Bicycle infrastructure has become a cause lately as more Edmontonians give up their vehicles in favour of the healthier two-wheel alternative. At the forefront of discussion is Whyte Avenue, with many calling upon the City of Edmonton to immediately ensure a safe and inclusive environment for pedestrians and cyclists. Though some people may feel cyclists should stay away from busy streets, Whyte Ave could prove to be the first major step in building an efficient and bike-friendly commuting system.
Motorists and cyclists don’t often jive on Edmonton’s busier streets. Space is tight, their speeds are at odds and one can never guess what the other will do. We need not look further back than a month ago for an example of the consequences of the current road-sharing situation. University student Isaak Kornelsen was killed on Whyte Avenue after being wedged between a parked vehicle and moving traffic, only to be pulled under a passing cement truck. Whyte Avenue being an unsuitable environment for bicyclists while being one of Edmonton’s major arteries has led to calls for the installation of bike lanes.
And anybody who’s driven down Whyte, precariously dodging cyclists as they stay as far right as they can, understands just how easily this type of accident could happen. Regardless of patience, it can be a massive distraction, and often prevents a smooth flow of traffic. The unpredictability of cars turning, parking and changing lanes forces motorists and cyclists into an unstable dance that could fall apart with an oblivious opening of a car door.
Some feel it’s the cyclists that should relent and stick to the side roads, but they shouldn’t have to detour and give up the sights and sounds of Whyte, seeing as they’re making the effort to improve both their health and the environment.
By eliminating street parking in favour of bike lanes, Edmonton would be taking yet another environmentally friendly step. With a lack of space to park, many would turn either to their bikes or public transit, joining the many Whyte Ave workers and shoppers who already rely on public or alternative transportation.
The most frequent criticism of increasing bicycle infrastructure centres is Edmonton’s short biking season. While our long, frigid winters certainly decrease the number of cyclists, there are still plenty who tough it out through the most unforgiving temperatures, and bike lanes on arterial roadways would only encourage more to ride their bikes year-round. By placing the lanes on the busier avenues such as Whyte, they would fall within the city’s network of winter plowing and sanding, ensuring they would be well enough maintained that cyclists should have no problem using them rather than the snow covered peripheral streets.
And keeping the cyclists off the main roads will only ensure they remain in the motorists’ peripheries. Rather, as the cycling population grows, the city needs to promote awareness, education and respect for both drivers and riders, and the only way this could be accomplished is for the bicycles to be right in the thick of things with their motor-driven brethren.
If Edmonton truly wants to promote bicycling, they should start with a bang rather than a whimper. While all of the current residential bike lanes have certainly helped, Whyte Avenue offers the opportunity to show how easily bicycles and cars can coexist with the help of proper planning. With a successful bike lane plan for Whyte Avenue, cycling will begin to spread throughout Edmonton, even on the busiest of our car-infested roads.
The remnants of chivalry still linger today, especially in the dating world.