Open Letter to Alberta’s Minister of Health and Wellness – Segregated Bicycle Lanes in Downtown Edmonton
We love cars as much, if not 48 times more, than the next guy, but we also have to recognize the impact of cars on the design of our cities, and therefore our health. For your consideration is an open letter to Gene Zwozdesky, Alberta’s Minister of Health and Wellness, regarding a hypothetical 3-year, $1.5 million budget proposal for segregated bicycle lanes in downtown Edmonton. Enjoy!
Dear Mr. Zwozdesky;
I’m sure we can both agree that Alberta is an amazing province. From the soaring Rocky Mountains to the endless Prairies, we could not be more fortunate to call this land our home. We boast unrivalled prosperity at a time when the world is tightening its belt, and for this, we should consider ourselves very fortunate. Much of our economy’s success in recent years has been attributable to the oil and gas industry. As a result, much of our focus in terms of environmental health has been focused north, to Alberta’s oil sands – but what about our cities? Are our cities healthy places to raise our families when there are increasing numbers of motor vehicles on our roads, and our major urban centres continue to sprawl? Motor vehicles emit various chemical compounds that are detrimental to our air quality and to our health, such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxides. Motor vehicles also foster sedentary lifestyles that are at the root of many health issues burdening our healthcare system, such as obesity and Type II Diabetes.
It is not just motor vehicles themselves, but the way we design our cities around them that negatively impacts on our environment the health of our communities. Currently, our largest urban centres are designed with only motorized transportation in mind, making it difficult, if not impossible, to use alternative modes. The need for support of alternative modes of transportation is both normative and expressed. It is normative because every large city in the world needs to have varied and comprehensive transportation solutions that cater to every one of its citizens; and it is also an expressed need because many Albertans desire alternatives to cars for their daily commute, but those alternatives are not readily available today. Once alternatives become available, it is clear to see that the demand is there.
Take Edmonton’s recent Century Park LRT extension as an example, after being open for only a few short months, the increase in ridership has been so significant that the City has now asked riders to alter their schedules because trains are already at maximum capacity. This LRT situation will only become more severe in the fall when students go back to school. Clearly, Edmonton’s south LRT extension has been a run-away success. Still, it will be decades before other areas of the city are similarly accommodated with the luxury of Light Rail Transit. Even when other areas of the city are finally connected by LRT, we will still not be able to consider ourselves a real city: one that offers a complete transportation plan for all residents. In Edmonton, as elsewhere, there are residents who will always prefer to use a non-motorized transportation; specifically, bicycling.
Bicycling is an excellent alternative to driving a car because it is more economical, easier to park, more environmentally conscientious, more active, and can even be as quick for travelling from A to B. Therefore, a pilot project testing a variety of bicycle path alternatives in downtown Edmonton should be funded by Alberta Health and Wellness, jointly with Alberta Infrastructure and Alberta Transportation, to test the viability of each alternative. Due to the sprawl experienced by Edmonton over the past 40 years, this proposed pilot project will focus on the area of the City with the highest density: the downtown core. We need to make Edmonton’s downtown core friendlier for all users, bicyclists included. Currently, when cycling through Edmonton’s downtown, bicyclists risk their lives by sharing lanes with motor vehicles that are not accustomed to sharing their space. Cyclists are asked to share peak hour lanes with buses and taxis, but trying to share a bicycle path with a bus is like mixing oil with water. Providing segregated, dedicated bike lanes increases the perception of safety for cyclists and motorists, promotes bicycle use, decreases motor vehicle emissions because fewer cars are on the road, and promotes healthy, active lifestyles. When our citizens lead healthier lifestyles, they also reduce their burden on our health care system, saving the government and taxpayers money. This proposal formally recommends a stakeholder consultation and pilot program that will determine the long-term viability of segregated bicycle lanes in downtown Edmonton. The pilot project will see segregated bicycle lanes developed between 109 street and 100 street along Jasper Avenue.
With regards to the financial aspects of developing a network of bicycle paths, a recent study out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (a city of similar size to Edmonton), projected that bicycling saved USD$90 million annually from health care costs and that the “total potential value of health benefits from reducing short car trips and increasing bicycle trips” was USD$409 million (Economic Impact of Bicycling in Wisconsin). Dr. Thomas Gotschi of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, found that another city of similar size to Edmonton, Portland Oregon, could save USD$565 million in health care costs and USD$13.3 billion in the value of lives saved by investing $137 million in bike ways and promotional programs over a 50 year period, resulting in a return on investment ratio (ROI) of nearly 100 to 1. Granted, both Milwaukee and Portland have more temperate climates than Edmonton, increasing the number of days their citizens can reasonably use bicycles, but both Portland and Milwaukee experience more days of precipitation per year than Edmonton does, thereby balancing some of the temperature differences. Equally granted is the smaller scope of this proposal for Edmonton, but all great visions start with a single step in the right direction.
