Don Iveson says his inability to get new bike lanes built has been the greatest disappointment of his first three years as Edmonton's mayor.
With nearly one million residents, Edmonton is the largest Canadian city without any dedicated downtown bike paths and, as The Globe and Mail reported last Saturday, none will be built before the end of the decade according to the city's current plans.
"Of all the things we're doing, this is the one where I have the most disappointment," Mr. Iveson said in an interview on Thursday. "I don't disagree with the criticism at all; in fact, I share it."
Mr. Iveson, 37, was elected in 2013 on a platform that included a pledge to bring more active transportation to his city. As a cyclist and father of two, he said he shares much of the frustration in the city with bungled transportation projects and the six-year delay between funding and building a single bike path. "I agree with the folks who say that the city is way behind," he added.
While cities around the world are investing in building bike networks and unveiling bike-share systems, Edmonton is a city that still revolves around big cars and wide roads.
The mayor says that the drafts of the first and second capital budgets he was presented with in office had zero funding for active transportation, nothing for cyclists and pedestrians. "It was like pulling teeth" to get more money allocated to build infrastructure in those areas, he said.
In response to the budgets, and other troubles in the city, he says he restructured the transportation and urban-planning departments – a reset was needed to bring about a cultural change in the city's staff. Edmonton now has a new city manager, a chief planner, and a new transit czar.
"Our transportation department was a barrier, culturally, to this work. We had internal problems we've dealt with," Mr. Iveson said. "It's now clear who the transportation department works for, which is our public, and not some mythical standards book from the 1950s that never imagined room for cyclists and pedestrians on a motorway."
A vote by Edmonton council to spend millions removing four bike paths left him as "frustrated as everybody else." He voted against removing all four paths and said he urged councillors to spend the money on fixing existing infrastructure.
However, Mr. Iveson said that things are turning around for the city. In July, Edmonton city council voted to study installing a network of temporary bike paths around the city. He said he wasn't happy with the current plan to have only downtown bike paths built by 2020. Scott McKeen, the councillor behind the temporary bike path motion, hopes to have some in place by the fall.
Part of what convinced council, where many had opposed bike lanes in the past, was seeing how successful Calgary's bike paths had become. Edmonton's arch-rival installed a downtown network of paths last summer that is now used heavily.
"We are underperforming and need to make up ground fast, because it chaps me to no end that Calgary is ahead of us with this," Mr. Iveson said. "While the pace has frustrated me as a cyclist and urbanist, council is now ready to do the right thing. And I think the Calgary comparison chaps them as well."
With the exception of bike paths, he said council has been doing the right things to make Edmonton a denser, more walkable, more transit-oriented, more vibrant city.
There's the densely populated neighbourhood on the old downtown airport that will one day house 30,000 people. An emphasis on affordable row houses, the least restrictive rules in Canada when it comes to splitting lots and permitting garage suites to fill breezy old neighbourhoods, and a $1.8-billion light-rail line that will open in 2020 are all part of what he calls the city's urban shift.
"Shifting a city that was built around the car for three generations is not something that any one council can change in one term, but we will have made a considerable dent," he said.