Not so long ago I was driving to work on one of the city’s arterioles when I came across a denser version of my typical, daily clusterfuck. My eyes focused on the reflective vests of city workers ahead, and I realized it was almost 8:00 AM–“rush hour” in our suped up little gas town, and the city’s favourite time to send out groups of fluorescent clad road workers to close off traffic lanes, stand around, and philosophize about what Ryan Gosling has that they don’t. But this day was different: the city workers were painting bike lanes on the road.
I didn’t think much of it at the time. This particular street was already a tight squeeze, equipt with an elementary school and a mini loading zone that forced young scholars to tuck and roll out of their parents moving vehicles, undeniably cumbersome to do while wearing skinny jeans belted below the ass. Clearly the bike lanes were a temporary, chalk-based addition to assist some Bike Against Ball Cancer fundraiser event. What a nice community activity, I thought, and I smiled as I reminisced about my youth, when I would draw giant dinks on the sidewalk with a piece of chalk the color of Flaming Foreskin Fuchsia.
After a few days of excessive idling at congested intersections and weaving through corkscrew lanes (oops, did I say lanes? I meant lane. Singular), I made the realization that these things were legit– they were intentionally added into the infrastructure as permanent fixtures. Which is a lovely municipal addition if it’s done correctly. This, however, was quite obviously a $800,000 dollar failure.
I can’t say the introduction of (more) bike lanes caused me personal strife, as I have more pressing concerns on my mind, like the New World Order, or the globs jelly that fell from the sky in 1994 and contained traces of human DNA, or the design improvements I will make to my next tin foil hat. Not long after the implementation of the bike lanes, I changed work locations, which meant my daily drive no longer included obstacle courses of bike lanes and frustrated motorists. Please note that I did not mention bicyclists, because in all honesty, I have never seen a commuter bicyclist on a road in Red Deer.
The rest of Red Deer, minus the 200-something bicyclists that signed a petition to have the bike lanes implemented in the first place, were bat-shit irate. Little did I know, the bike lanes surpassed the one unreasonable location I experienced and had been splattered in stupid locations throughout the city. In my seven years of residing in Red Deer, this was the first time I had seen Red Deerians collectively give a shit . . . about anything.
Within a week, Red Deerians were rioting in the streets: throwing rocks through windows, lighting shit on fire, and over turning any bicycle they could find.
No, not really (it’s not like this is Vancouver and we lost a hockey game), but they did the next best thing to demonstrate their social dissent: They created a petition. Weeks later, city council voted to remove many of the problematic lanes.
It’s frustrating when eco initiatives fail when the models aren’t tweaked to suit the unique characteristics of a municipality or geographical area. The fact that Suits have kicked bicyclists off the sidewalks in small, Canadian cities like Red Deer exemplifies this short-sighted, urban stereotyping. This is not Toronto, or New York, or Amsterdam. Here in Red Deer, most of our sidewalks are lonely and barren– no pedestrian jams, and minimal pedestrian yielding. We also have an above par trail system (which could have been enhanced). Hence why most of our bicyclists do take to the sidewalks. Why, in a municipality like ours, is this considered bad? Why is having bicyclists (unlicensed, unregulated, free to ignore traffic laws) share 60 KM +/HR roads with semi trucks, buses, jacked up F-350s, and worse of all, elderly people driving Camrys, deemed safer than sharing the sidewalk with Bob the jogger? And why are commuter bicycle lanes being prioritized as the reasonable alternative to motorized transportation when we live in a climate that produces six to seven months of winter (hello random, 30 kilometre an hour in-the-face wind chills that feel like -45 degrees Celcius)? Why has this initiative been deemed a priority when the bike lanes will be covered in three feet of snow for half the year due to our increasingly shotty snow removal? Wouldn’t that $800,000 have had more of an impact if it had been put into our horrendous public transit system?
This isn’t about harping on bicyclists; good on the bicyclists and those who commute via bicycle to work. This isn’t even really about bike lanes. This is about city council putting tax payer’s money into a superficial add-on that was inappropriate for the venue– a failed attempt to regulate common sense, and in doing so, butchered common sense. This is also about the need to start critically analyzing the system we live in and the modern industrial complex that molds it. What if we evolved our communities into actual communities (resources, businesses, communal gardens/ composts– the possibilities are enormous)? What if we played with our employment structures and encouraged/enabled more work-from-home scenarios, or tweaked hours to minimize the amount of days employees are commuting (when the type of business/ position allows for it)? These small to mid-size Canadian cities are ridiculous in ways: constantly building outwards in the same 1950s, suburban framework that is spatially wasteful and disjointed, obsessing over private property and single family dwellings (alternatives are minimal), lame public transportation, communities that don’t actually serve as communities, the perpetuation of backward models like the big box malls, etcetera. To be more concise, micro cities like Red Deer are consistently building upon a framework that demands more and more transportation, and is creating shittier and shittier urban environments to walk or ride in (a shit bike lane, on a shit street, in shit traffic, with shit surroundings is still shitty).
The failure of Red Deer’s Commuter Bike Lane pilot could be perceived as a lack of vision on the public’s part, but in my eyes, these bike lanes are, in themselves, a result of borrowed, band-aid idealism– what we putter on when we don’t have the balls to challenge the true systemic issues that create and reinforce a way of life that is no longer working.