Monthly Archives: October 2014

Edmonton: Aim for a Cycling Minimum Grid

There has been talk recently from Edmonton’s city council to review its cycling strategy.  I agree with this.  The cycling infrastructure Edmonton so far has been implementing has fallen well short of effective.  Edmonton has focused its meager active transportation investments on installing painted lanes.  On-the-road painted cycling lanes next to high speed and high volume traffic will not encourage anyone to cycle, except for the strong and fearless.  Painted lines do little to prevent drivers from entering a person’s space, when most people cycle they want to ensure that they can do so safely with minimal interaction with a vehicle.  Painted lines also do not prevent people from parking cars in the bike lanes which can create an even more dangerous situation for people cycling.

Does this bike lane invite you?  Do you consider this safe? (Source: Flickr)

Does this bike lane invite you? Do you consider this safe? (Source: Flickr)

Painted lines do not prevent this (Source: Flickr)

Painted lines do not prevent this (Source: Flickr)

Two key studies show that a dedicated cycling lane with a physical barrier separating vehicular traffic is the best thing you can do for encouraging people to cycle, and reducing cycling injuries.

Bike Lane Separating Traffic in Vancouver (Image Source: Paul Krueger)

Bike Lane Separating Traffic in Vancouver (Image Source: Paul Krueger)

So now what?  Let’s learn from our mistakes and build a proper cycling network, one that will actually encourage people to cycle.  Edmonton with good intentions, previously tried an approach to stretch a small amount of funding.  The result was ineffective and unsafe cycling infrastructure; it did not create a safe experience that invited new people to cycle, and angered local residents that did not see the benefit of the infrastructure, because again it was built incorrectly.

What is the best approach for this?  Look for the desire lines…look for signs that indicate routes where people already cycle and enhance those with high quality infrastructure and traffic separation.  The map shows the most recent 2014 municipal census results.  While Edmonton’s city wide cycling rate is 0.7% (2013), the inner neighbourhoods show significantly higher cycling to work rates.  The highest cycling rates occur in the a few pockets north of the river andimmediately south of the river surrounding the University and the Whyte Ave. area.  The good news is that the city of Edmonton is already considering two cycling lanes  on 102 Ave and 83 Ave to run East-West through both of these areas.  The bad news is that city still seems to be treating this as an adhoc piece-meal approach.  To truly entice new people to cycle, the city should install a complete and connected grid of bike lanes.

Edmonton's Cycling Rate Based on the 2014 Municipal Census

Edmonton’s Cycling Rate Based on the 2014 Municipal Census

With Edmonton’s minimal annual construction and maintenance budget for cycling infrastructure, it is important to make sure that we maximize its return on investment.  There has been great discussion from the city of Edmonton regarding a frequent transit network.  People are finally starting to realize (I wrote a blog article about this here back in 2013) that we can squeeze ten times more out of transit system and maximize the return on investment if we treat it like a network rather than individual routes that go from door to door.  If you rearrange transit routes and treat them as part of a larger system so that they compliment rather than duplicate each other, you can get people where they want to go quicker, more often and more reliably.

An Edmonton Frequent Transit Network if 80% of funds are dedicated

You can and should also treat cycling infrastructure in the same way.  A cycling lane is only as good as its ability to connect to a larger network of cycling lanes that reliably provide a safe way to get around the city on a bicycle.  Once you have a complete network established where people are already cycling, the cycling numbers will only grow as people realize there is a safe and effective route to cycle.  In the future new cycling routes can be added incrementally, however you need to start with a bare bones but complete network.

Calgary Downtown Network of Separated Cycling Lanes

Edmonton should copy, adapt and improve Toronto or Calgary’s approach with the minimum grid.  Build a minimum grid of high quality, safe and direct separated cycling lanes that connect a high number of destinations in areas with a high number of existing cycling trips.

As I previously showed in this article, Edmonton has good bones for supporting high cycling numbers, it is flat and has an extensive grid structure.  Let’s overlay the street grid over the census data, this finds that the areas with a good street grid also have higher cycling rates.