Even so, the return on an investment for segregated bike paths is impressive and the financial evidence in support of it is irrefutable. A pilot project and stakeholder consultation such as the one being recommended herein is therefore an important step towards making Edmonton a healthier, more economically competitive city. Creating segregated bicycle lanes would also have the effect of slowing down the average speed of downtown travelers, which would improve the viability of downtown businesses that compete for pedestrian traffic (i.e. street-side cafes).
All across Canada, the United States, and the world, similar projects are in the works or are already in place. Canada’s biggest urban centre, Toronto, recently implemented a protected bike lane project along University Ave and Queens Park Crescent. Toronto’s Transportation Services looked at a standard bike lane that would include 3 traffic lanes next to full-time parking, a protected curb side bike lane that would have 3 traffic lanes in rush hours and 2 traffic planes plus parking at other times (which would affect curb side activities such as pick up/drop off), and a protected bike lane next to the median. We can learn from what other cities are doing and Toronto’s three options should certainly be considered for our project in Edmonton.
Vancouver, a city known for its healthy living and healthy attitude, recently implemented a pilot project of its own along Dunsmuir Street. Their pilot project is testing the success of three different types of barriers to protect cyclists from automobile traffic: (1) a row of planters set next to a concrete curb, (2) a median with bike parking next to a concrete curb, and (3) a row of parked vehicles with a buffer zone for ingress and egress from the vehicles. Since the implementation of the pilot project, Vancouver has seen a 10-fold increase in ridership along Dunsmuir, making it the fastest growing mode of transportation in the city. From Vancouver’s project, we can see a variety of potential solutions as well as a guide for our program’s benchmarks.
With a budget of $500,000 per year for the next 3 years, we can complete a 6-month stakeholder consultation and implement a pilot project thereafter, as per the attached budget (Table 1). The pilot project will introduce dedicated, segregated bicycle lanes along nine blocks of Jasper Avenue, from 109 street to 100 street, with 3 blocks being built each year and each annual section testing a different style of segregation. To allow room for the project, and due to the current layout of Jasper Avenue, the curbside parking on one side of the street will have to be removed to accommodate the new bicycle lanes. Due to the nature and scope of this pilot project, it will be a joint venture with Alberta Infrastructure and Alberta Transportation, both of which have already indicated their support for the project. Both Ministries will provide technical expertise and consultation that will not be included in our budget because they fall into other existing budgets set up by their respective Ministries.
The objectives of this pilot project are to (1) to increase cyclist volumes through downtown by 500% by the end of the 2.5-year pilot program, and (2) to increase the average physical activity per week of individuals working downtown by 30 minutes. The aim of this program is to contribute to decreasing health care costs in Alberta and decreasing traffic volumes through Edmonton’s downtown.
The stakeholder consultation needs to engage and involve the community members that will be interested and impacted by the pilot program. The stakeholders include Edmonton’s cycling community, emergency services who use the proposed routes, businesses in the downtown area, institutions, and abutting property owners. With the input from these groups, the pilot program can be designed to be minimally intrusive and maximally effective. These stakeholders will be engaged at a series of planning workshops conducted by a consultant hired specifically for this task. As the project progresses, the stakeholder consultant will continue to garner feedback and to file monthly reports to the project manager.
This project makes the assumption that some Edmontonians who travel through downtown (and own both bicycles and cars) would use their bicycle if safer, segregated routes were available. There is also the assumption that the construction nuisance to street-side businesses will be minimized and balanced out by increased business after the completion of the project. There is a risk that business owners may be, at least initially, adversely affected by the construction. There is also a risk that there will be vocal disapproval from motorists who view alternative modes of transportation as inferior, a waste of resources, and intrusive on their established way of living, no matter how unhealthy it is. This latter risk is somewhat expected, but will not deter our progress because it is a minority view and the establishment of bicycle paths has been shown in countless other cities to do more good than harm.
Still, this is just a pilot project, and we will need to objectively evaluate the success of the program before committing to further expenditures. To evaluate the success of the pilot project at the end of the 3-year funding period, several factors affecting cyclist and non-cyclist users need to be considered. Records of emergency response times, traffic volumes, cyclist volumes, vehicle/cycling conflicts, parking utilization, loading activity will be logged during the 6-month consultation to provide baseline data. Data from the 2.5-year pilot program can then be compared relative to the baseline. The stakeholder consultation will therefore begin in the spring, April preferably, so that baseline data can be collected during the fair-weather months when bicycle ridership is the highest in Edmonton.
