Adequate Funding Needed to Realize Edmonton’s Cycling Dreams
The bike lane debate over the past week has focused on public consultation, or perhaps the lack thereof, with some folks worried about their parking spots disappearing. My problem, on the other hand, has always been with the haphazard way these bike lanes are put in. They appear along with other roadwork projects, and never consist of anything more than the application of paint (or other marking methods). As I’ve pointed out previously, there isn’t a proper road redesign done to accommodate the new lane, and you end up having to merge into traffic to go around an obstacle that should have been removed, but wasn’t. It always seemed like a lack of money, and I did a little investigation to see if that’s the case.
According to the City’s open data catalog, 0.7% of Edmontonians report a bicycle as their primary method of commuting from home to work. Unsurprisingly, that number is highly variable depending on which area of the city we’re looking at. The lowest is 0.14% in Ward 3 and 0.15% in Ward 12, which represent the extreme north and southeast corners of the city, respectively. The highest is 2.30% in Ward 8, the University/Whyte Ave/Mill Creek area. I suspect that these numbers fail to include the fair weather bicycle commuters, who don’t commute by bike in the winter and therefore report a different primary method of commuting. It also doesn’t include those who cycle for recreation or errands outside of work.
Still, the 0.7% figure is all we have so we’ll run with it. In the City’s 2012–2014 capital budget, $765 million is allocated to road design & construction. Compare this to $1–2 million per year that’s spent on bike lanes according to the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters. If we presume that it’s fair to just divide up the money according to the percentage of people that bike (and we’ll get to that), then 0.7% of $765 million is $5.4 million, or $1.8 million per year.
Now you may be thinking that this works out perfectly fair. Only 0.7% of Edmontonians commute by bike, so let’s only spend 0.7% of money on them. This disregards the fact that the City has ostensibly made encouraging active transportation a priority in its strategic plans.
Here are a few excerpts from The Way We Green, the City’s environmental strategic plan:
- “The City of Edmonton … encourages renewal and densification of mature neighbourhoods by ensuring superior living experiences that include … priority to pedestrians and bicycles over automobiles.” (Objective 3.1, Page 24)
- “The City of Edmonton … encourages developments that permit Edmontonians to conveniently walk, cycle, and use public transit to get to the places they live, shop, work, learn, and play.” (Objective 6.1, Page 51)
- “The City of Edmonton … creates a cycle-friendly city (The Way We Move, Strategic Objective 6.2, with Strategic Actions a to c).” (Objective 6.5, Page 53)
That last item makes reference to The Way We Move, the transportation master plan:
- “Encouraging cycling, and constructing its related facilities, can help to create well-connected, livable communities as an essential part of Edmonton’s urban fabric.”
- “The City will create a cycle-friendly city.” (Objective 6.2, Page 57)
The City has tried to make cycling a political priority (with mixed results, I would argue), but there’s no debating that cycling has not been a financial priority thus far. Compare this with public transit: citywide 14% of people commute on public transit, yet over the next three years $753 million will be spent building LRT infrastructure, about the same as will be spent on roads, and 79% of Edmontonians take a car to work.
Put another way, per person per year, the City currently spends $4,751 on building infrastructure for transit users, $837 on motorists, and only $779 marking out lanes or sharrows for cyclists. I’m not complaining about this extra spending on LRT construction; it’s fantastic to see the City make transit a priority, and it’s paid off in big ridership on the new South LRT line.
If the City wants to see the same success with increases in bicycle commuter numbers—a goal stated in the City’s strategic plans—then an increase in capital funding similar to that given to transit is justified. $4.75 per person per year would be an increase to $12 million per year for cycling. That just might be enough to get something more like a complete street (another initiative the City is working on) instead of the painted lines we’ve seen so far.