By Bill Hetherington
CALGARY — Last month, the City of Calgary opened the cycle track pilot program with temporary lanes installed on portions of Fifth Street, 12th Avenue and on Eighth and Ninth Avenues downtown and in the Beltline. Cycling is also allowed on Stephen Avenue and Olympic Plaza, although no physical track is built there, it is rather a shared space.
Calgary has seen exponential growth and while the Alberta economy is currently in a downswing, a return to growth is expected as soon as energy prices rebound. More office space continues to be added to the existing stock downtown, resulting in more people commuting to work.
The projected budget for the cycle tracks pilot was $7.1 million. The City of Calgary reported that the final cost ended up being $5.75 million, $1.35 million under budget. Now that’s a lot of money. If I had that much money, I wouldn’t be writing this article.
But seriously, to put it in context, the southwest ring road is estimated to cost over $5 billion. I wouldn’t venture to say we don’t need ring roads but it’s worth it to know that the cost of the cycle track pilot is a drop in the bucket compared to the City of Calgary Transportation Department’s expenditures of $565 million in 2014, which doesn’t even include maintenance on provincial and federal highways such as Deerfoot Trail.
What is a cycle track?
A cycle track is a bike lane protected by a physical barrier from moving cars, parked cars and sidewalks. It provides a predictable space and minimizes potential conflicts between people who walk, bicycle, and drive.
The cycle tracks have been designed to include travel lanes and modifications to traffic signals and signage to improve safety for all road users and to keep traffic flowing while more bicycle parking and maximum on street parking have been added wherever possible.
Calgary has an excellent leisure path system running throughout the suburbs and some of the inner city, but the cycle track pilot lanes serve to directly connect cyclists with the downtown and the Beltline, and the surrounding communities.
The cycle tracks opened late last month and will be in place until December 2016 and approximately 2.5 per cent of roadways were altered, or 5.5 km of more than 300 km of the downtown road system.
The results of the pilot will feed into a decision on whether the cycle tracks are incentive enough to encourage mode switching from car to cycle or even from walking to cycling, although the latter may not demonstrate a need for cycle tracks.
The cycle track pilot has been a long time coming; the network fulfils the July 2011 council motion to determine, through engaging with the community, a separated cycling network through the centre city, as part of the implementation plan for the cycling strategy. It is also supported by the council-approved Calgary Transportation Plan and Cycle Strategy.
Extensive engagement took place from spring 2013 to spring 2014 prior to council approval of the pilot project in April 2014. In December 2016, the pilot will be reviewed before council for a decision on the future of the cycle tracks.
The imperative for a cycle track is heavily steeped in assumptions, as are most things in life. I have included a few of them below.
The bicycle is one of the most efficient means of transportation that has been underutilized in Calgary, because some people feel unsafe or uncomfortable competing with cars for a piece of the road.
Citizens will choose the more efficient, safe, cost-effective and comfortable mode of transportation, if given the choice.
Providing choice in the transportation system will lead to a more efficient and sustainable transportation system (re: safer with less traffic congestion), creating the conditions for a level playing field for automobiles, public transit and cycling to compete for a share of Calgary’s transportation system.
The cycle tracks will prove useful year round because they will be plowed during the winter. Thomas Thivener, city transportation projects coordinator, indicated that 30 per cent of total cyclists surveyed by the city claim that they commute by bicycle, even during the winter. Some Calgarians contend with the utility of the cycle tracks in winter.
There have definitely been some changes to downtown traffic flow, I notice it near where I live: Second Street S.W. has never been so busy before. However, Calgary Transportation continues to tweak the system to optimize everyone’s travel time.
Parking has been maintained wherever possible. Where parking could not be maintained, the city created 501 new parking stalls within two blocks of the alignments to offset the loss of parking with downtown seeing a net gain of 135 parking stalls. Some small businesses and citizens are unhappy to lose parking in particular locations, such as immediately outside their front door.
The cycle tracks have been met with mixed reviews from the business community with some small businesses embracing the tracks as they draw more new customers where people in automobiles are less likely to stop off for any host of personal reasons, including the cost of parking. Other businesses are worried that customers who are used to parking right out front of an establishment and are not interested in finding a parking spot around the corner or that they may lose customers with limited mobility.
How will success be measured?
The City of Calgary undertook a study prior to the installation of the cycle tracks to create a baseline to measure the effects of the new lanes.
Over the course of this pilot project, the city will be monitoring and evaluating the operation and safety of the roadway for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. The cycle tracks will be evaluated on over 80 performance measures, including safety, usage, satisfaction for all road users, and impact to business.
Success in my mind is whether we see more people out on the streets, getting fit, shopping locally and reducing congestion and air emissions by taking cars off the road.
What can you do to influence the outcome of this pilot?
If you want to see cycle tracks continue, first and foremost, ride them. Ride them to work and if you want bike lanes in the winter, ride them this winter. The city is counting every trip and city council will paying close attention to this number come December 2016.
Equally important, make sure your voice is heard by the City of Calgary by calling 311. This is the best way to have your compliments and concerns feed into the decision-making process. And keep in mind that often it’s the people who have a complaint who are motivated to call the most and so compliments can go a long way. I also recommend letting your city councillor know how the lanes affect your life.
The bike lanes are awesome
I love the bike lanes. As a non-expert in transportation system design, I fall back on what makes sense for my family. My wife and I work downtown and I’m raising a young family in the community of Cliff Bungalow-Mission. Only now do I feel safe throwing my three-year-old on the back of my bike and dropping him off at preschool. I feel comfortable riding my bike to and from work every day and get a little cardio to boot. I love that cycling is faster and cheaper than driving and parking. And top of mind for me is what’s good for the environment is good for the climate and the air that my kids breathe.#yycbike, AB, Alberta, Calgary cycle track, commuter cycling, cycle track, cycling