Of all the important issues Edmonton’s next city council must tackle, Global News viewers and readers said bike lanes topped the list.
Global News asked viewers to write in and tell us what issues are most important to them in this municipal election. By a margin of two-to-one over the second-biggest issue, bike lanes topped the list.
Thomas Oster was one of the viewers who identified the controversial lanes as an election issue.
He lives downtown, right next to one of the new lanes separated from traffic. He says making right turns out of his apartment is more difficult now. Crossing the new bike lanes takes more time. He adds cyclists aren’t paying as much attention.
Oster also doubts many will use the new lanes once the snow flies and for him, “It’s increased my travel time and there hasn’t been a lot of explanation behind some of the issues with it.”
Oster adds on election day, bike lanes will influence his vote.
Bike lanes have proven a controversial issue through much of council’s last term.
Lines separating bike lanes from traffic were painted along various suburban roads. Critics argued the paths didn’t go anywhere and too few cyclists used them. They also argued the paths caused congestion and confusion on busy roads.
In 2015, council voted to scrap the old bike paths.
This spring, a new downtown network opened. The seven-kilometres of lanes cost $7.5 million to build. They’re different than the previous version.
Concrete barriers separate cyclists from traffic. It’s a similar system to what’s found in other major cities. However, the lanes also take away parking or driving space from the roads they’re on.
On a cool October afternoon, Terry Murphy was riding his bike along the bike lane at 106 Street and 102 Avenue. He has lived in Edmonton for seven years now. He’s still surprised by the way many greet the new bike lanes.
“I’m from Vancouver Island, from Victoria,” Murphy said. “It’s really bike friendly there. I find it kinda funny that they fight bike lanes here.”
Some downtown business owners say it’s no laughing matter.
Mahoney Kassab owns The Creperie, a French restaurant on 103 Street. A new bike lane runs in front of the business.
“It’s blocking the traffic,” Kassab said. “It’s hard to find parking, especially if half the street is for biking. People stay away from downtown because the road is always blocked.”
Kassab says his business is down and he feels that’s due, in part, to the bike lanes and the perception that parking downtown is difficult.
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Councillors voted for the new bike lanes because cyclists were demanding them and they want to encourage more people to find new, greener ways to get around.
But the simple fact there’s a need to get people out of their cars has led to conflict. Cyclist Terry Murphy says he sees it.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the oil industry. Everyone has a big truck. I think a lot of it has to do with that. It’s very vehicle oriented here,” Murphy said.
The polarizing issue has come up at multiple all-candidate forums. Sometimes, the candidates have brought up bike lanes. Other times, voters have questioned the candidates on their bike lane positions.
On nomination day, Ward 10 candidate Vieri Berretti brought up the issue as a key plank in his platform.
“I feel like the city is waging a war against cars,” he said. “I feel like consultation happens for consultation’s sake only.”
Ward 6 candidate Bill Knight says he isn’t opposed to bike lanes but he worries they are pitting drivers against cyclists. He wants to fix that.
“They cause a lot of confusion and frustration for both parties and I think that’s where the disconnect is,” Knight said. “I think there’s a way to all work together. I think we should do that as a city but we need to understand each other.”
That’s easier said than done for voters like Oster who says bike lanes may reflect the city we want to become but not the city we are.
“It’s just right in your face. We’re in a winter city here. Everyone drives.”
What about you? Is it a big enough issue on its own to affect your vote?