The last word on bicycles?

Like most people in Red Deer, I’m almost glad for the killing frost last week, so we can think about the onset of another winter and get back to our normal lives of griping about the city’s lousy snow-clearing program.

Like most people in Red Deer, I’m almost glad for the killing frost last week, so we can think about the onset of another winter and get back to our normal lives of griping about the city’s lousy snow-clearing program.

A supposition on my part, but I figure everything that could be said about bike transportation in Red Deer has been said, and written, too many times already.

Except that there’s been so much misinformation and outright swiftboating on the issue, that before the last words are spoken, an overview would probably be a good idea.

Let’s talk first about the $800,000 council supposedly wasted on the bike lanes pilot project. (A good portion of that money was indeed wasted, because a major portion of the project was reversed before any data could be collected.)

The city’s total budget this year is something like $367 million. That’s what it costs to run a city; that’s what we are all taxed for.

Out of every tax dollar you pay, nine per cent is spent on public works. That comes out to just over $33 million for maintaining our streets, traffic lights, parking, snow clearing, bridge maintenance — things like that.

We already know that 90 per cent of all transportation in Red Deer is by car, that 90 per cent of commutes are one person per car, and that the vast majority of those trips are five km or less. That’s the congestion you live with on the roads. And we all know it’s going to get worse, not better as the city grows.

And it’s caused by cars, not bikes or bike lanes.

Just the opposite. Bikes and bike lanes are the solution. Part of it anyway. Studies done on transportation infrastructure in the U.S. point to a 30 per cent reduction in perceived road congestion, with a three per cent drop in car numbers on the streets. That drop can be achieved with better use of car pooling, public transit, walking — and cycling.

When we talk about Red Deer’s $200-million debt, most of that is for more streets and roads to relieve current congestion and allow for growth. It also includes strip-mining a mile of natural land on the riverbank for a new bridge, destroying the last link in the wildlife corridor between the river and Gaetz Lake Sanctuary.

But nobody gripes about the cost of that. Most of us agree that’s what we need to let our city grow and keep it livable.

How about this? If we can agree that three per cent of Red Deer commutes are by bike through much of the year, wouldn’t fairness to those taxpayers suggest that three per cent of the public works budget be spent on infrastructure for them? That’s just under $1 million per year.

Especially if you consider that reducing the number of car commutes makes city travel safer, faster, more pleasant and ultimately cheaper for the taxpayer.

People who have studied city maps and bikeways have discovered that homes in U.S. cities that are close to public paths and bike lanes receive an average 11 per boost in property values. That’s a direct subsidy, courtesy of taxpayers, paid on every home sold in those areas.

So let’s end the swiftboating about the cost of this pilot project, OK?

A million words have been published lately about the ambiguous status of cyclists in Red Deer. Some really nasty words have been written saying cyclists should just use the sidewalks. Other writers say cyclists who ride on sidewalks are cretins who ought to be grease spots.

The solution for this is totally in council’s hands. Pass a bylaw forbidding sidewalk cycling, and pass another saying no vehicle can pass within 1.5 metres of a cyclist when they ride on the streets. To settle the issue, you need both.

Failing that, there can be no change, so everyone should just shut up. I’ll try to do that myself. Besides, I’ve got a tune-up to get done on my winter bike.

Greg Neiman is a former editor of the Red Deer Advocate. Follow his blog at Email

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