An efficient and affordable transportation network is fundamental to a successful city. If we want to create 15-minute communities, meet our climate goals, avoid traffic gridlock and support a healthier city, we need to make a significant shift in how we plan and build our transportation system. Specifically, we need better access to public transit and quality active transportation routes for biking, walking and rolling.
That’s why yesterday was a very exciting day at Urban Planning Committee, where we discussed two exciting reports: the Bike Plan Implementation Guide, and Mass Transit: Planning for 1.25 Million People. As part of the discussion, I put forward a motion to accelerate the implementation of the Bike Plan to align with our Energy Transition Strategy targets. Urban Planning Committee also decided to re-commit to expanding the LRT to Castle Downs while endorsing the additional transit routes put forward by City Administration, which include several semi exclusive right-of-way routes similar to Bus Rapid Transit.
This is a big moment for these files, so I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss their importance and provide some more information on the road (or LRT, or shared-use path) ahead of us.
The Time is Now
Yesterday at Urban Planning Committee, I heard many good arguments from members of Council and speakers from the public about why we need to move forward on building quality active transportation and transit infrastructure. We talked about positive economic impact and the importance of attracting and retaining young workforces. We talked about recreation and supporting the health of Edmontonians. We talked about how transportation alternatives can help us evolve into 15-minute communities where people can easily walk, bike, roll, or take transit to the basics of life, without the cost of owning multiple vehicles. These arguments are all persuasive, but for me, one of the largest imperatives for action right now is the climate crisis.
Council’s decisions about how to build our transportation system will have major implications for our work to transition to a low-carbon city. Transportation accounts for about 31 percent of Edmonton’s carbon emissions, and proper execution of the Bike Plan and expansion of mass transit will provide convenient, low-carbon transportation options for many more Edmontonians. Electric vehicles will be an important part of Edmonton’s future, but these come with a significant price tag that will not be attainable for everybody. We need to invest in active transportation and public transit to ensure that the energy transition is accessible to all.
One thing I heard clearly from Edmonton’s Energy Transition Climate Resilience Committee (ETCRC) is that we need to get it done fast. The time is now to act on climate change, particularly if we want to hit our goal of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030. This was a driving force behind my successful motion to speed up the implementation timeframe for our bike plan and prepare to build the bike network within the next four-year budget cycle.
Implementing the Bike Plan
Like many Edmontonians, I enjoy cycling and would love to bike more. One of the primary barriers I hear about and experience myself is a lack of safe, protected infrastructure, and an intuitive, connected network. Right now, in the mature city we have a patchwork of suggested routes, often without protection. If we want to significantly increase the mode-share we have to build for a network for all ages and abilities.
Beyond the health, safety, and environmental benefits, basic networks like the one included in the Bike Plan have become table stakes for globally competitive cities. Firms looking to set up shop are starting to look for cities that have safe bike infrastructure because they know that helps to attract and retain employees.
The Bike Plan Implementation Guide provides a much higher level of detail than we have ever seen for a comprehensive, city-wide network of active infrastructure. This work has followed extensive engagement with more than 11,000 Edmontonians, and the previous release of the Bike Plan.
The report that came before Urban Planning Committee suggested a timeline of 10-15 years to implement the bike plan, however, our Energy Transition Strategy calls for a complete build out of the active transportation network by 2030. Simply put, we don’t have 15 years to wait during a climate emergency. Investing in active transit is a low cost, high return action we should take immediately.
Given this urgency, I put forward the following motion:
That Administration provide a report that outlines options for the completion of the bike network in the redeveloping area by 2026 including any associated engagement that could be considered as part of the development of the 2023-2026 capital and operating budget and return to Urban Planning Committee in Q3. Each option should consider impacts on the Energy Transition Strategy and the ability to create a more connected network that enables accelerated mode shift. As part of the option analysis, Administration should consider things that will accelerate mode shift prior to the construction of permanent bike lanes including but not limited to end of trip facilities and temporary installations prior to neighbourhood renewal. Date: Quarter 3, 2022 (September) Committee: Urban Planning Committee
I felt it was necessary that we apply an accelerated timeline to this work so that it is in line with council’s stated priorities around climate action, safe mobility, and mode shift. This motion directs administration to accelerate the completion of Edmonton's bike network in redeveloping areas by 2026, which would include 408km of new routes. Redeveloping areas cover all of the neighbourhoods inside the Anthony Henday. Administration will be reporting back to council in September with accelerated implementation options to inform our 2023-2026 budget.
