Narrow rail for bicycles among the ups and downs of Edmonton's new funicular

Narrow rail for bicycles among the ups and downs of Edmonton's new funicular

Beads of sweat glisten on Simon Speichert's face. He's just pushed his bicycle up two flights of stairs beside the funicular using the bike rails that run along the edge of the stairs.

Edmonton's $24-million funicular was officially launched in December 2017. Since then, a couple of problems have cropped up.

One involves the narrow bike rails along the stairs which have proven difficult for cyclists to use.

"They really don't seem to be wide enough," Speichert said Friday morning.

"Pedals kind of strike against the rails, against the stairs, it just doesn't seem like there's enough clearance for most people's pedals," he said.

The funicular operates between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. and it is shut down regularly for maintenance. During those times, cyclists must use the stairs. 

In addition to the narrowness, the bike rails switch halfway from the right side of the stairs to the left, which is also a problem, Speichert said.

Cyclist Dayna Tumback called the railing "kind of tricky to manoeuver." 

"I have to hold my bike at a very specific angle to get it up," she said. "So I think if it was just about six inches wider that would be a lot more accommodating," she said.

City officials say plans are in the works to deal with those issues.

"Based on public feedback, the city will be making enhancements to the bike rails to address the needs of users," Jesse Banford, a director of integrated infrastructure services, said Thursday in an email to CBC.

"This will include raising and widening them where appropriate," she said.

The money for the repairs is to come from operating and maintenance budgets already assigned to the project, said a spokesperson for the city.

"That's definitely good news, I'm glad to hear it," Speichert said

"The sooner the better," said Tumback.

Another problem officials identified is with the funicular itself, where occasionally people would press the emergency stop button — even when there wasn't an emergency, Banford said.

"The city has installed a new metal cover over the emergency stop button and has added signage to help educate citizens on its appropriate use," Banford said.

Pressing the emergency stop button halts the funicular and requires city personnel to complete a system reset, a process that can take up to half an hour.

The new signage was recently installed and since then, there have been no issues with the operation of the emergency stop feature, said Banford.

No timeline has been given on when the changes to the bike rails will be made.