True Grid

There is a proposal afoot to build what city hall transportation poets call the minimum grid for physically separated bike lane infrastructure. In translation, it's a vision for a humane way for bicycle riders to move safely in the downtown core. And a more rational way for automobile drivers to experience bicycle riders. My friend Sandra suggested that I speak at the committee meeting yesterday where city councillors took a first crack at it. This is what I said. 

I'm Glenn Kubish. I'm a lifelong Edmontonian. I learned to ride a bicycle in Delwood in the proud northeast end. I'm now a taxpayer in Parkview in west Edmonton. I still ride my bike. I commute downtown by bicycle through four seasons of Edmonton weather. That makes me a bit of a diehard, according to some critics who would have you believe that because we get some snow, we all have to go inside. But that's an issue for another day. 

Stix and Mo behind me in the River Valley Room
I reject that label, diehard. I think on my bicycle I'm very much a die-easy. It's actually no contest between my skull and my spine and the bumpers and grilles on the cars and trucks on the streets of downtown Edmonton. Don't get me wrong. I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm not trying to convince you to ride a bicycle on your commutes. I'm not here to harangue. Or to argue for the health benefits of bicycle riding. Or to say other cities are way ahead of us in attracting residents downtown by making bicycle riding safer because it's actually not 1939. Hey, I drive a car, too. I'm not Tooker. 

Councillor Gibbons reminds us of the past

I just want my commute, and the commutes of my fellow bicycle riders, to be safer. 

I ride with a little video camera on my handlebars. And I've recorded recently some of the most interesting scenes. I've been run into the curb and lectured by a car driver that I should get off the road because I am not a vehicle. Technically, true. I am an Edmontonian on a bicycle. But that wasn't his point. He was spewing words, not parsing them. 

I've been intentionally buzzed by automobile drivers, cut off at intersections where the right of way was mine, I've been sworn at, yelled at, and one driver who drives for a living told me my death in traffic would not be a bad thing after I took the lane. I've had doors opened on me and I am continually funnelled into traffic by automobile drivers parked illegally at times of day on 102 Ave they shouldn't be there. 

Not all the time and not all the drivers, of course, but enough of the time and enough of the drivers to make a pattern. Automobiles change people. Technology does that. 

McLuhan's childhood house is in the Highlands

So, right now, it's not so safe for us die-easys on bicycles. We adapt. A bicycling friend at work put it this way. Quote: Every day it's constant thinking of different ways to make it, she said. Different ways to exist with the cars, different ways to feel safe. I know when I'm going down this block that I need to move far over to the right because cars are going to whiz by me no matter what, so, if I don't move over, I'm going to get creamed. It's almost like I'm drawing Xs and Os on the board, and, if the cars are going this way, and they're the Os, then my X has to go here. It's watching to find my spots so I don't die, to be honest. Unquote. That was Jacquie. She said I could use her metaphor. 

Tactical bicycle riding
From my point of view, that's the reality out there.

So, it should come as little surprise that might wins the day. That's the politics of the street. If downtown streets are so obviously the space of automobile drivers, that entitlement can make for encounters more ugly and dangerous than the sticks-and-stones stuff, and the occasional bumper, aimed at me.

So, question: what to do to make things a little safer for your friends who prefer to move through and experience the downtown that you designed without a windshield in the way? 

Answer: some safe space.

We don't just need feel-good posters on the backs of buses with be-safe-together messages. We shouldn't need to all develop Jacquie's timing expertise. We don't need new laws, as if written words could protect us (but you might want to clear up the who yields-to-who confusion on 102 Ave right now).

We don't need warnings that we might be going to fast with this talk of a bike grid downtown. This idea isn't going too fast. Too many automobiles are. 

(Above, not a fast driver as much as a slow one who backs up into a rush hour crosswalk today on 102 Ave)

Car is king here in Edmonton, we all know that. That's how we are seen. But, surely, there's some room and some money in that kingdom so that more of us could become a little more diehard.

Thank you for listening to what I witness and thank you, as we start Edmonton's second year as a Vision Zero city, for considering the minimum grid of separated bike lane infrastructure downtown. 

And, while I'm at it, please choose the kind of city that's waiting behind the Option B door. Let's make it real by summer of next year. That will make commuting by bicycle this winter even more hopeful. 

The Urban Planning Committee voted in favour of the cycletrack idea. It now goes to a full meeting of city council for debate on October 11. Check out the Paths for People take action website for stuff to watch and share and ways to contact your city councillor.  


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