On 23rd Street beside city hall, a long line of excited cyclists dinged their bells as they rode down the first protected bike lane in Saskatoon, and most likely Saskatchewan.
The lane, which runs the length of 23rd Street in both directions between Spadina Crescent East and Idylwyld Drive, officially opened Wednesday morning in the city’s downtown. A series of flexible, white posts separate traffic and parked cars from cyclists, who ride between the posts and the sidewalk.
Hilary Gough is the co-chair of the Saskatoon Cycles board, a group heavily involved with making the new bike lane a reality. As a cyclist, she believes Saskatoon is turning over a new leaf when it comes to bike culture.
“Separated bike lanes are really the gold standard for safety. They’re great to be demonstrated in a downtown setting where there’s lots of traffic and people can feel uncomfortable,” she said outside city hall.
In fact, a city survey shows 60 per cent of those asked said they would ride their bikes more often if they felt safer and more comfortable.
Large green “bike boxes” are placed in the west-east directions of intersections, where cyclists will cluster before making a left turn. Drivers heading southbound and northbound cannot turn right on a red light at intersections where there are bike boxes. Signs will remind motorists to yield to cyclists, who have the right-of-way, when turning right.
There will also be signs signifying when cyclists are to wait behind loading buses and yield to people boarding the bus.
With all the changes, Gough acknowledges the relationship between motorists and cyclists will be a bit bumpy at first.
“They’re going to take some getting used to, and so I’d really invite people to welcome this as an experiment and see, you know, what they can do to make not only themselves feel more comfortable on the roads but those around them.”
The 23rd Street lanes are considered a demonstration project. A second lane is set to open next summer along 4th Avenue from 19 th Street East to 24th Street East, connecting up to the Broadway Bridge.
Ideally, all the bike lanes will one day connect around the city said Mayor Don Atchison during his speech to a crowd of bike enthusiasts outside City Hall. He said he supports dedicated bike lanes in Saskatoon, as long as they are in the right locations.
But at a city council meeting on March 23, Atchison was a bit less enthusiastic.
“First of all I think bikes are great, and it’s all part and parcel of the entire situation in our city. But I think sometimes we go to use a little common sense and our priorities here when we talk about what’s going to occur,” he said, adding Saskatoon is a “winter city” and questioning whether enough people cycle downtown.
Gough estimates around 150 cyclists showed up for Wednesday’s ride, which she said was a happy surprise.
“It’s really about a good mix of road users and types of commuting,” she said. “We all need to be respecting all types of road users and remembering that tomorrow, we could be choosing to use a different mode of transportation and that should be perfectly comfortable for us.”
According to the city, the bike lanes will be evaluated over the next 18 months to determine the future of the project. A report will then go to city council in early 2017.
The city has posted an instructional video to help both motorists and cyclists understand the new bike lane.