City of Edmonton crews have started construction on a $7.5-million bike network that will provide seven kilometres of separated lanes for cyclists, crisscrossing the city's downtown.
Crews began cutting pavement Wednesday morning for the on 107th Street between 99th and 100th Avenue for the Downtown Bike Network project, with construction on 106th Street to begin next week.
"It's really exciting. We're thrilled that it's happening," said Anna Ho of Paths for People. The group, which works to improve conditions for cycling and walking in Edmonton, has long advocated for the bike lanes in the downtown area.
The city plans to build lanes going down 100th, 102nd and 104th Avenues and 107th, 106th, 103rd and 99th Streets. Concrete barriers and planters will be installed on roads throughout the network to separate cyclists from traffic.
They are expecting the project to be finished by July this year.
For Ho, the bike lanes will be much-needed in the downtown area. The 42-year-old is a regular bicycle commuter, but said she would rather not ride alongside vehicles.
"When you're in traffic, it can be a little tense," Ho explained. "With added infrastructure that is separated, it will make cycling safer and more comfortable."
On 107th Street, traffic was reduced to one lane in each direction while the work began.
City of Edmonton officials said the traffic disruptions will affect both driving and transit commutes, but it will be worth it in the long run.
"I think it's a huge step in the right direction. We don't currently have any on-street-protected bicycle facilities and so this is a quantum leap," said Olga Messinis, the project manager for the Downtown Bike Network.
Messinis, who also rides a bike, said the city is on-budget for the project.
"That puts us into the downtown festival season as well so that would be a great win," she said.
Included in the $7.5-million cost will be bicycle parking at some locations, so people can safely lock up their bikes downtown.
The city expects the numbers of people riding will grow significantly based on trends from other cities with established bicycle networks, such as Calgary.
Plans to expand network outside downtown
It's a plan the executive director of the Downtown Business Association believes will make Edmonton's core more vibrant by making it more accessible.
"All great cities have great urban bike networks," Ian O'Donnell said, though he admitted Edmonton is playing catch-up compared to many other places.
A plan to expand the new bike network is already in place to try to connect the downtown grid with adjacent areas outside of downtown.
But for now, Messinis said the focus is on getting the downtown network right before growing the system.
Pedestrian advocate Ho said while there may be some time for people to get used to the adjustments, the network will bring huge benefits to Edmontonians.
"It's healthier, it's less congestion on city roads, it's a reduction in traffic, less parking is required," Ho said. "It's great all around."