Watch above: If Saskatoon’s mayor had his way, the debate over protected bike lanes in the downtown would be over. Wendy Winiewski says the former advocate for cycling now says money would be better spent removing snow from residential neighborhoods.
SASKATOON – Mayor Don Atchison is having a change of heart when it comes to bicycling in Saskatoon. Every city councillor at Monday’s transportation committee meeting voted in favour of installing a protected bike lane on 23rd Street from Spadina Crescent to Idylwyld Drive in 2015.
The mayor voted against it.
“I look at the University of Saskatchewan and the amount of people who are riding bikes to and from the university on an ongoing basis,” he said. “I think that’s a much better place to invest our dollars.”
City reports show 2.5 per cent of Saskatonians use bicycles for transportation. The two-year pilot project will go before council for a final decision on March 23. The cost is $225,000.
Atchison feels the cost per biker is staggering.
“It doesn’t add up for me,” he said.
It comes as a surprise to Cathy Watts, co-chair of Saskatoon Cycles.
“He certainly has spoken to us about how he’s very supportive of cycling and bikes and everything but when you actually get down to this, I guess it must be very stressful for him,” Watts reasoned.
“It’s very interesting that the mayor is opposed to it all.”
City administration recommends installing a second protected lane on 4th Avenue from 19th Street to 24th Street to be included in the amount budgeted. The money would also cover the cost of removing snow from the bike lanes during winter months – a service many vehicular streets don’t receive.
“I hear loud and clear that people would certainly like to see us get in to their neighbourhoods and not only move the snow, but remove the snow,” said Atchison, reasoning clearing bike lanes is not justified.
“It’s ridiculous when we start to have those conversations in chambers and we’re pitting cars against cyclists and snow removal against bike lanes,” said Ward 1 Coun. Darren Hill.
“We should be having conversations about what makes a well rounded community for everybody.”
The project will decrease downtown parking by 19 stalls, concerning according to the downtown business improvement district (BID).
“If you’re a retail shop, parking for vehicles is really important to your business,” said Brent Penner, with the BID.
“We know that, we hear that from retailers all the time.”
Yet Penner is hopeful the project would add to the vitality of downtown.
The chosen path also runs directly through the downtown bus mall on 23rd Street where cyclists will be required to dismount and walk.
“There’s nowhere you can imagine that you’re on a protected bike lane and then you get off to walk, I mean, it’s like stop your car, get off and push your car,” said Watts.
“I mean it sort of sounds kind of silly but if that’s what we have to do, that’s what we’ll do.”
Councillors suggest cyclists use a back alley if they don’t want to dismount. City administration said it could accommodate that with signage.
Also, city administration suggests keeping 800 posts from old parking meters for cyclists to use as bike racks.