Saskatoon

'It looked like we were stealing the road' and other takes on Saskatoon's arrested bike-lane development

Plus: What people are saying about the plan to take out the downtown Fourth Avenue bike lanes.

Reactions pour in to plan to remove bike lanes and go back to the table on larger network

Saskatoon city councillors voted Monday night on the site for three future bike lane installations, but the timeline for those installation is up in the air. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The plan went like this: get enough city councillors to support a long-gestating plan for an expanded downtown Saskatoon bike lane network — one that would start taking physical shape in 2021.

But things didn't quite work out that way for city planners and biking advocates Monday night.

City councillors effectively turned back the clock by deciding not only to remove much-derided try-out bike lanes on Fourth Avenue, but to stretch out the rollout of the 2021 expansion plan.

A slim majority of councillors — 6 to 5 — voted to conduct more intense public consultation than before, focusing now on how to design bike lanes on three confirmed future sites.

"I just see the whole thing getting really dragged out," said Cathy Watts, a member of the bike advocacy group Saskatoon Cycles. "I just hope I'm still alive to be able to use [them]."

About 25 bike lane supporters rallied in front of city hall before the vote. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"I hope it won't take too long" echoed Alan Wallace, the former director of planning and development for the city who oversaw the launch of the Fourth Avenue bike lane trial.

Some on social media agreed.

What exactly have councillors set in motion? What other possibilities were explored? And how did each councillor vote? Here's a quick breakdown, along with the reaction so far.

The plan that failed

The goal was to establish a three-pronged, interconnected downtown bike lane grid, with on-street lanes on Third Avenue, 19th Street and 23rd Street in the short term.

The network was to undergo construction beginning in 2021, starting with installation of bike lanes on Third Avenue. Lanes on 19th Street and 23rd Street would have then followed in the subsequent two years.

The vote on that plan never happened, though, because it quickly became clear that there was not enough support on council for it.

That became crystal clear after the vote to …

Remove the 4th Avenue lanes

Coun. Bev Dubois (Ward 9) fronted this successful motion, which called on the city to remove the Fourth Avenue lanes by June 30. The cost? $35,000 — less than one per cent of the cost of the failed $3.7-million expansion plan. 

In a 9-2 vote, Dubois garnered support from nearly all other councillors. Only Hilary Gough (Ward 2) and Sarina Gersher (Ward 8) broke from the pack to publicly support those lanes.

"It's dead," whispered one bike lane enthusiast to a friend in the public gallery. "The network. At least for now."

Saskatoonians react to the news about removing the Fourth Avenue bike lanes:

Saskatoonians react to 4th Avenue bike lane removal 0:37

Time and again Monday, speakers highlighted the failure of the Fourth Avenue pilot project to demonstrate the potential of bike lanes in Saskatoon.

Coun. Darren Hill (Ward 1) said council didn't help itself by leaving the Fourth Avenue lanes in for months after the initially intended try-out phase expired. That move "tainted" people's view of an expanded bike lane network, he said.

"We've created a significant amount of backlash," said Hill. "We said it was going to be an 18-month pilot and if not successful we would remove them. And we didn't do that. And people are upset.

City Coun. Darren Hill said council created a backlash by prolonging a downtown bike lane pilot project past its expected due date. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

"It just wasn't the right road to run a pilot down and most would agree with that," said Wallace, looking back on Tuesday.

The project was sorely underfunded, and its signature white posts — meant to demarcate the separated bike lanes — became a symbol of frustration for motorists, Wallace added.

"It looked like we were stealing the roadway. People didn't like that," he said.

Former city planner Alan Wallace said the white posts that separated bike lanes from the street only served to underscore the taking of road space in service of bike lanes. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Businesses on the road weren't crazy about them either, according to Brent Penner, the executive director of the Downtown Saskatoon Business Improvement District.

"The pilot project had clearly run its course and a big lesson learned was that whatever is done in the future has to be improved," Penner said on Tuesday.

"[Make it] better for cyclists, better for people with mobility issues who found getting from their vehicle to the sidewalk challenging, better and more clear for motorists, and it must have improved connectivity with other areas of the city."

Gough acknowledged that the bike lanes might not have been perfect, but they did make some people feel safer while cycling downtown — one of the goals of the city's overarching active transportation plan.

