Edmonton city council’s decision to put $100 million towards bike infrastructure across the city has opened a conversation about council’s priorities.
Councillors said they heard the money should go towards helping the homeless or bolstering the transit system.
Ward papastew Coun. Michael Janz said comparing the funding for bike lanes to funding for homelessness is a red herring.
“Only $100 million is going to bike lanes but $1.8 billion, 180 times as much, is going towards roads. That’s like saying, ‘How can you be okay with those street lights when there’s homelessness?’,” he said.
Janz said it’s vital to invest in infrastructure that will encourage people to choose biking and walking over driving.
“We have to invest in our busses, our sidewalks, safe routes for bikes and active transportation,” he said.
“Those are our minimum critical pieces that we got to do. People are still dying and getting hit by drivers out in the road.”
The city said in 2021, there were 158 cases of a vehicle hitting a cyclist, which resulted in one death, 26 serious injuries and 114 minor injuries. Five pedestrians were killed, 46 were seriously injured and 118 had minor injuries.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi echoed that the bike plan funding is a drop in the bucket compared to what Edmonton spends on roads for cars.
“When you create options for people, they will use that infrastructure,” he said.
Sohi said that active transportation is the cheapest way to move people around.
“I think one of the arguments we hear from people is that Edmontonians don’t bike or that we are a winter city, but Edmontonians do bike! More Edmontonians will bike more if we have appropriate infrastructure which is safe, reliable, connected,” said Sohi.
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Ward pihêsiwin Coun. Tim Cartmell said the bike plan isn’t as high of a priority for him.
He had put forward the idea of funding $30 million of the plan now while earmarking $70 million for future use if buy-in from the community was strong.
“There is a certain element of if you build a better network, people will use it, absolutely. What’s that threshold? We don’t know,” he said.
“If we put in more ‘commuter-esque’ routes on the bike plan, how much commuter uptick will there be? How much mode transfer will there be?”
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He said bike infrastructure will be built on the Terwillegar Drive expansion and the Yellowhead Trail conversion and questioned why those dollars —roughly $25 million in Terwillegar Drive’s case — didn’t count towards the bike plan.
“Two dedicated pedestrian bridges and a dedicated multi-use trail. If we say we need $170 million in bike paths but we’ve already spent $25 million in the Terwillegar Drive project for bike plan, how much more do we really need?”
Cartmell said the bike lanes will cost $11 million per year to maintain.
While the “where” and “when” of the construction of the bike infrastructure has not yet been firmed up, the city said this could look like strengthening the network in the downtown and south-central areas, extending the network to the south-central, west-central and east-central areas, and providing stronger district connector routes to the northside via 127 Street, 97 Street and Fort Road.
The bike infrastructure will be installed in a variety of methods. While some will be standalone retrofits, others will be included as part of neighbourhood renewal projects.
The funding was approved during the lengthy budget deliberations, which will continue until Dec. 16.
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