Spoke Club

Paths for Peo­ple founders Con­rad Nobert and Anna Ho are tak­ing back the streets of Ed­mon­ton

Reader's Digest (Canada) - - Contents - BY OMAR MOUALLEM PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY AM­BER BRACKEN

Con­rad Nobert and Anna Ho are tak­ing back the streets of Ed­mon­ton. OMAR MOUALLEM

EAR­LIER THIS YEAR, on a frigid March morn­ing, Con­rad Nobert locks up his bi­cy­cle and crosses 102 Av­enue, a multi-lane road in down­town Ed­mon­ton. This summer, it will be­gin its trans­for­ma­tion into a sep­a­rated bike route con­nected to a seven-kilo­me­tre-long grid of safe cy­cle tracks.

Un­til then, Ed­mon­ton will have the du­bi­ous hon­our of be­ing Canada’s largest city with­out a ded­i­cated down­town bike lane. But that’s chang­ing thanks to Paths for

Peo­ple, the or­ga­ni­za­tion Nobert, a com­puter pro­gram­ming teacher, founded with his friend, neigh­bour and fel­low par­ent Anna Ho, an en­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neer. Since 2014, the pair has pres­sured the city to make it safer to be a cy­clist or pedes­trian in a place Nobert de­scribes as res­o­lutely “car first.”

Home to the world’s largest park­ing lot (cour­tesy of West Ed­mon­ton Mall), Al­berta’s cap­i­tal is renowned for its car cul­ture. It’s the Cana­dian city with the most pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties per walk-to-work trip; a mere 15 per cent of pedes­tri­ans sur­vive be­ing hit by a car driv­ing 60 kilo­me­tres per hour or faster, the stan­dard speed on Ed­mon­ton’s wide streets. Un­til a few years ago, most cit­i­zens ac­cepted these deaths as tragic, yet un­avoid­able.

That’s no longer the case. School­zone speed lim­its are back after

four decades, and Ed­mon­ton re­cently be­came the first large city in Canada to adopt Vi­sion Zero, a strat­egy bor­rowed from Swe­den to elim­i­nate traf­fic deaths and ma­jor in­juries through by­laws and de­sign. Seventy cross­walks are be­ing re­jigged, and then there are the new bike lanes, which Paths for Peo­ple helped con­ceive. “You can’t de­velop a vi­sion un­til you know what’s pos­si­ble,” says Nobert.

For the 42-year-old, that re­al­iza­tion came after he, his wife and their two young kids spent a few months trav­el­ling around Europe and Ja­pan, where they felt safe cy­cling. When the family re­turned home in May 2014, Nobert was newly shocked by Ed­mon­ton’s un­for­giv­ing streets.

The mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment had al­ready des­ig­nated two ma­jor in­nercity roads for sep­a­rated bike paths, but as of Novem­ber 2014, only one had been rec­om­mended for fund­ing. So Nobert and Ho cre­ated an ad-hoc group called the Ed­mon­ton Bike Coali­tion. They mo­bi­lized lo­cal cy­clists to share their sto­ries with city coun­cil and gath­ered 1,100 pho­tos of lo­cals hold­ing signs pro­claim­ing “I Bike.” By De­cem­ber 2014, the gov­ern­ment had freed up $8.8 mil­lion for the paths, both of which should be com­plete by 2020.

Un­der the new name Paths for Peo­ple, the coali­tion then set its sights on cross­walk safety and col­lected data on the alarm­ing num­ber of pedes­trian and cy­clist in­juries— al­most 5,900 be­tween 2005 and 2015. Faced with this in­for­ma­tion, as well as mount­ing pres­sure from griev­ing fam­i­lies and Mayor Don Ive­son, city coun­cil­lors agreed to up­grade cross­walks in high-col­li­sion zones.

Paths for Peo­ple’s most im­pres­sive ac­com­plish­ment re­mains the down­town grid—a net­work of con­nect­ing bike lanes that was pro­posed, de­signed and ap­proved over a few months in 2016. The group, which now boasts 500 ac­tive mem­bers, raised money to part­ner with an in­ter­na­tional engi­neer­ing firm that wrote a plan Ed­mon­ton could quickly im­ple­ment on a mar­ginal bud­get of $7.5 mil­lion. And that’s great news for Karen Parker, a city em­ployee and mother of three who’s dodged dicey traf­fic sit­u­a­tions. “Some peo­ple think we’re crazy for rid­ing our bikes with our kids,” she says, “but it can be fun and con­ve­nient. Plus we get a lot of ex­er­cise.”

As Nobert strolls down­town on this March morn­ing, city coun­cil is in the midst of vot­ing on Paths for Peo­ple’s lat­est idea, Ci­clovia, an event that would close a huge stretch of road to traf­fic and de­vote it to leisure pur­suits. Just as he be­gins to un­lock his bike, Nobert gets a text from Ho: “Mo­tion passed on Ci­clovia.” For cy­clists—and all cit­i­zens— it’s yet an­other rea­son to cel­e­brate.

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