Edmonton set to build $100M in bike lanes as city council votes to amend capital budget

City council voted to amend the proposed 2023-26 $7.75-billion capital budget.  (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)
City council voted to amend the proposed 2023-26 $7.75-billion capital budget. (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton city council voted to add millions of dollars to the city's proposed four-year capital budget Friday for initiatives like bike lane infrastructure, building retrofits and emissions-neutral vehicles.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi introduced 17 amendments this week to alter the existing 2023-26 $7.75-billion budget.

Council agreed to support the amendments, which still need final approval when council votes on the city's capital, operating, utility and carbon budgets.

After hours of debate Friday, council approved a plan to fund $100 million to implement the city-wide bike lane network, many of which are multi-mode paths.

Sohi said a comprehensive network will create safer places for people to use active modes of transportation and provide more affordable options for people living in various parts of the city.

"Help Edmontonians make choices where they don't have to have a second car," Sohi said.

The bike lane infrastructure also contributes to the city's climate change goals, he said

"If we don't [invest in bike lanes], we will not be able to build a city that is net-zero by 2050," Sohi said.

Council approved several other amendments:

  • $22.9 million to acquire land for affordable housing projects

  • $53 million in deep energy retrofits to city facilities in support of climate resiliency

  • $11.2 million to buy emissions-neutral city vehicles,

  • $20 million to continue design of the Metro Line extension from Blatchford to Castle Downs.

Not fully on board

The vote on the bike lane implementation wasn't unanimous with four councillors voting against it: Tim Cartmell, Sarah Hamilton, Karen Principe and Jennifer Rice.

Cartmell said he supports enhanced bike lanes and multi-use paths but suggested the city start with $30 million and hold $70 million in reserve and have administration look at other active transportation investments, including Terwillegar Drive, Gateway Boulevard renewal and University Avenue and the High Level Bridge rehabilitation.

"Hold back a little bit and do it in a measured way so that we commit to projects either in batches or one by one, in a progressive way," Cartmell told news media Friday.

Coun. Karen Principe said the majority of residents in her north-side ward of tastawiyiniwak don't support bike lanes.

"I have a very good idea of what the people in my ward want."

Lisa Brown, who bikes to work, supported the move to fund infrastructure and said it makes cycling more accessible year-round.

"This infrastructure is what enables people to cycle through winter," said Brown. "Lots of cities around the world that get more snow than us, and are colder than us, that have 50-plus per cent of the population cycling through the winter."

Cutting budgets

Council also agreed to decrease the funding for several projects, including $17.6 million to halt the progress on the 100th Street pedestrian bridge.

Councillors also voted to reduce the budget for the High Level Bridge rehabilitation project by $70 million, which means the city won't develop the upper deck into a multi-modal path.

Coun. Anne Stevenson agreed somewhat reluctantly to defer that part of the High Level Bridge project.

"On its own, it's really disappointing to lose the upper deck potential," Stevenson told CBC News. "But taken as a whole and what we'll be able to do with that funding in other really critical projects like climate change, housing —I think it's a change that we need to make."

Council agreed to take $3.8 million out of the budget that would have purchased technology to monitor activity in LRT tunnels.

Zoo renewal

Coun. Jo-Anne Wright had suggested removing the $49.5 million budgeted for the Valley Zoo animal enclosures, called Valley Zoo's Nature Wild Backyard.

"I have fond memories of the zoo myself going there, taking my children there," she said. "But I think at this time this is something that needs to be deferred, not necessarily cancelled but just put off to a date where maybe we're in a better economic situation."

Coun. Sarah Hamilton noted that the project has been years in the making with private sponsors having donated money to the zoo. Waiting to do the entire project will cost more later, she said.

Council instead agreed to fund $25 million for critical pieces of the project.

"There's going to be new components of the zoo that will improve quality of life for animals, as well as the visitor experience," said Coun. Michael Janz, who proposed the amendment for the reduced funding. "I think what we heard from our colleagues is, there's a broader conversation looming about: should the City of Edmonton continue to be in the business of zoos, period."

Council will continue debating the capital budget Monday before moving onto  the city's operating budget, which includes a proposed 3.9 per cent property tax increase in each of the next four years.