Until you’ve done a mile on somebody’s tires, you can’t appreciate where they’re coming from—or going. While I regularly ride through downtown, I don’t often cover 102 Ave. in its entirety. But to write about downtown cycling tracks (see “Cycling of Change” and “The Tao of Tooker”) I literally needed to put rubber to road.
So, on a warm May afternoon, I set out east from 146 St., charting a straight(-ish) line that was almost 50 blocks from one end of 102 Ave. to the other.
My trusty old grey roadie and I were going to test some cycling assumptions. What is downtown car and bike traffic really like? How forgiving are curb lanes? Will this thing even work?
Because I live south of the river, my travels rarely take me west of 124 St., to the Glenora and Westmount neighbourhoods that will be serviced by the $8.8 million bike lane, which begins construction in 2016. So, to me, that end of 102 Ave. is unfamiliar terrain. It’s also, from a cycling standpoint, least pleasant.
Growling one-tons, rumbling delivery vans, youth hockey player-toting SUVs and cocky Audis regularly whip by me and leave scant cushion for this cyclist. Potholes, heaves and unswept debris rattle my frame.
Construction on Groat Bridge forces me to stray from the faithful path, but by 124 St. I’m back on track. Past the steeple of Robertson-Wesley United Church, everything changes. In Oliver, 102 Ave. becomes a residential thoroughfare lined with doting elms. Cars seem a little more accustomed to sharing the road, perhaps through habit as more cyclists appear to frequent this part of the route.
Once in downtown proper, it’s clear from their body language that cyclists here are tense and wary. Cars, cabs and buses merge in and out, in and out, in and out—intersection by intersection until the congestion around Churchill Square sends them astray. But east of 100 St. the street is drastically less busy.
At a relaxed pace, the entire journey takes 25 minutes or less. A little longer than it would take me in my mini van, but not nearly as enjoyable.
I reach the end feeling that the potential is great, and so is the need. Here, along this every changing and busy urban corridor, there could be an oasis—a slower, sweeter way to drink from city life.
Perhaps that’s just what Edmonton’s diesel-driven pace needs.