Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Edmonton Should Develop Bike Boulevards

The City of Edmonton is rethinking its strategy on bicycle infrastructure and I hope they consider investing in Bicycle Boulevards.   

I’m a marginal cyclist which means that I am easily deterred from cycling if I don’t feel safe or if routes are not convenient enough for me. I like separated bike lanes, particularly when there is physical separation from cars. The problem with these bike lanes is that they tend to be controversial as people lose their parking and they are perceived to contribute to traffic congestion as auto lanes get redeveloped into bike lanes.
Signs remind drivers that bikes have the priority on
'Fietsstraats' in Belgium

High quality bicycle boulevards may be more effective for cyclists an easier sell  to the general public. Bicycle boulevards are standard roads that have been redeveloped so that bikes are a priority and cars are secondary users. This is achieved through unique street signage, lighting, street lines for cyclists, and barriers to cars every few blocks that are permeable for cyclists. These visual and physical symbols make it clear to auto drivers that they are in space where bicycles are the priority. Such streets are common in much of Europe (Search fahrradstrasse or fietsstraat online to see example images from Germany and the Netherlands) and have started to make their way into cities in North America (see video at the end of this thread). The Initiative for Bicycle & Pedestrian Innovation at Portland State University has produced a guidebook for the design of Bicycle Boulevards.

A key benefit of bicycle boulevards is that they tend not to create the same backlash among the auto oriented public. There is no loss of parking and in a grid system like much of the core of Edmonton, there is very little impact on traffic flow as other streets easily absorb the displaced traffic. Residents along the boulevards tend to be supportive as they see traffic calming effects while still being able to park their car on the street.
Bicycle Boulevards like this one in Berkeley often have
purple street signs to set them apart from other streets
Through transforming a street like 102Ave in Oliver to a bicycle boulevard, the City would create the equivalent of a cycling arterial, one that is comfortable for a wide range of cyclists including families. In a city like Edmonton, where I suspect that there are many marginal cyclists, this could lead to a proliferation of bikes on the road which would justify further high quality investments in bicycle infrastructure, which would lead to more cyclists, and so on. By prioritizing snow removal on these streets in the winter, they would facilitate year round cycling. Bicycle boulevards would become amenities that bike oriented renters and home buyers seek out, in the same way that auto oriented households seek freeway access and big box stores.

Some argue that building bicycle boulevards relegates cyclists to back streets, I tend to think that they raise the status of cyclists to the same level of motorists, each having arterial style streets where their mode of transport is prioritized. I think we should plan for a series of bicycle boulevards as numerous as auto oriented arterials in the core of Edmonton. Over time, the rest of the urban fabric would adapt so that we would see certain types of commercial shops that prefer a calmer setting, such as coffee shops, bookstores, and so on gravitating towards these quiet boulevards.

I hope Edmonton City council and the administration step up to provide funding and support for top quality bicycle infrastructure in the core. Its an important step to increasing the sustainability and livability of our City.

Bicycle Boulevards for NYC from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

Portland's Bike Boulevards Become Neighborhood Greenways from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.