Edmonton is Sacrificing Accessibility and Inclusion . . . For What?

On September 26, 2018 the City of Edmonton will be hosting yet another “Engagement Session” about “Neighbourhood Renewal” in Strathcona, where I live. With the ongoing construction of the 83 Avenue Bike Lane, my little bit of the neighbourhood has had an advanced taste of what “Neighbourhood Renewal” means. Below I’ve composed a little of what I’d like to say at that “Engagement Session” next Wednesday. I don’t suppose I’ll be given the opportunity.

I live on 83 Avenue. The new painted bike lane runs right in front of my house. I like the idea of bike lanes. But everyone agrees the little roundabouts on 83 Avenue west of 99th Street are confusing at best and probably dangerous. I remember Becky from the City who also agrees that the roundabouts are useless – telling me at one of these “engagement sessions” that the roundabouts will NOT be reconsidered or removed.

I don’t like some of the execution of this particular bike lane, but, we make sacrifices when we live in a community.

Homeowners on the north side of 83 Avenue are not allowed to have those little walkways across the boulevard from the sidewalk to the street. We’re supposed to only cross at the corner. Jay walking is now very specifically no longer allowed. But everybody still does it. Everybody that walks without trouble or rides a bike.

Not really a sacrifice.

My friend Marion, a marvellous hero in her 60s living with MS, now has a little more difficulty on her regular visits to stay with us. She needs to come to town every few months to shop for things she can’t get in the small town where she lives. Because the avenue is now one-way, we can’t drop her off on our side of the avenue. She has to struggle a little further with her walker. If we lived two blocks to the west, where the protected bike lane is, Marion would have to struggle even more.

Heroes make sacrifices.

My 93 year-old father, who volunteered for both the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Navy in World War II now has similar difficulties to Marion when he comes to visit me. If we lived two blocks further west, where the protected bike lane is, he probably wouldn’t visit us anymore.

Veterans make sacrifices.

My daughter, with her many special needs, doesn’t have major mobility issues just yet, but she’s only 23. Still, getting around isn’t always a cake walk.

People with disabilities make sacrifices.

I am privileged.

I don’t have a disability, I don’t have a degenerative disease, I’m not old. Yet.

I haven’t had to go to war, I haven’t lived in poverty. I can go for walks for pleasure. I even have a bike.

My voice is the voice of privilege. The 83 Avenue bike lane hasn’t forced me to make much in the way of sacrifices.

Yes, the roundabouts are dangerous when I go for a walk.

Yes, the sidewalks are dangerously dark when I walk in the evening.

Yes, I’ve been sworn at by cyclists using the sidewalk when the bike lane has been closed for construction and “detour” seems to mean “usurp that pedestrian space”.

Yes, there’s still no north-south sidewalk on 97th street – the only route to Tubby Park – and all the traffic from 98th is about to be diverted there, but I’m not a little kid anymore and neither is my daughter, so we just won’t go to the park as much as we used to.

I can handle those unimportant sacrifices. I’m privileged with health and time and relative youth and yet a grown up voice with which to vent.

Marion? My father? My daughter? The neighbourhood kids?

Much less so.

Maybe I can try to use my privileged voice for them:

Please, when constructing this new neighbourhood, take more than a moment to consider those not privileged with easy mobility, time to go to public engagement sessions, and a voice.

Take a moment to consider:

How will Strathcona look for people who will never have the privilege of mobility you might enjoy?

How will Marion or my father, with their walkers or canes, get across that street from the car they’ve travelled in to the home they need to get to?

How will the DATS user negotiate the protected bike lanes?

How will a single mother – or anyone – get home at night on a pitch-black sidewalk?

How will those children get to Tubby Park safely, when all the traffic has been diverted from 98th to 97th – where there is STILL no north-south sidewalk – how’s that Vision Zero thing working out?

Edmonton has come so far in its efforts toward inclusion.

Don’t move backward.

Don’t make our neighbourhood less accessible, as you have on 83 Avenue.

Don’t move to further exclude people with mobility issues, as you have on 83 Avenue.

Please make Strathcona, and Edmonton, more accessible, not less.

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A Few Privileged and Hasty Notes on Two Edmonton Planning Concerns

I have a bit of time on my hands, unlike the majority of people in my neighbourhood. Most people around me are still students, parents, renters, workers, homeless, marginalized, seniors, mobility challenged, with an “and/or” between each item. With each passing year the proportion of well-off, privileged, work-from-home, non-parent, chronically healthy, house/condo-owning individuals increases in my neighbourhood. I confess I am one of the privileged, fortunate enough to have moved into the neighbourhood in the 80s and stayed on through the decades of change. I have time to sit and do online surveys where the City attempts to “engage” with citizens (but really just gives the time-privileged a place to vent about their pet projects) and write blog posts.

