Saskatoon's 4th Avenue bike lanes to be removed by June 30, timeline for rest of downtown network uncertain

Saskatoon city councillors voted Monday night for a new plan that delays the expansion of Saskatoon's downtown bike lane network and puts the project's future design in question. 

City council also approved two key lines of the future bus rapid transit system at busy Monday meeting

Protected bike lanes were added on Fourth Avenue (pictured) in Saskatoon last year. Another protected bike lane was installed on 23rd Street in 2015. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

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Saskatoon city councillors voted Monday night for a new plan that potentially delays the expansion of Saskatoon's downtown bike lane network and puts the project's future design in question. 

Councillors also decided that try-out bike lanes on Fourth Avenue, which have been the subject of fierce debate for over two years, should be removed by June 30.

Councillors got a taste of the heated bike lane opposition in the form of one passionate speaker, Adeline Gagon, who chided councillors and Mayor Charlie Clark (who she repeatedly called "Bike Lane Charlie") for behaving like "two-year-olds playing in the sandbox."

Clark was among the nine councillors who voted in favour of removing the Fourth Avenue lanes, which were criticized by councillors, and even some cyclists, for being a less-than-ideal start to the city's bike lane expansion goals.

Councillors Sarina Gersher and Hilary Gough voted in support of keeping the Fourth Avenue lanes.

Gough said the clerk's office was recently "inundated" with 175 letters on the issue, and that 164 of them were in favour of the network. Biking advocacy group Saskatoon Cycles had called on supporters to write in as a potential alternative loomed: no bike lane network at all. 

Enough city councillors voted Monday to ensure the current downtown bike lanes on 23rd Street will stay for the moment.  

"There isn't going to be a time when this isn't a difficult decision," said councillor Mairin Loewen of bike lanes. 

The city had wanted to begin an expansion of the downtown bike lane network in 2021. That plan is now uncertain as councillors voted 6-5 in favour of a motion to consult the public on how future bike lanes on Third Avenue, 19th Street and 23rd Street should be designed. 

The exact timeline for this newly-amended plan is not known, though more reporting from the city is called for after engagement wraps in 2021.

BRT routes chosen

City councillors also approved a plan to put a key line of the city's future bus-rapid transit (BRT) service on Broadway Avenue, despite opposition from some businesses in the shopping district.

The decision was nearly unanimous. Only councillor Randy Donauer voted against the plan.

Donauer questioned whether Broadway Avenue was appropriate for a BRT service. 

"I'd rather zip across the freeway," Donauer said, referring to the Idylwyld Freeway, which was positioned as an alternative route to Broadway. 

The lanes on Broadway will be open to both regular vehicles and buses. That's opposed to dedicated BRT runningways, another option considered, but ultimately passed over, by councillors. 

Earlier, city councillors approved another key artery of the BRT service, one going on First Avenue. The move had the support of major developers, including the owners of the Midtown Plaza on First Avenue.

Councillors' support for First Avenue was unanimous.

Loewen touched on a key theme: that choosing First Avenue over the city's original recommendation, Third Avenue, was a riskier proposition because Third Avenue has more businesses on it.

But the city is hopeful that locating the BRT line on First will spur further development there. 

Prelude to the decision

Some vocal businesses on Broadway Avenue had already spoken loudly before Monday's meeting: they didn't want — as the city was recommending — a Nutana BRT line to run through their shopping district. They wanted it to bypass Broadway Avenue altogether.

As for the downtown BRT line decision, the city originally recommended Third Avenue, partly due to its proximity to more workplaces (compared to First Avenue). Then several things happened.

Businesses on that street complained about the parking spots that would be edged out by the BRT. And the developers of two major projects — the $80-million renovation of the Midtown Plaza on First Avenue, and the proposed $55-million World Trade Center on Third Avenue — said they'd like the line to go on First.

After going back to the drawing board and getting more community feedback, the city agreed. The city says a First Avenue BRT line would better link to a new downtown arena. And no parking spots would be lost on First Avenue by adding the BRT there.   

Concerns about parking spot losses on Third Avenue remain, however, since the city is now backing the idea of bike lanes on that street.

Councillor offer early thoughts

Councillor Cynthia Block (Ward 6) offered preliminary thoughts on the Nutana BRT line in a Friday blog post.

On one hand, Block called the area — which she's lived near for many years — a "cultural gem" and criticized the city for not addressing the historic district's business, cultural and environmental features.

On the other hand, BRT systems need to be where the people are, Block wrote.

"Do we want Broadway to be bypassed when an entertainment district and arena are built downtown?" she asked.

  • See below for a map of the full proposed bus rapid transit system or click here
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Installing the downtown BRT red line on First Avenue or Third Avenue would cost $3.6 million or $4.3 million, respectively.

Stations "primarily" account for the cost, according to the city.

A sketch of a curbside station for the BRT service. (City of Saskatoon )

Stations on a First Avenue line would go at the intersections with 21st Street and 23rd Street, while stations on a Third Avenue Line would go at the intersections with 20th Street and 23rd Street.

The city is laying out five options for the Nutana blue line:

  • The city's recommendation: going through Broadway Avenue, but putting off a decision on whether to have dedicated lanes for buses or mixed lanes. Cost: $500,000.
  • Opting for mixed lanes on Broadway Avenue. Cost: $3.7 million.
  • Opting for dedicated BRT lanes on Broadway Avenue. Cost: $2.5 million.
  • Deciding on either mixed or dedicated BRT lanes right away but phasing in the service gradually. Cost: $500,000.
  • Bypassing Broadway Avenue and routing the line first via Eighth Street, then Lorne Avenue, then Idylwyld Drive Freeway and finally the Sid Buckwold Bridge. Cost: $3.2 million.

What some people wanted

The city's last round of public engagement took place in the fall and winter of 2018.

People were pretty closely split on the downtown route, with 55 per cent preferring First Avenue to Third Avenue. (Granted, only a small sample size of 304 people weighed in.)

For Nutana, the largest segment (43 per cent) wanted the line to bypass Broadway Avenue, with the remaining 36 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively, preferring dedicated Broadway lanes and mixed lanes.

See the full results below or click here.

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About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

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