanes on 55th Street are the most obvious example of a dangerous situation.
At certain times of the day, 55th Street is an extremely busy road, with students, parents and teachers going in and out of the confluence of schools at 42A Avenue.
Columnist Vesna Higham and letter writers have eloquently pointed out how dangerous and constraining the bike lanes make this major road.
It would be far better to leave 55th Street to cars and buses and divert bike traffic to 53rd Street and through Woodlea.
The same ultimate goals would result (giving bike riders a dedicated route east-west into downtown and beyond in both directions), with less disruption and far less danger.
Certainly the pilot bike lane project is a major step forward, if only to allow both sides of this debate to voice their concerns and look for compromises.
Not every route now being painted is going to be successful.
And certainly some city officials are aware that longer term, the most practical solution is to build dedicated bike routes that eliminate the potential for bike-vehicle conflict (but that costs a great deal more money).
In the shorter term, prudent planning will help, and the city is making a point now of building paths that have clear destinations and logical links. The route I ride to work is such an example of good planning: a bike/walking path that runs true all the way from Vanier Woods and Lancaster, through Bower toward Gaetz Avenue, only crossing two major roads (and both crossings supported by traffic signals).
In the meantime, we should approach the bike lane project in the spirit it was intended: as a fact-gathering pilot. You can take part in an online survey about the new bike lanes and routes at www.reddeer.ca/bikelanes. The survey takes less than five minutes to fill out.
And next year, when council reviews the project and looks to the future, you can step forward and have your say.
If you don’t like what’s decided after that, there’s always the ballot box in the fall of 2013. Maybe we can drum up more than the customary 22-or-so per cent participation for a municipal election, driven by a debate about bike lanes, of all things.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.