Edmonton 2014 Municipal Census Cycling to Work Rates with Street Grid

Edmonton 2014 Municipal Census Cycling to Work Rates with Street Grid

The map below also shows that Edmonton is missing some real high quality cycling connections downtown and south of the river.  Therefore Edmonton should focus on filling in the gaps to provide a network of separated bike lanes that ensures people can cycle from the Strathcona neighbourhood, through downtown without ever having to interact with a vehicle.

The Missing Gaps

The Missing Gaps

The following map shows a potential concept for a minimum grid.  The grid would align the routes on low traffic volume streets to provide a pleasant cycling experience away from the speed, noise and pollution from vehicles.  As the cycling demand grows and vehicular traffic drops, routes can be added onto the main commercial streets, for now it is best to focus on the low hanging fruit and best bang for the buck.  This network will provide safe cycling access to:

  • 3 Universities/Colleges
  • hundreds Downtown Edmonton’s jobs, retail businesses and offices
  • hundreds of jobs and businesses on Whyte Ave
  • Bonnie Doon and Edmonton City Center Mall
  • 2 existing and 1 future LRT line, 8 existing LRT stations
  • 4 north-south inner suburb and suburban multi-use trails
An Edmonton Cycling Minimum Grid

An Edmonton Cycling Minimum Grid

This plan isn’t proposing a separated cycling lane on all of these roads. For the quieter residential streets with traffic volumes less than 2,000  passenger car units per day (PCU’s are a measure of both the size and volume of vehicles, more information can be found here), such as 117 St., 121 St., 108 St., 98 St., 83 Ave. significant traffic calming similar to that used on Vancouver’s neighbourhood cycling boulevards would be sufficient.  These boulevards use concrete barriers to prevent through traffic but still allow pedestrians and cycling to pass through.  This has two benefits: it preserves the integrity of local neighbourhoods by promoting only local traffic, and otherwise it slows down traffic and reduces the traffic volumes creating a safe cycling environment.  It is really the speed of the vehicles that matters for people’s perception of safety.  There are many tools at our disposal to calm traffic, including bulb-outs/curb extensions that pinch the roadway at intersections, chicanes, narrow lane widths, trees, and neighbourhood wide 30 km/hr speed limits, but the main thing is to design the street physically for the speed that you need and don’t rely on the soft suggestions as they don’t work (people will drive as fast as they feel they can).

Other streets with high volume traffic above 2,000 passenger car units per day should be separated from traffic, such as 105 Ave., 102 Ave., 99 Ave., 96 St., and the Mill Creek Ravine bridge.  Of course Edmonton is a winter city, so snow removal needs should be considered to minimize maintenance costs to keep the cycling routes clean and safe in the winter.  The city should not however rely on the excuse that the existing machinery is not adapted for the smaller size of separated cycling lanes.  We have to start making calls for the equipment to suit required outcomes for an interesting and inviting city, not the other way around.

Vancouver Barrier  at Ontario and 11th prevents vehicular through traffic while still maintaining the critical pedestrian and cycling connection

Vancouver Barrier at Ontario and 11th prevents vehicular through traffic while still maintaining the critical pedestrian and cycling connection

Vancouver Vehicular Barrier at Union St and Hawks Ave

Vancouver Vehicular Barrier at Union St and Hawks Ave

Building separated bike lanes does not have to be expensive, smart designs used in Vancouver on Union Street or in New York City demonstrate this.  A lane of parking is used to protect people cycling instead of the typical setup, where people cycling are used to protected the parked cars.  You simply have to ensure that the critical areas at interserctions and mid-block have physical barriers to provide protections and ensure drivers cannot travel through the parking lane.