Right now I have two pet beefs: the “planned” Centre Line LRT and the ongoing “Renewal” of the infrastructure of Strathcona. I’ll begin with the renewal because it is the one that has actually had a concrete start on the avenue in front of my house.

Renewal in Strathcona

Over the last few summers, 83 Avenue, most thoroughly in the stretch between 99 Street and the Mill Creek Ravine, has been closed for long periods while the road has been rebuilt, sidewalks and streetlights have been replaced, and a dedicated bike lane has been added. Superficially and in principle I love it all. I will soon be able to cycle to my little bit of part-time retirement work in (confusion and) safety (sort of). I can walk safely to the wonderful amenities of Strathcona, in my case, particularly the theatres and restaurants, and pretty much only in daylight. Bus service is wonderful for all the places I need to get that are a little too far to walk or too cold to cycle. And I’m privileged to have a car for the further trips or when I’ve a little too much to carry. The neighbourhood is good to me.

But. There has to be a but.

When the planners came up with the bike lane design, they decided on a multitude of them, particularly if the 106 Street doubled, multi-level, skinny lanes are considered. Between the Ravine and 99 Street on 83 Ave the lane is painted, dedicated to bikes one way and shared with cars the other, with wacky little roundabouts at the intersections and no left turns for cars off 99th. The roundabouts are a dangerous and confusing menace to pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. They limit access for emergency vehicles, city maintenance vehicles, and moving and delivery trucks. The restriction on left turns off 99th forces resident motorists and visitor motorists to make convoluted loops through the neighbourhood, or to make dangerous left turns down back alleys, merely to get to their home/destination.

Between 99th and 103 and beyond 104 it seems to be largely a physically separated two way lane with one way car traffic and greatly reduced parking, largely in front of walk up, largely rental apartments, rather than single family-owned homes. Clearly those who depend on cars, particularly renters and the mobility challenged, were not considered in this planning, or, if considered, dismissed as inconsequential.

Between 103 and 104 the bike lane is a slightly elevated abomination which I expect will lead to countless trips, falls, and injuries during summer festival season. Clearly pedestrian safety was not a consideration in this planning, or, if considered, dismissed as inconsequential.

The north-south lane on 106 street is an ugly and confusing collections of winding curbs and green pillars that make driving or cycling feel like flying an x-wing down the trench on the Death Star. With speed bumps. Bus stops are separated from sidewalks by bicycle traffic lanes, and busses are boarded from a thin curb on the edge of the bike lane, a virtual impossibility for those with walkers or in wheelchairs. Clearly transit users and the mobility challenged were not a consideration in this planning, or, if considered, dismissed as inconsequential.

I won’t even imagine the headaches of snow removal.

The sidewalks that have been rebuilt so far are very nice and walkable. A+ on the final concrete work.

The new streetlights on 83 Ave east of 99th are very pretty in the daytime, I expect they save energy at night, and the adequately light the road and bike lane after dark. But after dark the sidewalks are a pitch black abyss. Often when walking home after dark — which, face it, is any time after 4 pm for a good part of the year — I have been infinitely grateful for the home owner who has left a porch light on to help guide my steps. Clearly pedestrians with or without mobility issues were not a huge consideration in this planning, or, if considered, dismissed as inconsequential.

Given the inconsistency of the designs used in these really quite small and straight stretches of bike lanes and the confusion and danger this inconsistency will cause, I feel it clear that cyclists weren’t actually a huge consideration in this particular planning, or, if considered, dismissed as inconsequential.

Right now the City is “consulting” with citizens (who have the privilege of leisure and time to go online and do a survey or show up at open houses) about the future steps in this reconstruction of Strathcona’s infrastructure. Much of the open and less open thrust of what little discussion there has been has been a giddy push for more bike lanes, apparently whatever the design or consequences of that design.

The Centre Line

There seems to be a desire on the part of unnamed planners to have a surface, low-floor LRT line down Whyte Avenue between the University of Alberta and Bonnie Doon, replicating one of Edmonton’s wonderful old streetcar lines. Right now that stretch is well serviced by a fleet of convenient kneeling buses which are regularly filled with citizens of all social and mobility levels. But, okay. I like the LRT. I take it fairly regularly. Having a stop a block from home would be nice.

But.