I strongly believe that a city’s values are found in its budget, which is why I was pleased to see City administration make estimations about the cost of our network. While $306M is eye-catching, administration notes that $115,700,000 is associated with implementing the bike network in the developing and future growth areas, a cost that will be predominantly borne by developers. That means we’re talking about around $190M for a complete district network in the redeveloping area, which would include every neighbourhood inside the Anthony Henday.
When we’re talking about a billion dollars for the Yellowhead Freeway alone, the cost-effectiveness of this kind of infrastructure in our city is plain to see. So far, our total spend on bike infrastructure has been incredibly limited compared with our spending on other major modes. Right now, there are federal funds on the table for active transportation infrastructure, and I want to ensure we’re able to capitalize on similar funding opportunities in the future.
A district connector network will provide a basic, viable, safe means of biking around Edmonton. This is the approach we’ve seen in other jurisdictions who have been successful at rapidly increasing mode-share for bicycles. Places like Seville and Paris have avoided the incremental approaches where only a few kilometers are built every year, and instead prioritized a functional basic network. In terms of return on our investment, a basic network is the cost efficient path forward. Routes don’t generate ridership – networks do.
The results of the spatial analysis included in the report show very strong potential in Ward Métis, and I was pleased to see the areas around Exhibition Lands and in Greater Bonnie Doon included as focus areas for Near-Term Priority Bike Routes. At the same time, it is my hope that with the success of yesterday’s motion, and a future motion during budget, we will see the vast majority of these routes completed in the near term, rather than more than a decade into the future.
There is so much more to be found inside our Bike Plan Implementation Guide, the Bike Plan, and the What We Heard Reports. I won’t be able to cover it all in a blog post, but I would invite any passionate cyclist in Edmonton to check out these documents and send your support to your ward councillor.
There is lots of work to do, but it is achievable. My motion means that Council will see options to implement the Bike Plan during the 2023-26 budget cycle.
Implementing Mass Transit
Active transportation and public transportation are complements, and this week we were also updated on our Mass Transportation planning. The Bike Plan Implementation Guide had exciting news for Ward Métis, and the Mass Transit update does as well.
Yesterday, Urban Planning Committee recommended that Council re-commit to the Metro Line Extension northwest to Castle Downs. This is a long-promised extension that will be an important part of the overall mass transit network.
However, mass transit is about more than just LRT. Committee also talked about how we can shift the allocation of existing road right-of-way in order to create dedicated transit right-of-way. That opens the door for more semi-exclusive lanes and things like Bus Rapid Transit. Going through this door could allow us to build out a mass transportation network that reaches more people in a more cost-effective way, which is important as we accelerate our climate work and work towards achieving the City Plan.
The City's Mass Transportation technical study shows a variety of route types, including city-wide routes and district routes. City-wide routes include:
Exclusive Right-of-Way Routes [Capital Line, Metro Line, Valley Line]
Semi-Exclusive Right-of-Way Routes
Rapid Limited Stop (Buses)
Regional Services (Buses)
whereas district routes include:
Rapid Limited Stops (Buses)
Urban Frequent Routes
One of the semi-exclusive routes in the study that is of particular interest for Ward Métis is the B2 Route (BRT): WEM/Misericordia Major Node – Bonnie Doon District Node.
B2, and the North-South route B1, are projected to have considerable demand, both dramatically exceeding the 100 boardings per km threshold for implementation.
These estimates are for our city at 2 million residents, and they are a pretty compelling incentive for us to advance these lines, and why I’m excited to see B2 (and some of the other bus routes) included in our plans.
Yesterday’s discussion sets the City up to build this mass transit network in future budget cycles. I will be advocating for proper funding from Council, and I will also support my colleagues in securing funding from provincial and federal governments for these major investments in emissions reduction and quality of life.
We all need to move around our city. Everyday life means getting around between home, work, friends, recreation, school, daycare and more. Supporting attractive and viable options for people who want to walk, bike, roll, or take public transit will help reduce congestion and traffic for people who drive.
By investing in low-cost, high-return active transit networks and bike infrastructure more Edmontonians will be able to move safely, efficiently, and seamlessly from one destination to the next in all seasons. At the same time safe, convenient, and reliable public transit is foundational to an efficient transportation network.
These actions will reduce the cost of living, and our emissions, while improving public health, and supporting our local economy. I’m proud that we’re moving forward on these big moves, and I look forward to their planning, design, and eventual construction.
As always, let me know your thoughts!