Vancouver's new Union Street traffic separated bike lane creatively and inexpensively separated by a lane of parking (Source: Paul Krueger)

Vancouver’s new Union Street traffic separated bike lane creatively and inexpensively separated by a lane of parking (Source: Paul Krueger)

One of New York City's numerous separated bike lanes protected by parking lanes and strategic barriers

One of New York City’s numerous separated bike lanes protected by parking lanes and strategic barriers (Source: Flickr)

A city transportation system cannot consider modes in isolation.  Failing to provide safe and attractive alternatives to the automobile is destructive to the cities bottom line. To retain our youth and locally growth talent it needs to create a network of transportation modes that compliment each other.  The Strong Town group has put together a great and inexpensive resource on how cities are stuck supporting a Ponzi-scheme of approving endless suburban developments that will never recover the full value from property taxes to pay for itself (you can also find this information free on their website).

Therefore the first question that those that run our cities should ask themselves is if prioritizing auto-oriented investments will be able to recapture the public investment in infrastructure through property taxes. Even the most stringent of municipal fiscal hawks will agree the only way to ensure that our cities are financially viable, and that the infrastructure we build will see a return on its investment, is to start investing in our dense, walkable and human-scaled traditional inner neighbourhoods and create environments where there are true alternatives to the automobile and the majority of people choose to walk, cycle and take transit.  No amount of investment will convince people to stay next to high volumes of fast moving vehicles.  Continuing to create new suburbs and supporting the idea of moving cars quickly through our inner neighbourhoods diminishes our ability to maintain what we have while also simultaneously destroying our ability to recover the value out of our existing places (since they are places where people no longer want to stay).  To create an enticing environment for cycling in Edmonton it is necessary to create a connected minimum grid of high quality, safe and separated cycling infrastructure.

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Edmonton’s Cycling Lane Network: A Review

Last weekend I visited my hometown in Edmonton.  Edmonton is often considered to outsiders and many of its residents a city that loves it cars (according to the 2011 Statistics Canada National Household Survey 77% of people commute to work in a vehicle).  It is easy to draw that conclusion if you live in the suburbs or if you only saw Edmonton from the Yellowhead Highway, the Anthony Henday or the inside of the West Edmonton Mall.

Over the last two years I had first hand experience using Vancouver’s terrific, safe and separated cycling network before and after it has rapidly expanded. I have also completed my Master of Urban Studies thesis exploring the requirements for safe and comfortable cycling design.  My transportation knowledge was further developed while employed at TransLink, a regional transportation body.  Drawing from these experiences I wanted to rate Edmonton’s cycling network in the larger scope of good cycling design.

First, Edmonton has good “bones” for cycling. Edmonton is relatively flat compared to Vancouver, for example.  The only real physical barrier for cycling in Edmonton is the River Valley, however the High Level Bridge provides a key at grade crossing from the north-side downtown to the southern Edmonton (home one of Edmonton’s University and Whyte Ave., one of Edmonton’s premier shopping and destination streets).

Edmonton is Flat Except for the River Valley

Edmonton is Flat Except for the River Valley

Vancouver is very hilly.

Vancouver is very hilly.

High Level Bridge

High Level Bridge

Edmonton also has great bones with its extensive grid street urban form.  Believe it or not Edmonton from 1908 to 1938 was originally developed along a streetcar network. When you look at a map of Edmonton you will find that the areas with a grid structure follow the streetcar lines.  A grid street network makes a streetcar system efficient, but it also makes for efficient cycling by maximizing options.

 

Edmonton Areas with grid street structure

Edmonton areas with grid street structure

Edmonton has the right “built form” ingredients to support big cycling numbers, it is both flat and has an extensive network of street grids.

Another important ingredient is a network of separated bike lanes. How does Edmonton fare on this aspect?

Edmonton Cycling Network

Edmonton Cycling Network: Red Lines Indicate a traffic separated Multi-Use Path

The network is fairly inconsistent and there are gaps, however there are a few high quality, core separated bike lanes.  The map below shows that Edmonton’s cycling network greatest strengths are with its several strong north-south protected bike lanes.