Coun. Hilary Gough voted against the plan to remove the Fourth Avenue bike lanes. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

With the Fourth Avenue lanes out by the end of next month, that will only leave piecemeal lanes on 23rd Street, which survived a separate vote to have them removed.

"We really can't even consider 23rd Street as being a functional lane because it's got that obstruction in the middle," said Watts, referring to a block-deep bus mall that will be removed one the city launches its bus rapid transit (BRT) service.

She's not alone in her criticism.

The purgatory option

It could have been a lot worse for downtown cyclists had Dubois's second motion also passed.

Dubois wanted to put the downtown network plan "in park," with no clear timeline on when to revive it, and instead focus on active transportation projects in other areas of the city.

"The rest of the city matters as well. They want bike lanes there too," Dubois said.

Coun. Bev Dubois wanted the city to halt its work on the downtown active transportation plan without a timeline to revive it. (City of Saskatoon)

Several speakers spoke out against icing the downtown plan, however.

"It's not going to materialize on its own," said Coun. Zach Jeffries (Ward 10).

Gersher reminded councillors it took them years to get to last night's vote.

"I mostly feel sorry for the administration because I've been to so many stakeholder meetings. I've looked at all those boards. I've put stickies all over them," said Watts.

Gough also wanted to press forward. "People need our leadership," she said.

Four councillors voted in favour of Dubois's motion:

  • Bev Dubois (Ward 9).
  • Ann Iwanchuk (Ward 3).
  • Troy Davies (Ward 4).
  • Randy Donauer (Ward 5).

Six councillors, and the mayor, voted against:

  • Sarina Gersher (Ward 8).
  • Hilary Gough (Ward 2).
  • Darren Hill (Ward 1).
  • Zach Jeffries (Ward 10).
  • Mayor Charlie Clark.
  • Mairin Loewen (Ward 7).
  • Cynthia Block (Ward 6).

The plan they voted for

Coun. Mairin Loewen brokered a compromise.

She launched a motion to settle on the locations of future connected bike lanes — Third Avenue, 23rd Street and 19th Street — but to wait on installing those lanes until a broad spectrum of the public is consulted on their design.

Loewen's intent was for the future active transportation network to be designed "for all users, including pedestrians, cyclists and those with accessibility needs."

"In 2021, after engagement," her motion continued, "[the city should report back] with opportunities to reduce costs by completing work in conjunction with future streetscaping improvements."

Coun. Mairin Loewen's compromise solution basically won the day. (City of Saskatoon)

Defending her motion before the close vote, Loewen said "I'm not willing to walk away from years of work."

Five councillors, and the mayor, voted in favour of Loewen's motion:

  • Sarina Gersher.
  • Cynthia Block.
  • Charlie Clark.
  • Zach Jeffries.
  • Mairin Loewen.
  • Hilary Gough.

Five councillors voted against:

  • Darren Hill.
  • Troy Davies.
  • Bev Dubois.
  • Randy Donauer.
  • Ann Iwanchuk.

"We went through all this with the pilot project, so they do run the risk of having somebody maybe just simply canceling the project," said Wallace of the stretched-out, less-certain timeline.

"But I think that's a fairly low probability."

Penner welcomes the re-think.

"Hopefully bringing together those groups to work collaboratively over the next while will lead to improvements and greater understanding on each other's needs and wants," he said.   

"That should lead to a better end result and a better product — one that hopefully has more support."

Several speakers spoke in favour of raised cycle tracks extending from the sidewalk — like the ones installed last year on Victoria Avenue.

But Watts said that option risks further inflaming people worried about the cost of bike lanes.

"Jay Magus [the city's director of transportation) said last night when I talked to him after the meeting that he'll be presenting all the different ways you could do this and the raised cycle track is, like, three times the cost," said Watts.

"It's really expensive. So I guess that's what they'll have to figure out."

CBC News has asked the city for an estimated cost comparison between raised cycle tracks and the type of on-street, separated bike lane originally pitched for Third Avenue under the failed 2021 plan.

But wait, there's more

The motions didn't end there.

Coun. Darren Hill pitched what essentially amounted to a beefed-up version of Loewen's plan.

For example, Hill also wanted the city to consider a bylaw dictating bike use inside a bike lane, and on the flip side, a potential bylaw aimed at car drivers sharing the road with cyclists on streets without separated bike lanes.

After Mairin's motion passed, though, Hill's version became moot.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips, ideas, complaints, just want to say 'Hi'? Write me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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