The rules of the road in downtown Edmonton have changed.
Three new bike lane routes opened on Friday, and with the additions come a new look and a new way of sharing the road.
The first phase of the $7.5-million downtown bike network travels down 100 Avenue, 103 Street and 107 Street. It opened Friday morning.
“We immediately saw cyclists using the network. Absolutely we covered all ages, all abilities, from seniors on bikes to families,” said Olga Messinis, the city’s project manager.
WATCH: Three new bike lane routes opened in downtown Edmonton on Friday. With the additions, comes a new look and a new way of sharing the road. Sarah Kraus has a closer look.
The bike lanes are marked with green paint, concrete curbs, dozens of new signs, traffic lights just for cyclists and the “bike box,” which is designed to allow cyclists to go left at an intersection without actually turning left.
“I’m going to go into the box, stage here, and when the light turns green I am going to go straight through,” said Messinis, who led media members through the grid on Thursday.
The new bike network is designed to be safer, for both cyclists and drivers, thanks to a designated lane.
“This bike lane is fully protected. Looking behind me you have the low parking curb, we have green bollards, we’re using the green paint to identify mixing areas,” Messinis said.
People driving downtown are encouraged to look both directions and shoulder check before turning, watch out for new signs indicating changes to turning rules, and yield to bikes when crossing a bike lane and to pedestrians in crosswalks.
Cyclists are asked to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and be aware of new signs indicating how to safely turn at intersections, while pedestrians are encouraged to yield to cyclists when crossing a bike lane to arrive at a parked vehicle.
“It makes a world of difference for people that bike downtown,” explained Chris Chan, executive director of Edmonton’s Bicycle Commuter Society.
“To be able to do it without that constant fear of being hit by a car. It really opens it up for a lot of people who wouldn’t have thought of cycling downtown before.”
By July, the City of Edmonton hopes to have over seven kilometres of the grid open in the hope of increasing ridership 30 per cent.
“We are off the major routes where there is large volumes of traffic. That was a lesson from the previous bike lanes which were, let’s be honest, a disaster,” city Coun. Andrew Knack said.
The city has been down this road before. It ended with multiple bike lanes being taken out at a cost of $900,000.
But this time administration believes it did the right thing by following an already successful program in Calgary.
“Just like we build sidewalks for people to walk even if most people drive, so to should we have a safe place for people to bike,” Chan said.
City Coun. Scott McKeen hopes the protected nature of the new network will help things flow more smoothly downtown this time around.
“You see everybody’s got their lane, and I think part of the problem for motorists before, they didn’t know what that cyclist is going to do,” city councillor Scott McKeen said.
A new street team will be out educating cyclists and drivers until at least November to help with the learning curve.
“Realistically this is a significant change and significant shift for the downtown of Edmonton so absolutely I think there’s going to be some valid questions and concerns,” Messinis said.
—With files from Sarah Kraus