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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

No More Lane Pain!

Sean Shaw
Published Thursday March 19, 04:30 pm
Let’s hope Saskatoon finally gets cycling rights right

 In 2009, Saskatoon took its first measured steps towards integrating cycling into the collective consciousness of the commuting public, when sharrowswere painted on select streets downtown in existing driving lanes. While the markings did very little to practically improve the safety of those choosing to cycle on our downtown streets, they did help to empower existing cyclists to claim a (small) piece of the road, and make (at least a few) drivers more aware that theyre required to share the space.

Soon after, a series of bike laneswere painted on a few disconnected streets throughout the city (Preston Ave., 4th Ave., Spading Cres.). Another small step forward in cycling infrastructure, sure but those lanes remain largely unused because they offer no physical separation, and therefore no real protection on those busy and higher-speed streets. (Oh, and that the City largely neglects to maintain them, making them repositories for dirt and debris or snow most of the year, doesnt exactly help the cause.)

In 2011, City Council after extensive lobbying by the fledgling Saskatoon Cycles advocacy organization significantly increased the annual budget for cycling initiatives (from a paltry $75,000 to $500,000). At the same time, work began on the long-planned and federally funded multi-use path meant to connect the SIAST campus on Idylwyld to Spadina Cres. along 33rd St. Additionally, the 23rd St. W. bike boulevard (a shared-use road where cyclists are given priority) was installed in an attempt to connect points west to the downtown. Cycling was suddenly a common topic of discussion around Saskatoon, and a sense of optimism was set, in that the City was making meaningful progress on safer cycling for its citizens.

And then? Sigh.

Good plans gave way to poor implementation and a lack of follow-through by City Hall. The 33rd multi-use pathway blew its budget largely on upgrades to the rail right-of-way, and has since sat two-thirds unfinished, with the completion date pushed back year after year; key aspects of the 23rd St. bike boulevard were quickly dismantled by the local city councillor, and City administration to this day has failed to implement the easy fixes needed to make it a true, safe, bike boulevard.

In 2013, Saskatoon CyclesBetter Bike Lanes campaign proposed that two separated bike lanes be installed across the downtown on a trial basis in an attempt to demonstrate to Saskatoon that safer cycling infrastructure could benefit all forms of commuting, improve the downtown, and not bring about the end of the world as we know it.

In January of 2014, City Council unanimously supported the projects concept. After a false start in the spring, a detailed plan for trial separated bike lanes on 4th Ave. and 23rd St. has now made its way through extensive consultation, and will be back in front of City Council for approval on March 23rd. Better Bike Lanes hasnt moved from paper to reality as quickly as some might have hoped, but the conversation and knowledge surrounding the benefits of safer cycling infrastructure has been raised considerably, both at City Hall and across Saskatoon.

While support for the net-positive benefits of building a safe cycling network may still be far from unanimous in Saskatoon, studies from cities who have already started building their own networks have provided overwhelmingly conclusive evidence that once more and safer cycling infrastructure is provided, a greater number of people will choose to cycle rather than drive. And study after study has highlighted the economic benefits to downtown businesses located on streets with separated bike lanes.

Civic and business leaders in other cities are understanding that providing more, better and safer cycling infrastructure is a necessary part of ensuring that theyre able to attract and retain an increasingly mobile, creative workforce, which is becoming the lifeblood of successful cities. So-called winter cities (such as Minneapolis, Montréal and Calgary) are proving that weather can be overcome with proper planning and a little local ingenuity, putting a dent in the tired arguments often used by those opposed to investing in cycling infrastructure.

All of which makes the opposition most notably from our mayor and a few business leaders to the current separated bike lane project look even more backwards.

Since those first tentative steps in 2009, Saskatoon has continued to fall further and further behind other cities when it comes to implementing a safe and effective cycling network. Canadian cities like (deep breath!) Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal (whew!) have invested millions in recent years to provide safer cycling routes to their commuters. Not surprisingly, theres been a corresponding (slow but steady) growth in the number of people choosing to cycle in those cities.

Despite the foot-dragging, cycling has continued to become a more visible part of Saskatoons identity. Theres been a visible increase in the number of people choosing to cycle to and from work year-round (a growth thats even more pronounced in our warmer months).

Increasingly, other cities are making a strong effort to invest in and improve their cycling networks, while Saskatoon stands pat. So Saskatoon has a choice to make when it comes to cycling: it can choose to embrace and lead efforts to make cycling a viable, year-round mode of transportation or it can continue to procrastinate, and lose important competitive ground to others in the process.

The implementation of the trial separated bike-lane project is the next test of the direction Saskatoon intends to take. But it is also only one of the many required to build a safe and efficient cycling network throughout the entire city.

To date, our mayor and City Council have talked the talk. The question is, who will choose to break the mould of inaction set over the past decade and who will continue to resist change at any cost?

Personally, Im confident that a majority understand that it’s time to also walk the walk (or bike the bike) and a few years from now, we’ll all be left wondering why there were those so resistant to change.

(Editors note: Sean Shaw is a co-founder of Saskatoon Cycles, and currently sits on the organizations board of directors. His views in this article dont necessarily represent those of the organization as a whole, but heres betting they should.) 

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