Budget deliberations continue following $100M for Edmonton Bike Plan

· The Pulse

Voting on more than 60 amendments to the proposed 2023-2026 capital budget began on Friday, with city council approving $100 million for the implementation of the Edmonton Bike Plan.

An amendment to the budget to fund planning, design, and delivery of the bike plan passed 9-4, with councillors Tim Cartmell, Sarah Hamilton, Karen Principe, and Jennifer Rice opposed. Councillors had put forward options ranging from cutting funding for the plan to $30 million to boosting funding to $200 million before settling on the final $100 million figure.

"An historic win for choices in Edmonton!" tweeted Paths for People, one of the bike plan's staunchest supporters. "We are so excited to continue improving accessibility, the economy, and the environment for the whole city."

Approved in 2020, the Bike Plan aims to make Edmonton a city "where biking is practical and inviting for people of all ages and abilities and where people can choose to bike for any reason, and in any season." But until Dec. 9, implementation of the plan remained unfunded.

Thanks to council's decision, Edmonton will see up to 100 kilometres of bike lanes added over the next four years.

Council also approved nearly $23 million for affordable housing, $53 million for deep energy retrofits of City of Edmonton facilities, $10 million for infrastructure improvements in Chinatown, and $20 million for land acquisition for the Metro Line LRT expansion from Blatchford to Castle Downs.

In an effort to keep any tax increase in check, council cut nearly $18 million for the proposed 100 Street Pedestrian Bridge, about $70 million from the High Level Bridge rehabilitation project, and nearly $4 million for LRT tunnel intruder technology.

City council will continue with voting on the remaining capital budget amendments starting Dec. 12, before turning its attention to the utility and operating budgets throughout the week. Fearing they might run out of time, a proposal from Mayor Amarjeet Sohi to extend orders on Dec. 12 until 9:30pm passed. The final vote on the 2023-2026 budgets is expected to take place on Dec. 16.

A man wearing a red jacket riding a bicycle in the winter with snow surrounding the bike lane

Edmonton will add dozens of kilometres of bike lanes thanks to city council's approval of $100 million for the implementation of the Edmonton Bike Plan. (City of Edmonton/Twitter)

Sohi kicked off the budget process with a multipart amendment supported by several of his colleagues.

"I think it was very clear ... that in general council was not super-happy with the proposed budget, especially the capital budget," Speaking Municipally co-host Troy Pavlek said in Episode 202.

Putting forward a multipart amendment offered some cover for councillors to help move things along, Pavlek suggested.

"That way no councillor is taking the heat or attacking another councillor's plan," Pavlek said. "It's a pre-compromise."

The most contentious vote so far turned out to be a proposal from Coun. Jo-Anne Wright to remove nearly $50 million budgeted for the Edmonton Valley Zoo.

"I have fond memories of the zoo myself going there, taking my children there," she said. "But I think at this time this is something that needs to be deferred, not necessarily cancelled but just put off to a date where maybe we're in a better economic situation."

In the end, council agreed in a tight 7-6 vote to approve $25 million for the most important parts of the zoo enclosure renewal project.

Hear more about the capital budget, the budget's approach to climate action, and the plan to deal with the police deficit on the Dec. 9 episode of Taproot's civic affairs podcast.