It was obvious from Wednesday’s transportation meeting that the biggest challenge facing the City is not where it will find 500 kilometres of bike routes, but how it will change the culture of “us versus them.”
Inside the Crestwood School gymnasium where it was held, it was easy to distinguish who was who, either by age, the grip on their shoes or how they vented.
Pro-bikers were fond of the sticky-notes and posted them on maps of proposed routes with such messages as “Bikes belong yay!” and “Ride a bike and you won’t have trouble finding parking.” (Both, by the way, had smiley faces.)
Pro-drivers were generally vocal, choosing instead to debate, sometimes berate, anyone with a City of Edmonton lanyard, especially the one around Tyler Golly’s neck.
The General Supervisor of Sustainable Transportation knows that the battle isn’t just uphill—it’s pockmarked, icy and very narrow. “Change is scary to everybody, regardless of how dramatic it is,” he said.
In the battle between us and them, I am both. I have been honked at, yelled at and threatened. I’ve also done my share of yelling and threatening (windows up, of course). But the more of the former I receive, I do less of the latter.
Like many Edmontonians who’ve recently added cycling to their modes of transportation, I am weaning myself off car addiction. The symptoms include driving for distances under five minutes, writing letters to the editor about snow-clearing and calling your councillor about eternal traffic lights.
How addicted are we? You don’t have to count the times you hear “potholes” in a day to know that, of the eight major Canadian cities, ours is the most car-reliant.
According to Statistics Canada, 77 percent of us get to work behind the wheel. It’s not surprisingly then that we also have the shortest commute times.
In a city as affluent and spread out as ours, cars are both a privilege and a right. Nevermind that many of us can’t afford the steel, gas and insurance, or that a subgroup prefer peddles or shoes, taking cars away from Edmontonians is like taking guns away from Americans.
But of course, the proposed bike routes that Mayor Mandel approved, and then more recently called a “nightmare,” are not threatening to pry your steering wheel from your cold, gloved hands. They’re simply trying to encourage you to let go every so often, or at least make some room for someone who will.
There are many reasons why you should.
Marked bike-lanes (as opposed to shared roads) improve traffic flow and reduce bicycling injuries — a win-win-win for motorists, bicyclists and insurers. According to a University of Texas study, bike-lanes even make safer motorists.
In fact, any on-street bike infrastructure — even some simple signage painted on the lanes that “us and them” already share — boosts an Edmontonians willingness to ride, a noble cause in itself.
So keep that in mind the next time you’re about to pound your horn and maybe try the five-finger salute instead.