Where are these planners? Have they ever been to Edmonton? Have they never even looked at a map of the current LRT lines? “. . . connections between Downtown, the Alberta Legislature, the University of Alberta, Strathcona, Bonnie Doon, east Edmonton and the wider LRT network” the blabbity says. But, Downtown, the Legislature and the U of A have had LRT connections for years. For decades! If you look at the map accompanying the “plan”, every bit of the proposed route, except the bit down Whyte Avenue, parallels/duplicates an existing and expensively constructed underground LRT line — through downtown it would be the third east west line! And a new bridge will have to be built almost on top of two existing ones. Why? What is the reason for duplicating that line on the surface and those bridges? Are they trying to justify the (inevitably monumentally disruptive) line down Whyte Avenue? Why not just build a surface line from Health Sciences station to Bonnie Doon and beyond? Even just between Health Sciences and Bonnie Doon the line would be significantly longer than the current continually troubled NAIT line, and it would be a good start on a long overdue commuter line to Sherwood Park. And no redundancy (if we forget about the buses which are doing so nicely on that route).

As someone who uses/has used all transportation modes in the city –car, bus, LRT, High Level Streetcar, walking, cycling, motorscooter — even unicycling in my younger days — but not those Segway river valley tours, I wish Edmonton’s planners would spend less time on narrowly focused dreams and misleading consultations with privileged single-issue citizen activists and a little more time actually walking, driving, cycling, LRTing, and bussing through the areas they’re treating like big sandboxes of expensive experiment.

Pretend that Bike is a Backhoe, Edmonton!

Recently the Alberta Motor Association put out a handsome little video about how to drive in traffic circles.  This video explains in detail three fundamental principles and some bonus advice:

Don’t Change Lanes
Yield to the Vehicle on your Left
Yield to Pedestrians
and, the bonus:
Ideally, Don’t Go More than One Exit in the Right Lane

I’m not going to make a snappy video but I’d like to make another simple suggestion of how we all can work together to make Edmonton’s roads safer.

Have you ever noticed that if you find yourself behind a slow moving vehicle like a backhoe while driving along Edmonton’s streets, you do something funny?  You slow down, too.  You may curse a little, but you slow down.  You don’t try to squeeze by the slow moving vehicle in the same lane, even if that vehicle is doing its best to hug the curb.  What you actually do, not matter how much you curse, is you wait until it is safe to signal, pull out into the left lane, and pass the slow moving vehicle, secure in the knowledge that the slow moving vehicle will be right behind you at the next red light. In short, you give the slow moving vehicle the lane.

This all seems like common sense, right?

Wrong.

It all breaks down (except for the cursing) if that slow moving vehicle is a bicycle.  Most automobile drivers simply zip past cyclists, apparently assuming that it is the cyclists’ responsibility to ride in the gutter and keep their elbows in.  A rare few drivers will make a token effort to move to the left a foot or two, sometimes even letting their left wheels slip over the centre line.  The rarest of the rare behave as though the bicycle is a backhoe, an actual vehicle on the road with an operator trying to get to a destination in a safe and timely manner given the physical limitations of that vehicle.  Those rarest of the rare drivers slow down and wait to pass the bicycle when it is safe to do so properly, as though they were passing a backhoe.

Now I can hear a bunch of you grumpily yelling “Yeah, but, bike riders [insert favourite complaint about feral cyclists].”  Didn’t your mother ever teach you that Two Wrongs don’t Make a Right? Just because a year and a half ago some yahoo zipped past you between lanes of traffic stopped at the light at the bottom of Scona Road and then ran the red light doesn’t mean the guy in front of you today doesn’t have a right to be on the road.  If a BMW cut you off on the Yellowhead three years ago are you going to cut off every BMW you see on the road for the rest of your life?  Of course not.  I don’t want to hear any of your “Yeah, but, bike riders” cop outs.  We all encounter bad driving and we all sometimes have driven badly.  Bad drivers we’ve encountered are never excuses to drive badly ourselves.  Be quiet.

Most cyclist, of course, habitually ride in the gutter with their elbows in, bracing for impact because the vast majority of automobile drivers behave in an intimidating manner, shouting “Get Outta Da Way!” with their actions when not doing so with their voices.  Some few cyclists hold their lane.  Kudos to them.  A few others seem to want it both ways, holding their lanes somewhat while traffic is moving, but zipping past stopped traffic, sometimes weaving through it, to get to the front of the line at traffic lights.  To those cyclists who weave through traffic, consider: it is an exceptionally rare motorcyclist who even imagines doing the same thing, despite the vehicles’ similar size and manoeuvrability.

And, drivers, if the bike you passed properly and safely a block or two ago zips past you on the right at the next traffic light, don’t give up on doing the right thing. When the light turns green and you catch up to the cyclist again, as you will: yield the lane until it is safe to pass properly and safely.  Remember again your mother’s words about Wrongs and Rights.

As an automobile driver who is on the streets of Edmonton every day, I call on other drivers to simply give all vehicles including bicycles their lane, even when a cyclist is hugging the curb.

Take a breath, pretend the bicycle is a backhoe and it’ll be easy.

Give them the lane, for Safety’s sake.

Always.