Edmonton's Core Cycling Facilities

Edmonton’s Core Cycling Facilities

Since Edmonton was historically a large rail hub, many of these bike lanes were built as “rail to trails” along old rail corridors.

NE Rail Trail

NE Rail Trail

NE Rail Trail

NE Rail Trail

West North-South Rail Trail

West North-South Rail Trail

Downtown Rail Trail

Downtown Rail Trail

Edmonton has also had the foresight to include pedestrian and cycling facilities with each new LRT project.  While these lanes are not perfect as they mix pedestrians and cycling which can lead to injuries, they are certainly a good start.

North LRT Macewan Station Bike Lane

North LRT MacEwan Station Bike Lane

 

North LRT Multi-use Trail

North LRT Multi-use Trail

North LRT Multi-use Trail

North LRT Multi-use Trail

Kingsway Station Multi-use Trail

Kingsway Station Multi-use Trail

South LRT Multi-Use Path

South LRT Multi-Use Path

South LRT Multi-Use Trail

South LRT Multi-Use Trail

Edmonton also has a number of neighbourhood on-street designated cycling corridors.  The traffic volume and speeds on these roads are low enough to exclude separation.  That being said, more traffic calming should be used similar to Vancouver’s neighbourhood cycling boulevards.

Coliseum Neighbourhood Designated Bike Route

Coliseum Neighbourhood Designated Bike Route

102 Ave Neighbourhood Designated Route

102 Ave Neighbourhood Designated Route

As you can see from the map above, Edmonton is missing north-south and east-west connections through the downtown that are direct, separated and safe.  Right now the city is consulting with the public on the best options for the 102 Ave east-west connection which will incidentally coincide with the new SELRT expansion.  This will be a critical link in the cycling network.  The image below shows that this road is wide and experiences heavy traffic, this bicycle corridor will not be effective unless the cycling facilities are separated from traffic.

102 Ave Downtown Edmonton

102 Ave Downtown Edmonton

Otherwise Edmonton has been piloting these on-street cycling corrals.  This one by Whyte Ave. was well used.  Bike corrals are great for clearing the clutter off the crowded and busy sidewalks.

Whyte Ave Bike Corral

Whyte Ave Bike Corral

Edmonton also has a 88 km River Valley dividing the city.  While these paths are intended almost purely for recreational use, they should be noted since the 88 km length will be connected end to end with multi-use paths with 16 bridge crossings for pedestrians and cycling.

Vision of the Edmonton River Valley Connected End to End

Vision of the Edmonton River Valley Connected End to End

The City of Edmonton is also planning on some new cycling improvements.  The 105 Ave Streetscape projects will be a big improvement for pedestrians.  While there is not high volumes of traffic on 105 Ave, a separated lane should still be sought, or at least traffic barriers similar to those used on neighbourhood cycling boulevards in Vancouver.

Existing 105 Ave

Existing 105 Ave

105 Ave Proposed Streetscape

105 Ave Proposed Streetscape

The city also has plans to revitalize the Quarters area, as part of that plan is the Armature which will introduce a woonerf style mixed bike, pedestrian and vehicle promenade.  I suspect the city will not properly design the woonerf, which is meant to be a road where pedestrians and people cycling are prioritized and vehicles are permitted at walking speed.

The Armature Under Construction

The Armature Under Construction

The Proposed Armature

To wrap this up, Edmonton does have some strong protected north-south separated cycling lanes, however Edmonton lacks a clear network of separated and safe cycling lanes.  Efforts should be focused on getting a minimum grid in place downtown.  Similar to Calgary and the efforts from 8-80, a minimum grid is the bare minimum connected grid network of protected bike lanes.  Money should be invested in upgrading 105 Ave and 102 Ave as East-West separated cycling lanes.  The Armature will add a high quality eastern downtown north-south connection.  Another north-south connection should be considered on 104 St or 103 St. The good news is that space is aplenty.  Inefficiencies in the road network can be removed from the wide right-of-ways and low traffic volumes to make room for on-road separated bike lanes with no loss in road capacity.