How did bike lanes, of all things, become the lightning rod for community discontent?
This one small issue has become a source for as much debate — and outright rancour — as any single issue in Red Deer in years.
Based on the community discussion — over coffee, on the street, over the fence, in letters to the editor and online; in fact, pretty much everywhere — it has even surpassed such mainstays of civic discord as snow removal, the eastward extension of Molly Banister Drive and, more recently, fluoridation of our water.
It may all be the ultimate compliment to city council and its administrators: when a modest (in cost and overall impact) initiative can engender such outcry, surely that suggests that the leadership of this community has managed the big issues well.
If we can’t find reason to complain about major traffic corridor initiatives, the state of our recreation facilities, the quality of any number of services delivered, and the general maintenance of our community, why not gripe about paint on a few streets that has, however minutely, altered traffic patterns?
We must be too happy with the city’s management of the big issues, or too bored with the things that really matter.
Why else would we waste so much time, passion and paper on something as innocuous as bike lanes?
Surely not because people think bicycles are a bad thing.
They are in fact a very good thing: they promote a healthy lifestyle, reduce greenhouse gases that would be otherwise created by cars, require far less space than vehicles, and in general slow down the pace of a too-hectic lifestyle.
Surely not because people think that spending $800,000 to sort out the best way to facilitate bike traffic is extravagant (it is a fraction of the city’s annual budget). Never mind that covering up the newly-painted lanes on 55th Street and 40th Avenue (as a split city council decided to do on Monday) will simply cost more money, pushing the pilot project over budget. How do fiscal hawks like Coun. Chris Stephan rationalize forcing a change to the pilot that will simply ramp up the overcall cost of the project?
Surely not because people are impatient — on the road, and in the face of new ideas — to the point that they won’t let events unfold and evidence be gathered in a rational fashion.
School has been back in session for a scant two-plus weeks, hardly enough time to gauge whether people can adjust to new traffic patterns.
Never mind the fact that snow will soon cover the markings, many cyclists will retreat for the winter, and motorists will simply pretend the bike lanes were never there: out of sight, out of mind.
The whole messy unravelling of the pilot bike lane project shows democracy at its worst: without the patience to thoroughly examine ideas, and without the foresight to imagine a different world, one that accommodates more than one transportation model in this case.
That a certain distaste for the project has raised its head should not be a surprise. We know that some people are in so much of a hurry to get where they’re going in the next half hour that they refuse to see where society is going in the next half decade.
And we know that some of the selected bike lanes would be abandoned or altered at the end of the pilot project. That was the point: to determine the best bike corridors, examining the options and figuring out which don’t work.
But surely we could have given the process, as it was designed, the time and space to prove or disprove itself.
Instead, all we have done is prove the point that bicyclists have always made: most people are in far too much of a hurry.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.