City committee endorses report saying downtown Saskatoon bike lane should move over

Saskatoon's transportation committee has approved a plan to make Saskatoon's existing downtown bike lanes permanent, and to add new ones.

City administration recommends directing $4.6M towards 1st-ever permanent downtown bike lane

The controversial temporary bike lanes at Fourth Avenue in downtown Saskatoon will come to an end by 2022 if an administrative report is followed. (Chelsea Laskowski/CBC News)

A Saskatoon business association leader is praising a recommendation to put an expiry date on a much-criticized temporary downtown bike lane that received an endorsement from the city's transportation committee.

The bike lanes at Fourth Avenue N. should shift over to a permanent iteration at Third Avenue N. by 2022, according to an administrative report that went before the committee on Monday.

The recommended move is "the best news out of this" report, said North Saskatoon Business Association leader Keith Moen.

The administrative report lays out a vision of what the cycling network might look like. It proposes new permanent bike lanes along part of Third Avenue between 19th and 23rd streets, at an expected cost of $4.6 million.

"This is an investment in infrastructure and if it's well-utilized, we see that as a good thing," Moen said.

All councillors on the transportation committee, except for Coun. Randy Donauer, voted to approve the report.

"I get a little nervous about the speed and the investment in cycling. I think we need to have a cycling infrastructure — I'm just not sure I'm comfortable going this fast and spending this much annually on it," he said at the committee meeting.

The pink portions of the map are proposed as new bicycle lanes in the five-year plan for bicycle networks in Saskatoon. (City of Saskatoon Active Transportation Implementation Plan)

At the committee, the city's acting transportation director laid out some of the reasons for the high cost. Switching a catch basin out to make the lanes accessible for all residents costs about $75,000 per basin, director Jay Magus said.

The money flagged will create permanent bike lanes, but the form they will take has yet to be debated.

Magus said he envisions bike lanes that are built on the existing roads, rather than raised bike lanes, such as those being suggested for Idylwyld Drive. They would be separated by some sort of physical barrier as well.

2015 pilot project

Alan Wallace put together the Fourth Avenue and 23rd Street pilot project when he was director of planning and development with the city.

Those lanes were put in as a pilot project in 2015 and approved to stay in place until a downtown-wide cycling network is developed.

"I'm a little surprised it's not going to be a permanent fixture on Fourth," Wallace said.

He said the median on Third Avenue and large number of retail stores didn't lend itself to piloting a bike lane there, but that moving the lane there permanently "will probably be fine."

Members of Moen's association have long been critics of the way the pilot project was pursued.

That's what this is all about — it's safe ways to get around Saskatoon, choosing the way you want to move around.- Alan Wallace

Moen said the biggest issue was that the city moved so fast to put the bike lanes in that it didn't do consultation beforehand. Moen called the pilot "a colossal waste of money."

"They were putting the fires out and I think they need to be more engaged in what stakeholders have to say," Moen said.

Administration's forecasted budget of $300,000 for planning and designing the Third Avenue bike lane gives a one-year timeline for that process.

Moen said usually he likes when projects get going in a hurry, but in this case the recommendation might be too fast.

Wallace lauded the overall price estimate of $10.28 million to expand Saskatoon's cycling network over the next 10 years.

"It really entrenches bike lanes. It makes them a permanent piece of transportation infrastructure. And that's what's really important, is you want to see bike lanes incorporated as every part of street design," he said.

"That's what this is all about — it's safe ways to get around Saskatoon, choosing the way you want to move around."

Hint at where bus rapid transit will end up

The city had previously stated that if a bike lane ends up on Third Avenue, the bus rapid transit route that's being proposed won't go there, Moen said.

That leaves First Avenue North as being a strong "hint" as the final location for the BRT lanes, both he and Wallace agreed.

"It has better long-term or future benefits [there]," Wallace said.

Moen is in favour of that location as well.

"We believe that that's where the BRT would be best served and most utilized," Moen said.

10-year plan

In the longer term, the report lays out $2 million toward a cycling network along Victoria Avenue between Eighth Street and Taylor Street, with $150,000 of that earmarked for design.

Not budgeted in the report are special lanes planned for bikes travelling on Idylwyld Drive to Spadina Crescent and another one along 19th Street on Avenue A to Fourth Avenue.

The report says a funding strategy is pending, but hints at potential alternate sources.

"Active transportation projects are prime targets for Provincial and Federal funding due to their reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and support of mode split away from the single-passenger vehicle," it says.

The report is officially called the "Active Transportation Implementation Plan," which supports a target of increasing cycling from four to eight per cent in the city.

The end goal with the Active Transportation Plan, which the city created in 2016, is meant to "mitigate future traffic congestion and infrastructure needs" in Saskatoon as the city grows, the report says.

City council's transportation committee was scheduled to discuss the report at its Tuesday afternoon meeting.

With files from CBC's Guy Quenneville