Bike Lanes and Active Transportation in the Downtown
Yesterday in a media interview I said that City Council’s decision on the Active Transportation Network downtown was a decision to hit the reset button. This is an opportunity for a further explanation as to why I think we have come to this point
The decisions Council made on Monday were:
- To take out the 4th Avenue temporary bike lane,
- Leave in place the 23rd St temporary bike lane
- Establish future routes for a downtown network on 3rd, 19th and 23rd,
- Delay any steps of implementation to allow for a deeper dive into engagement: to try to achieve a design that learns from the shortcomings of 4th Avenue and has a greater chance of being more widely embraced, rather than creating further division in the community.
This whole bike lane issue has been an interesting education in the politics of our time to say the least.
Ever since being elected, I have worked toward building a city that creates more choices for people to get around safely and conveniently – by bus, foot, bike, car – including for people with mobility issues. This is shown by the extensive investments we have made in our road network.
I have also always advocated for a problem- solving approach that resists polarization and attempts to bring different perspectives in the same room to seek common ground.
Yesterday we made significant strides in the modernization of our transit system by establishing the routes for the Bus Rapid Transit Corridor. But I fully recognize we have not achieved this outcome when it comes to active transportation in the downtown core.
We have made significant progress in building safer and more accessible pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure throughout the City as a whole in recent years; Victoria Bridge, 33rd St, Central Ave cycletrack, Rails to Trails network, Meewasin Trail, etc. But the Downtown has proven to be a significant challenge.
In fact, over time, rather than becoming something that helps people adjust and become more comfortable with active transportation options, the 4th Avenue bike lanes have caused divisions to deepen, and set back an ability to move forward in a constructive way.
As we approached the vote last night, it became clear that any decision to proceed with implementation of bike lanes in the downtown would lead to further division. There were too many outstanding questions plus a lack of confidence that any new active transportation corridor, on 3rd Ave in particular, would be able to add value to the overall downtown experience. I heard this from members of the cycling community as well.
Bike lanes have become a lightning rod for division right across North America. I am under no illusion that we will ever come up with an approach that will please everyone. That said, with other issues such as the establishment of the Broadway 360 Plan, the Bus Rapid Transit routes, and the development of Victoria Avenue Complete Street, we have been able to find common ground among opposing views and come up with solutions that generate broader buy-in.
I still believe this is possible with Active Transportation in Saskatoon’s Downtown and that creating a safe and accessible network is worthwhile.
We are seeing more and more people cycling in our city. The call for better routes started from many concerns raised in the community about growing conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists on sidewalks, and cars and cyclists on the roadways.
All of the planning work we have done has also demonstrated that the more people are able to get in and out of the Downtown by walking, cycling, and transit, the less pressure there is on parking and congestion.
City-building can be messy, and it is definitely more of an art than a science. We have learned from this experience and I am committed to improving our processes and finding creative solutions to tough challenges. Sometimes this will take more time, but the effort is worth it.
This is our City and we have so much going for us. Thank you to everyone engaged in the process.