There’s been a lot of folks in this town hating on bike lanes lately, with a small, vocal minority calling for the removal of lanes already put in. This week, councilor Mike Nickel put the southside bike lanes on 76th Ave and 97th Street in the cross hairs, even offering support for the planned 83rd Ave and 102nd Ave bike boulevards in exchange for support on removing the lanes in question. Amazingly, many members of the E-ville cycling community seemed willing to participate in such a trade, sighting poor design, poor placement, and the inefficacy of paint on the road.
For real? How bad could they be? This required an exploratory mission to the south side via 97th Street.
Perhaps tellingly, I don’t remember taking this route before. If I was going a shorter distance south in the area, I’d take 96th Street, and if I was going deep south, I’d take Mill Creek then 91st Street. I had to look at a map to confirm that, indeed, there was a bike route that ran all the way south from Whyte Ave. Perhaps this route actually was reduntant?
The first thing I noticed as I turned onto 97th was that there wasn’t anything demarking it as a bike route. Upon closer inspection, things started to become clearer.
The relatively new markings had been paved over as part of road resurfacing. Suddenly, the threat of bike lane removal by a fiscally conservative politician became more real – you can’t call him on being a hypocrite for wanting to spend money removing infrastructure when it was already gone. The timing of this made perfect sense.
Running down a quiet residential street, I can’t imagine anyone having a problem with this route, and I was enjoying riding it far more than I did 96th.
Then, I saw it:
A newly constructed roundabout! The ultimate in traffic calming and bike accommodating infrastructure! And I bet someone’s pretty pissed about it.
Further down the road was the bike boulevard piece de resistance, the street had been blocked off to cars but a multiuse trail allowed bikes to continue to pass through. I’ve only rode infrastructure like this in Montreal and Vancouver and was thrilled to see it in my home town. Who knew E-ville was so progressive?
The residential section, however, is not the section that has been generating criticism from cycling allies and enemies alike. As it crosses 63rd Ave southbound, 97th Street enters an industrial area, and the sharrows give way to painted bike lanes.
As I rode, I went over all the criticisms levelled at this route in my head and wondered if the naysayers were talking about the same road. Busy? Nope, not even at rush hour. Going to get squished by a semi? Nope, the car lane is wide and where the bike lane turns to sharrow it becomes 2 full lanes – lots of room. Loss of parking for businesses? Nope, all of the businesses had parking lots in front and there wasn’t street parking to start with. Unused? Nope, I saw several other cyclists. Disconnected, start and stop infrastructure? Ok, maybe a little, but nothing unmanageable, especially by this city’s standards.
The best part was crossing the Whitemud Freeway. The road just went right over – no negotiating the multiple lights and offramps of the 91st Street and 99th Street alternatives.
I barely noticed I was crossing the busiest freeway in the city. How awesome is that?
The bike route ended at 34th Ave, which is where the 91st Street bike path also terminates and gives you the option of riding a busy arterial or going way outta your way on twisty suburban roads. Since I’d come this far, I decided to venture a little bit further to get some noms at Loma House before heading back. The last leg of the ride was definitely the worst, zigzagging through the industrial area where bikes weren’t even an afterthought, to get my reward. Too bad the lanes don’t go all the way to 23rd Ave.
So, to all the haters out there, I say this bike route is great! It’s useful, safe, direct and well thought out. We need more of this, not less, and we can’t let opponents to progress exploit our duversity of opinions to convince us that we need to be undoing the first steps towards a citywide cycling network. A lot of people also like hating on sharrows, wondering what’s the point of having a road marking that signifies something that’s perfectly safe, legal and normal anyway (namely cycling on the road)? The beauty of sharrows is that jerks in gasburners look especially stupid when they yell “get off the road!” so it happens a whole lot less. And less ignorant screaming makes everybody’s lives better.
Vivent les bike lanes!