Downtown Protected Bike Lanes

This week, City Council voted to retain the current protected bike lanes downtown on 4th Avenue and 23rd Street.

The downtown protected bike lanes have been controversial for Saskatoon, with strong and vocal advocates on both sides of the issue. Debates have occurred throughout Saskatoon at kitchen tables, around water coolers and in our City Council Chambers.

I voted in favour of continuing with the current bike lane arrangement until we receive more comprehensive information in June, when a plan for a connected cycling network will be presented to City Council. In voting this way, I was thinking about the safety of all road users, about creating a downtown that works for everyone and making the right decision for Saskatoon now and into the future.

Council and the City’s administration have heard from thousands of Saskatoon citizens in council and committee meetings, in regular correspondence from residents and in the 25 different stakeholder meetings, open houses and surveys on this matter. After this significant discussion and engagement, City Council has voted to continue with the current downtown bike lanes until a more complete downtown cycling plan will be presented to City Council.

Rationale for the Downtown Bike Lanes

Saskatoon is growing, and there are certain challenges and opportunities that are associated with this. If we continue to grow in the same way that we have in the past, the costs of building and maintaining roads, overpasses and interchanges will become too large to sustain. This challenge is not unique to Saskatoon, and other cities—and other winter cities—have undergone similar growing pains.

By working toward greater density and more infill we can grow our city in a way that is more financially and environmentally sustainable. The downtown must become the heart of this change and it must become a place where more and more people are choosing to live, work and play.  The addition of bike lanes into our downtown certainly won’t solve all of Saskatoon’s problems, but it is a step in the right direction for our entire community.

All research and evidence points us in the direction that we need to increase our transportation options getting to, from and around the downtown so that we can become less reliant on single-occupancy vehicles. Although the current bike lane arrangement did get rid of some parking spots along 4th and 23rd, we are not going to be able to solve our congestion and parking issues without encouraging other forms of transportation, something made clear in the 2016 Downtown Parking Strategy. The bike lanes are part of a larger and evolving strategy that includes increasing the walkability around downtown and the transit options to and from the area. Taken together, these changes will help to grow our city in a more sustainable way and ensure that the downtown works for everyone.

Finally, protected bike lanes have been proven to increase road safety, and our collision rates among all road users have decreased where these bike lanes have been installed. People will only start cycling if they can do so safely and if they can get where they need to go by cycling, and the city has an obligation to support safe transportation options. I often hear positive feedback from senior citizens and school groups who are using these lanes and who are doing so safely. 

Design of the Downtown Bike Lanes

It is important to note that the current design of the downtown bike lanes is not set in stone. Many changes have already been implemented—such as allowing right turns on a red light and making cyclists more visible at intersections—and more are planned. Future changes could include improving parking options for those with accessibility concerns, installing overhead signage to mark lane assignments and making the lanes more visually appealing. The goal is to best serve all users of the road so that people can get around safely and easily.

Another concern with the current arrangement of downtown protected bike lanes is that they are not connected as well as they need to be. In addition to people not wanting to cycle if they can’t do so safely, people won’t cycle if they can’t get to where they need to be by cycling. Bike lanes need to be part of a greater cycling network, and City Council is expecting a report back on this in June 2018.

As the downtown attracts more people to live, work and play, it is important for the City to set up the infrastructure to allow for multiple modes of transportation in the area, to work toward the safety of residents and to ensure that the downtown serves everyone in Saskatoon.

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