Early this summer, city road crews brought out their grinder and erased the lines and road symbols on the bike lane on 39th Street. Just one more overpayment on the so-called $800,000 pilot project looking to examine solutions for safe, accessible bike commuter transit in the city.
The money was spent, expensive lines were painted — and more expensively erased — but the pilot project itself never really existed. Other than the torrent of online rants to the city’s website and calls of outrage to city staff and councillors about the project, no data was collected.
As with other lanes similarly erased in other parts of the city, there was zero enforcement of the painted lines anyway, so they may as well have never existed, even as an experiment to see if they could work.
So was the whole project a waste of time and money?
Only if you look at the erasures and only if you want to believe the issue is dead.
There are still parts of the pilot project in existence, some of them freshened up with new paint. Parts of Phase One of the pilot, the unheralded “bike lanes to nowhere” are still there. For the most part unnoticed by auto traffic, which flows as it has always done.
But of the project as a whole, the section on 39th Street was a special case.
That particular street directly feeds students to two elementary schools and two middle schools. It is a regional neighbourhood passage to three high schools, and a link to bike lanes leading downtown. As well, it is a link eastward to bike lanes leading out of town, to some of the most favoured recreational and fitness cycling routes in all of Central Alberta.
It still is, though without the (unenforced) protection of even painted lines. Cycling there when the traffic is busy takes a certain amount of confidence. You can forgive parents for adding to that area’s well-documented traffic congestion by driving their kids to school.
That’s why 39th Street, along with several other sections of city pavement, remain of special interest to groups like the Red Deer Association for Bicycle Commuting (of which I happen to be president).
You can look at the erasure of the bike lanes on 39th as a waste, a loss. Or you can look at it as an opportunity to try something else that works better.
The documented experience of cities around the world shows that the many benefits of increasing bike traffic are best achieved when solutions are introduced by increments, with different solutions used in different areas, depending on local conditions. Experience also shows that physical separation of cars, bikes and pedestrian traffic works best for all concerned.
The part of 39th Street where the lanes have been erased would be an ideal place to demonstrate lessons learned from the experience of other cities.
For those few blocks, we could make use of the space between sidewalks (where they exist) and the road, to add a road-level bike path separated from traffic by a physical barrier — a curb, series of pylons or series of parking barriers.
No space to traffic would be lost. No conflict with pedestrians would occur. Safety laws would become more clear, especially at intersections, which are the greatest danger zones in any city.
Bikes would be off the sidewalks, and auto traffic would plainly see them at intersections, which become zones of shared use. Bikes and pedestrians would have the right of way moving straight through, with auto traffic waiting for the intersection to be clear before turning.
Would there be a cost to trying this? Of course. But given the many millions spent just this summer on city road improvements, with many millions more planned for the years to come, when did safe traffic flow come with such a low price tag, that trying this solution in this short section of the city becomes untenable?
Especially when this idea has demonstrated itself to work well in many other cities?
RDABC and city cyclists haven’t “lost” with the erasure of the lines on 39th. Our “to-do” list just got a little longer. There is still plenty of room for civil discussion in this city, and lots of opportunity to find ways for Red Deer to realize the well-proven benefits of increased bike commuting.
That increase is going to happen anyway, with or without a serious look at the means to make this safe, accessible and pleasant for all.
On Saturday, Sept. 13, RDABC will host its fifth annual bike parade. We will meet at 10 a.m. in the parking lot of the Cultural Services Centre at 3827 39th St.
We’ll ride westward, down a part of the area where the bike lanes were erased, across 40th Avenue, to link up with a bike lane that still exists. We’ll follow it to Spruce Drive and from there to City Hall Park.
There will be the usual speechification, and a chance for people to meet other cyclists and to join RDABC.
And with your help, the quest for workable solutions will continue.
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.