A chain's gonna come!
I think the men and woman on city council should support more bicycle lanes in Edmonton.
Not primarily or just because cycling is a good way to move. It surely is. It is good for the person pedalling (it's better to move your legs than to twitch your gas-pedal foot), it's actually good for the person driving (selfishly, there are fewer cars and trucks to deal with in traffic), it's good for neighbourhood-building, and it's just plain good for the environment.
It's just not as good for a certain kind of politician.
Bicycle commuters are a minority. That's pretty easy to see. It's seen most easily by those who are in their seats, in large part, because they are skilled in speaking to already-formed majorities. They're not as skilled at making majorities, but that is a different art. More people do rely on cars and trucks as their primary mode of transportation than do those who lean on bicycles. Many are not interested in changing that equation. And nobody wants to feel as if they are being preached at.
I support bike lanes not primarily or just because urban cyclists should feel safer than they do now. Of course, they should. We can all clearly see or make out the shape of Todd Babiak's recent remarkable suggestion that fewer bicycle injuries and deaths is a good thing we can all agree on. Remarkable because the point has to be made in the first place.
I support bike lanes not primarily or just because I fall for the argument that bike lanes will make irresponsible cyclists responsible. They won't. Not all. Short cutters and risk takers gonna short cut and risk take. We don't really expect car and truck drivers will necessarily drive better because they get their own lanes. That's as true now as it was in 1939.
I support bicycle lanes knowing there are other options for public money, and I do not envy those who have to separate the good ideas from the funded ones. After all, outdoor swimming pools, as Councillor Andrew Knack has reminded us, have to be funded, even though they are not used the majority of days in the year in Edmonton or by the majority of Edmontonians.
I support bicycle lanes in this city simply because this is a city. And can be more of a city. It can be more of a city not just because more people will choose to live here but because more different people will feel at home here. Modern cities are where different people move in different ways and a modern city is a place where all of that is on display. The more, the better.
(In a cool city you look around and you see not you. For me, the deeply terrifying thing about being in a car and truck traffic jam isn't that I'll be home 15 minutes late, it's that all I see is myself reflected back in all the cars and trucks.)
Among the emerging lessons of our times is that one-product wonders don't fare that well. If you're an alarm clock, you probably have to be a camera, too. Combs have survived, but globes of the earth, not so much. Variability, modularity are the backbones of our digital technology, but they also offer an intriguing lesson for our politics and design, as well.
Because variability and modularity are who we are. We don't exclusively drive cars or ride bicycles. Many do both. We shift. Many more would do both if they could do so safely. This is not bikes versus cars. It never has been. It is only bikes versus cars for those who benefit from bikes versus cars. Always ask: cui bono. For answer, see paragraph 3 above.
In the end, I support bike lanes for Edmonton because the debate gives this city a chance to grow past the way we have held this debate in the past. It gives us a chance to introduce more of a mixture into our transportation choices, and a corresponding chance to retire the boring view of ourselves as a car city. We're a people city. People move differently. That's interesting. Let them move.
There are objections, for sure, but one of them, the one from the Arctic Determinists, the one that says we are winter city, and, therefore, spending on cycling infrastructure is a waste, that argument is one that does not hold water, melted or not. That we are a winter city is precisely why we should become experts in life in snow and not experts in waiting for eight weekends in the summer. Besides, the fact checkers are right: this is not and never has been the Arctic.
Bike lanes won't transform Edmonton into New York or Paris or Portland. But they will help us be a little more different, which is what we are and should be trying to be more of.