Macdonald: Are you Buying the Spin?

Over the past 18 months, the City of Calgary has been piloting a 6.5 km network of cycle track in the downtown core which officially opened on June 18, 2015. To the City's credit, it has considered the effects of the track on all parties, and communicated early and often with stakeholders, conducting 24 engagement meetings, and 150 business visits. It even hired students as bike ambassadors to introduce the new lanes and correct cycling behaviour by handing out cycling guides. The City also has installed display boards as a thermometer to benchmark the cyclists, like a people counter, and in fact, has made 100 changes over the trial period to help improve traffic, cycling, parking and business relations. Recently, the Respecting Environment and People (REAP), hosted a presentation related to the centre city track network. What were the findings?

 

No surprises on the positives: Calgarians have already embraced their existing 700 pathways to walk, run, in-line skate and cycle. These pathways are truly lovely and network through Calgary's most beautiful areas. By adding a cycle network, cyclists now have dedicated lanes to help move people in and out of the downtown core for work and school. The pilot shows that many Calgarians appreciate this safer and predictable travel option. Cycling can avoid parking costs, move people around faster, and offer more transportation choices. The pilot shows that 54% of cyclists use the tracks on weekdays and that 14% use them on weekends, many even between 9 p.m. - 2 a.m.  In fact, cyclists made over 1M trips in August 2016 during the pilot and there are more women using the network than ever before. It appears the cycle track program has also helped find a net increase of 130 parking stalls downtown. And of course, common sense tells us there is a net health benefit to society.

There have been some bumps in the road though. Drivers have complained of greater idling time at lights because the signal cycling tracks make longer waits for cars and fewer cars can get through traffic. Some businesses have expressed concern about losing parking for the majority of their customers who they say arrive by vehicle. Driver satisfaction on 12 Avenue S., is lower than the city target of 60%, fewer than half are satisfied on 5 St. S. and 43% of drivers as a whole say their driving experience is worse than before with about 1/3 just avoiding any streets with cycle tracks. The cyclists have often said they don't always feel safe mixing with downtown traffic in certain areas either. City engineers responded to this fear by adding dedicated space for cyclists to ride within the protection of concrete abutments, plastic posts, fluorescent green paint and special traffic lights. The City has given the cycle lane network the road clearing Priority 1 designation in the winter for snow clearing within 24 hours, all of which makes the cycle tracks a more reliable year-round route. The City has listened to other feedback and has made adjustments such as adding green paint to the west end of 8 Ave SW, narrowing the cycle track in certain locations, and adding 24 more parking spots in another area. 

Some cyclists have been hard to please though, stating that they will not stand even the slightest suggestion of sharing their lanes for car parking, even in the middle of the night when very few people are using the roads--sharing the lanes would make them feel like "second class citizens." This position is hard to accept however when cyclists, who want to be treated the same as car drivers, also get to go through green lights ahead of cars at some intersections. And some drivers and pedestrians are angered by cyclists for just generally not obeying the rules of the road.

To all the bike critics and skeptics out there, let's cut the cyclists some slack, maybe this will just take time. The cyclists hope the community will come together and rally; pedestrians and drivers need to show more bike-friendliness, and the cyclists' behaviour will correspondingly improve. Some of the world’s greatest bike cities suggest that a mixture of education, bike infrastructure, and a culture of tolerance and mutual respect on the roads will solve any problems we might have. 

So balancing the pros and cons, what's the final score? Council will be making a decision very soon based on the data presented to them, and will have to decide whether to retain, modify or remove the pilot project. Remove the project?!! What!! Remove! Is that possible? Everyone to your bikes, start your tweets, sign those specially-crafted letters of support we gave you and send them to Council! It's time to spin! 

Well, relax--while removal is an option, it's not likely, since removing the infrastructure would cost well over $1M.  The money has already been spent on this pilot project.  Also, the cycle lobby group is very determined to keep these lanes, and anyway the cycle tracks seem to be working. How can moving more people into downtown through cycling be bad? As long as we don't have to spend any more of our taxpayer money, it seems the cycle track network makes common sense.

On December 8, 2016, the pilot project results will be presented at the Standing Policy Committee on Transportation and Transit. On December 19, 2016, Council will make a decision on the future of the pilot project at a Regular Meeting of Council. The public is allowed to attend these meetings. 

Kathy Macdonald is the Executive Director of Common Sense Calgary.