City council acted on the barrage of community input they’ve been receiving regarding the Bike Lane Pilot Project at this week’s regular meeting.
A progress report was introduced with several suggested recommendations for the project, and council, for the most part was supportive of them although most were altered to some degree. The move came after an outpouring of feedback from residents via email, petitions, letters and discussions. Concerns have ranged from safety and traffic congestion to parking issues.
Other feedback has been positive, pointing out the lanes are a much-needed addition to the City and bode well for encouraging active living and a cleaner environment.
“I do think the issues the community has raised, and that we’ve identified internally, are worthy of the consideration of council at this time,” said City Manager Craig Curtis.
For example, council supported a recommendation that the bike lanes on 55th St. and 40th Ave north of 52nd St. revert to the original configuration and the bike lanes be removed in favour of designated bike routes with on-street markings.
Councillor Cindy Jefferies didn’t support this particular recommendation, saying she felt it was too soon to make such adjustments. “I’m in favour of leaving them the way they are, let the year go by and we will have the discussion a year from now. I think that would be good timing.”
Council also supported the recommendation to remove the lanes on 59th Ave. north of 70th St., and that this section of 59 Ave. be identified as a bicycle route with on-street markings.
Another recommendation was for the City to explore bike infrastructure alternatives along 55th St. including a possible off street multi-purpose trail – unanimously supported by council.
Another recommendation initially read that the City would work with both school systems to develop strategies to relieve traffic congestion at schools during morning and afternoon peak periods; but the wording was changed to include all school divisions in the City, as it was felt that students across Red Deer – regardless of what school they attend – are affected by changes in bike lanes.
Another key recommendation council supported was that the City adopt any final changes to the bike project right away, and re-engage the community in an evaluation of the program next year.
Meanwhile, funding for these changes will come through surplus funds in operating budgets.
“The unfortunate by-product of this project – this is my opinion – has been that in some areas, it’s resulted in more traffic congestion which results in idling traffic. It’s also displaced some traffic to residential areas,” said Councillor Tara Veer.
“I firmly believe there is a right way to achieve the right outcome. This was a very grassroots movement…and that’s a good thing. Our City staff worked in conjunction with the cycling community and that’s a very positive thing.”
Veer added that there are sectors in the community, however, that feel they weren’t consulted about the project. “Instead of setting up bike lanes for success, it’s resulted in some alienation between some motorists and cyclists.”
Jefferies said, “For me, this is really just change. Change is difficult – and it takes some adjustment time.” With the inception of the project about four weeks ago, the surge in traffic due to back-to-school perhaps wasn’t the best time to try and introduce new bike lanes, she said. “People may have been running into things they weren’t expecting.
“But for me, this is a pilot project. It’s only been a little less than one month for trying it. It’s a bit too soon to change gears. I hear the people, I’ve stood on the corner, I’ve biked the lanes, I’ve walked the walks beside them and I understand some of the frustrations,” she said. “For many, they say ‘Maybe I should give this a little bit of a try’.
In addition, a City man has launched an online petition to have the bike lanes removed altogether. Ryan Handley, a 30-year resident of Red Deer, said he sent letters to City council because he was concerned of the size of the pilot project and the money they were spending.
“The letters I got back weren’t good. It didn’t sound like they were listening to me,” he said. “My biggest concern are the amounts of money they are putting in for a project that is getting small usage. And there is also a safety concern.
“I wouldn’t let my children ride on them.”
Handley has garnered more than 2,800 names so far.
“No one knew about these bike lanes – they just showed up,” he said. “Last year, they were in areas that didn’t bother people. I suggest we start now with the bike lanes in the new subdivisions, and make the roads bigger to accommodate them.
“I want to be clear – I’m not against bikers or the bike lanes.”