City’s experiment with bike-only lanes seems to be working

Popularity of Calgary’s bicycle lanes is at an all time high. According to the city of Calgary’s bike statistics, between June and November of 2015, 388,000 bike trips were recorded at just three of the city’s 13 downtown use counting stations. Ultimately, that reflects a 95 per cent increase in daily trips being made on bicycles throughout the city, compared to the previous year.

Of these cyclists, 97 per cent are aged 18-65, and 27 per cent of those same users are women.

Graham David Livesey, a University of Calgary professor who specializes in urban design, says that the newly created bike lanes are an important addition to the options that Calgary offers for commuting.

“Cycling commuting is a way to reduce energy consumption and get people out of cars,” says Livesey. “Anything the city can do to improve commuting for cyclists, especially in the summer months, is a great thing to do — and that’s obviously what they’re trying to do with these bike lanes.”

The cycling strategy for Calgary was fully completed in June 2011, and stated that the city was looking to develop a comprehensive cycling strategy, conduct a safety review of the existing pathway system, and bring forward these reports to the Standing Policy Committee of city council.

The result of the process was the creation of a cycling track system comprised of an interconnected series of bike only lanes downtown. The success of this plan has since been measured by the number of people cycling, the further expansion of cycling infrastructure, safety issues and overall satisfaction with cycling in the city.

Calgary city council will vote next fall on whether or not to keep current bike lanes in place throughout the city, along with related infrastructure that has been incorporated since their introduction to city streets. Their decision will likely come as a result of evaluations of the lanes usage, safety, and public opinion on the issue. Photo by Ashley Grant“We have a strategy to increase cycling as a means of transportation,” says Ward 11 councillor Brian Pincott. “Not just as a means of recreation, but a means of transportation.”

Pincott also believes that the development of the cycle lanes downtown has had a positive impact in increasing the amount of transportation that takes place on the cycling tracks.

“The cycle track downtown has just been a huge boost to cycling in the core,” says Pincott “Before you had the ability to get to the edge of downtown in not a bad way if you were a cyclist, but once you got to the edges of downtown, most people looked at it like taking your life in your hands.”

Before the lanes were incorporated, all Calgary had to offer cyclists were pathway systems throughout the city including along the Bow River, which is the most popular area for cyclists according to city statistics.

“On one hand we have this amazing pathway system with several hundred kilometres of dedicated path, which I understand is one of the most comprehensive pedestrian and bike path systems in North America,” says Livesey. “[But] if you’re not well connected into that bike system, cycling throughout most the city can be rather hair-raising.”

Cities like Amsterdam and Minneapolis — which, like Calgary, are winter cities — have been applauded for their efforts to incorporate bike lanes into public roads, and for taking steps to ensure that citizens are both safe and want to use the lanes.

The Peace Bridge, which opened to the public in March 2012, is the only dedicated bridge in Calgary that was constructed to support a large influx of cyclists heading to the downtown core. Photo by Ashley GrantThis is an area where Livesey believes that Calgary falters, and says that his son, a competitive cyclist, has had a fair share of problems while cycling in the city.

“He finds that a lot of drivers aren’t aware or aren’t very sympathetic to cyclists,” says Livesey. “There is a question of whether you need dedicated bike lanes or whether people just have to know how to negotiate between bicycles and people that drive cars.”

Livesey says that he understands why there is a substantial group of people who find the bike lanes unnecessary in Calgary because of their costs and inconvenient locations for drivers, especially along 12th Avenue. However, he believes we really don’t spend that much on cyclists.

“What we spend on cyclists probably would buy you about a hundred meters on an interchange ramp,” says Livesey. “We have remarkable road systems that have tremendous capacity and somehow, when you move into the suburban areas, the notion of cyclists and pedestrians gets lost.”

Even the council budget hasn’t been completely used up as the costs have only totaled $5.75 million thus far, $1.35 million under the $7.1 million approved back in 2010 to improve Calgary’s cycling experience.

Still, the argument about the loss of parking in the downtown core remains popular among both commuters and business owners, something that Livesey also states is “unfriendly to automobiles in Calgary.” However, the city of Calgary reported a net increase of 130 parking stalls in the downtown core to supplement the loss of the stalls along bicycle lanes.

Along with the infrastructure developed from incorporating the bike lanes into Calgary streets, city council will vote next fall whether to keep the bike lanes or remove them from the city streets based on the evaluation of the usage, safety and other impacts.

Thumbnail by Ashley Grant.

jbuchholz@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Michaela Ritchie, mritchie@cjournal.ca