Committee backs keeping controversial downtown bike lanes until June

Posted on November 7, 2017 in

Saskatoon’s contentious downtown bike lanes seem likely to stay in place until June after a city council committee endorsed that strategy.

Council’s transportation committee voted 5-1 on Monday to support a recommendation to leave the lanes until a comprehensive plan for a downtown bike network can be developed. That plan is expected to take eight months.

Barring any council members switching votes, only one other councillor needs to vote in favour of the strategy when council meets on Nov. 20, provided all 10 councillors and the mayor are present for the vote.

Coun. Randy Donauer cast the lone vote on Monday against leaving the bike lanes until June. Coun. Troy Davies, who does not sit on the transportation committee, has also said he wants the lanes removed immediately.

“These little bike lanes have attracted a huge amount of attention,” Mayor Charlie Clark said. He reminded people at the committee meeting that the curbside protected bike lanes on Fourth Avenue were installed because the previous configuration of unprotected lanes between parking and driving lanes was not working.

Protected bike lanes between the curb and parking lanes were introduced on 23rd Street in 2015; similar bike lanes were added along Fourth Avenue in 2016. The Fourth Avenue lanes have attracted most of the criticism.

“Generally speaking, I don’t think the sky has fallen with the introduction of these bike lanes,” Clark added.

Donauer countered that he thinks the bike lanes have had the opposite of their intended effect: Instead of encouraging cycling, people have turned against the idea. The bike lanes were raised with him more often than any other issue during last year’s municipal election campaign, Donauer said.

“I’ve heard overwhelmingly … that people are frustrated with the bike lanes we  have now.”

Keith Moen, executive director of the North Saskatoon Business Association (NSBA), said he welcomed the committee’s decision, despite expressing strong opposition to the bike lanes.

The NSBA even installed two video cameras to monitor bike lane usage on Fourth Avenue. The results suggested less than half as many cyclists as the city’s bike counters recorded during a 12-hour period, Moen said. The city’s numbers suggested between 200 and 250 cyclists used the bike lanes along Fourth Avenue daily in the spring, summer and fall of 2017 and about half as many used the lanes along 23rd Street.

“I don’t know what it is, but it’s a red-hot-button issue for our members,” Moen said. “We are simply saying this pilot project has failed and needs to be scrapped and taken back to the drawing board.”

Moen added the NSBA supports bike lanes in general.

Bob Turczyn of the Saskatoon and District Safety Council said the bike lanes present an obstacle for people with mobility issues parking next to them because it can be hazardous to cross them to get to the sidewalk.

Dr. Julie Kryzanowski voiced support for the lanes on behalf of the Saskatoon Health Region’s chief medical officer.

Cathy Watts of Saskatoon Cycles said her organization supports establishing a downtown cycling network, but called the pilot project “two little bike lanes that don’t connect to anything.”

Watts said she tried the cycling networks in Edmonton and Calgary this summer.

“Saskatoon is often slow to accept these ideas due to conservative and parochial thinking,” she said.

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