The project manager will be tasked with ensuring that the construction schedule is being followed, that construction is proceeding according to plan, that the three Ministries involved are communicating and cooperating, and that the stakeholders process is productive and efficient. To do this, he or she will use the milestones outlined in Table 2 (see below). The project manager will actively monitor progress and implementation by assessing internal performance reviews produced by other members of the project. The project manager will also ensure that the initial assumptions remain valid throughout the course of the project and that the risks initially identified are avoided.
Protecting cyclists, improving the health of Edmontonians, and reducing health care expenditures by providing dedicated, segregated lanes in downtown is both a complete and achievable mission, and this 3-year, $1.5 million pilot project will determine the long-term viability of segregated bicycle paths in downtown Edmonton. I look forward to an efficient and successful project that will propel Edmonton forward as a leading city on the global stage, a city that can host EXPO 2017.
Table 1: Projected Costs
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3|
|Total Staff Costs||$60,000||$61,200||$63,000|
|Secretary x 0.5||$10,000||$10,200||$10,500|
|Total Consultation Costs||$40,000||$36,000||$37,500|
|Stakeholder consultant x 0.5||$35,000||$35,000||$35,000|
|Total construction costs||$390,000||$395,000||$400,000|
|Total Office Costs||$8,000||$5,000||$5,000|
Table 2: Projected Milestones
|April 2011||Start-up meeting||Project organization|
|Advertising of stakeholder consultation meetings||Inform stakeholders when and where meetings will be held|
|April 2011-Sept 2011||Data collection||Establish baseline data|
|May-August 2011||First round of stakeholder consultations||Establish community goals of project|
|August 2011||Begin construction of first phase||In conjunction with Alberta Transportation and Alberta Infrastructure, Jasper Ave from 109 st to 106 st|
|October 2011||Complete construction of first phase||In conjunction with Alberta Transportation and Alberta Infrastructure|
|April 2012||Begin construction of second phase||In conjunction with Alberta Transportation and Alberta Infrastructure, Jasper Ave from 106 st to 103 st|
|June 2012||Complete construction of second phase||In conjunction with Alberta Transportation and Alberta Infrastructure|
|June 2012||Second round of stakeholder consultation||Administered by stakeholder consultant|
|April 2013||Begin construction of third phase||In conjunction with Alberta Transportation and Alberta Infrastructure, Jasper Ave from 103 st to 100 st|
|June 2013||Complete construction of third phase||In conjunction with Alberta Transportation and Alberta Infrastructure|
|June 2013||Third round of stakeholder consultation||Administered by stakeholder consultant|
|April 2014||Final assessment||Final reports are prepared, success of project measured against initial targets and stakeholder satisfaction|
- Grabow M, M Hahn, and M Whited. Valuing Bicycling Economic and Health Impacts on Wisconsin. January 2010. Accessed at http://www.bfw.org/uploads/media/Valuing_Bicycling_in_Wisconsin_Final_Report_January_2010.pdf on July 2, 2010.
- Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. (2006) The Economic Impact of Bicycling in Wisconsin. Prepared for the Governor’s Bicycle Coordinating Council.
- Gotschi T. Cost-effectiveness of Bicycle Infrastructure and Promotion to Increase Physical Activity – The Example of Portland. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Accessed at http://www.activelivingresearch.org/files/ALR2010Conf_PlenaryAbstract_Gotschi.pdf on July 5, 2010.
- Environment Canada. National Climate Data and Information Archive. Edmonton City Centre Airport Climate Normals 1971-2000. Accessed at http://climate.weatheroffice.gc.ca/climate_normals/results_e.html?Province=ALL&StationName=Edmonton&SearchType=BeginsWith&LocateBy=Province&Proximity=25&ProximityFrom=City&StationNumber=&IDType=MSC&CityName=&ParkName=&LatitudeDegrees=&LatitudeMinutes=&LongitudeDegrees=&LongitudeMinutes=&NormalsClass=A&SelNormals=&StnId=1867& on July 5, 2010.
- Protected Bike Lane Pilot Project – University Avenue & Queens Park Crescent. Presentation to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. Toronto Transportation Services. April 20, 2010. Accessed at www.toronto.ca/cycling.pdf/2010-04-20_pwic.pdf on June 25, 2010
- Separated bike lane on Dunsmuir, Cycling. City of Vancouver. Accessed at http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/cycling/separated/index.htm on June 29, 2010
- 1999 Bicycle Plan: Reviewing the Past, Planning the Future. City of Vancouver Engineering Services. Accessed at http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/cycling/documents/1999bikeplan.pdf on June 29, 2010.