Ten routes mark first bike projects from $100M investment

· The Pulse

More than a year after Edmonton's city council voted to invest $100 million to build active transportation infrastructure, the city has announced 10 routes spanning 17 kilometres that it will build in 2024 as part of the project.

Each of the 10 new routes will be a shared-use path that's three metres wide. A majority of the planned construction is focused on the north side of Edmonton, with stretches of 66 Street, 50 Street, Fort Road/Manning Drive, and 153 Avenue all set to receive pathways. Several streets south of the river are included, too. More details about the 10 routes are on the city's website.

Northside resident Bethel Alemu uses a bike to run errands around her neighbourhood and occasionally cycles downtown, often having to bike unprotected on roads with drivers in vehicles. She said she was delighted and surprised when she saw the planned routes.

"I feel like I have been shouting into the ether a little bit, like no one has listened," Alemu said. "I'm just glad to see some of these missing gaps being filled."

Alemu said she thinks the new routes will encourage people to choose a bike over a car for neighbourhood trips. "It's great that there will be continuous active transportation routes between four transit hubs in the north side — Castledowns, Eaux Claires, Clareview, and Belvedere," she added. "The path connecting (Belvedere and Clareview) LRT stations is particularly overdue."

Some future shared-use paths will replace existing sidewalks, while others will add a path where there was no sidewalk or path before, said Christopher Wintle, supervisor of transportation planning and design at the city.

Wintle said the city considers many factors when choosing what active transportation infrastructure to build on a route, including traffic speed and volume, and the volume of cyclists.

A person rides a bike on a shared-use path in Edmonton.

All new active transportation infrastructure the city builds in 2024 will be shared-use paths like the one pictured, which stretch three metres wide. (City of Edmonton)

During budget deliberations in December 2022, city council approved $100 million in capital funding to implement the bike network plan. Council chose an "accelerated" approach. That means public engagement will be limited and construction will be focused on completing "easier bike connections."

The funding will cover planning, design, construction, engagement, and communications about the network expansion through standalone projects as well as through "synergies with other capital-funded work," the city said. This means if a street is slated for rehabilitation or a neighbourhood is scheduled for renewal, bike lanes may be built as part of the project and access the $100 million. Bike parking, wayfinding, and new fleet equipment to maintain the network are also included in the budget.

When council endorsed the investment, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the network expansion would give people more transportation options. "I think one of the arguments we hear from people is that Edmontonians don't bike or that we are a winter city, but Edmontonians do bike," Sohi said. "More Edmontonians will bike more if we have appropriate infrastructure, which is safe, reliable, and connected."

Still, the delay between the investment and construction has led to some frustration. About six weeks before the new routes were announced, Paths for People wrote a blog post expressing frustration with the lack of visible progress on the plan so far.

"Our relationship with city administration is normally quite strong, and we understand that city administration is not obligated to provide these kind of updates," the group said. "But it makes for a more effective and thoughtful process when we see open lines of communication between city administration, community organizations like ourselves, and the public writ large."

Paths for People was among five stakeholder groups that was invited to an engagement session shortly after this blog post in the first week of February.

What has the city done over the last year?

Planners have spent the last year reviewing more than 200 existing or proposed segments within the existing active-transportation network and ranking them based on connectivity, ridership potential, equity, safety, and feasibility, said Christina Tatarniuk, program manager of transportation planning and design at the city.

Next, segments were sorted based on their complexity to build, which "considers construction priorities, site-specific constraints, engagement requirements, and facility types," she said.

More complex routes may have multiple options for infrastructure — a shared pathway or a protected bike lane, for example. In those cases, the city will consult the public on the preferred design, Wintle said. "Some of these ones that you're seeing this year are the ones that can move forward in a rapid approach, whereas some of the more complicated ones, our team still working on what 2025 and 2026 is going to look like."

The 10 routes planned for 2024 cover 17 kilometres, which would barely make a dent in the 675 kilometres of new and improved routes identified in the city's bike plan implementation guide. That's because some routes, mainly those running through neighbourhoods, are planned to be built through the neighbourhood renewal process.

Tatarniuk said her department has collaborated with the neighbourhood renewal department to make sure routes the respective teams are designing line up and complement each other. Additionally, some routes are expected to be constructed by developers building subdivisions outside of Anthony Henday Drive.

When will we know more about the $100M plan?

Wintle said he expects routes planned for construction in 2025 to be announced in the spring or summer of 2024. The city's bike plan implementation guide shows priority routes and areas, as well as the "general location" of future bike routes in the city.

The city has a survey open until Feb. 20 for residents to share thoughts on communication and education relating to the expansion of the network. At this point, the city is not seeking feedback on the design of the active transportation infrastructure, as it is basing the design from the principles outlined in its bike plan.

Correction: This file has been updated to correct when Paths for People published its blog post.