Bicycle sales may have boomed during the pandemic, but municipal candidates hoping to steer their way into voters’ hearts might think twice before promising brand new bike lanes.
A new CBC Edmonton poll on municipal issues revealed strong support for road maintenance and expanding public transit and weak support for adding more bike lanes.
Eighty-two per cent of respondents said maintaining the city’s roads was highly important, while expanding public transit was deemed highly important by 61 per cent of respondents.
Enthusiasm for expanding bike lanes was much lower, with only 26 per cent of respondents calling it highly important and 42 per cent saying it was not important.
Road maintenance was not the top issue overall for most of the 900 poll respondents (that honour went to COVID-19). But it did see broad support across demographic groups — and particularly high support among people who also disapproved of Don Iveson’s performance as mayor.
Of that group, 90 per cent scored road maintenance as having high importance.
Some city council hopefuls have already been campaigning on road repairs. Five candidates even launched a contest to draw more attention to the state of the city’s roads.
Public transit priorities
Emily Grisé, a transit researcher and assistant professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, said the poll results are hard to interpret.
Expanding public transit means different things to different people, she said. For some, it might mean building more LRT lines; for others, it could mean increased bus frequency or changing fares.
Ridership decreased during the pandemic, costing the city $14 million last year in lost revenue, and some fear a shift to working from home threatens the future of mass transit in major cities.
Sean Lee, a Toronto-based planner from Edmonton who previously chaired the Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board, has a more optimistic view.
“It seems to be the trend that most employers are going to want people to come into the office a lot of the time still, if it’s four out of five days a week or at least two or three days a week,” he said.
He said the city’s economy depends on a fast, efficient and clean public transit system.
“Even areas that traditionally have been more car-centric and haven’t invested a lot in public transit have seen the value and are putting the dollars behind it,” he said.
“We need to be there if we’re going to compete on that level.”
Brooke Jacobs lives in Ward Métis and rides the bus for the 30-minute daily commute to her job at a south Edmonton 7-Eleven.
Come election time, Jacobs said, her public transit priorities will include accessibility and reducing the distance between the bus stop and home.
“When I’m coming home late at night from work, I don’t want to have to be walking an extra 10 minutes because I’ve been on my feet all day,” she said.
Little love for bike lanes
The lack of love for bike lanes was strongest from respondents over the age of 65 and from those who expected their household finances to worsen next year, according to the CBC Edmonton poll.
“One of the challenges with the election specifically is that bike lanes and shared-use pathways have become highly politicized,” said Yasin Cetin, a member of the non-profit Paths for People.
He doesn’t expect to see much middle ground when it comes to candidate support for alternative modes of transportation: they’ll either like it or they won’t.
Nonetheless, he hopes to see conversations shift from how to move cars to how to move people.
“When that conversation — that paradigm shift — happens, we can think more creatively about solutions to congestion,” he said.
CBC News’ random survey of 900 City of Edmonton residents was conducted between March 29 and April 14, 2021 by Edmonton-based Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research. The margin of error is +/-3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For subsets, the margin of error is larger. The survey used a hybrid methodology that involved contacting survey respondents by telephone and giving them the option of completing the survey at that time, at another more convenient time, or receiving an email link and completing the survey online.