The Calgary Model: Connect Protected Bike Lanes Fast, Watch Riders Pour In

calgary fast facts
Graphic: City of Calgary. Click to enlarge.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Last week, we shared a new report about the best practices for cities that want to make faster, cheaper changes to their streets.

Today, let’s take a moment to recognize the North American city that has used these tools better than any other to rapidly improve its bike infrastructure.

The city is Calgary, Alberta. The secret is that it piloted a connected downtown network of low-stress bike routes all at once.

calgary map 570
Downtown Calgary. Images: City of Calgary.

As the graphic at the top of the post shows, the effects have been large and almost immediate. Weekday bike counts on the affected corridors soared 95 percent in September 2015, three months after the network opened, compared to the year before. The proportion of those riders who were female jumped from 20 percent to 27 percent, and younger people are reportedly riding downtown more, too.

“It seems like we see a ton of families out riding the tracks,” said Tom Thivener, projects coordinator in the livable streets division of Calgary’s transportation planning department.

The all-at-once approach to the project was proposed by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

As spring creeps back to the Canadian prairie, it’ll be worth watching to see if those numbers keep growing. Skyrise Cities reported last week that the pilot project lasts through December 2016.

Maybe most heartening: Calgarians say they like the projects. Despite a very close city council vote to create the network, once the public saw it in action, 64 percent decided they approve.

8th Avenue SW.

That’s the power of a connected low-stress biking network: Once people can easily get to many different locations on a bike, bike lanes stop being an abstract concept (“CARS VS BIKES”) and start being a functional, practical system.

Most cities are a long way from having a “minimum grid” of low-stress bikeways, as some people like to call it. That’s why a quick-build program, which rethinks bureaucratic procedures to make transportation projects faster, cheaper, and more flexible, can be so useful.

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  • Alexander Vucelic

    winters are too cold in New York City to adopt the Calgary model

    the topographry is too hilly in LA to adopt the Calgary model

    it’s rains too much in San Diego to adopt the Calgary model

    roads are too narrow in Phoenix to adopt the Calgary Model

    There isn’t $6 million in the Dallas DOT budget to adopt the Calgary model

  • reasonableexplanation

    Montreal does a thing which might make sense for the ‘too cold’ part.

    Major arterial bike lanes are year round, protected by a curb, and are even plowed, other ‘feeder’ lanes that are separated not by curbs but by paint become parking lanes in the winter, when their usage is nearly nil.

  • war_on_hugs

    Loss aversion is real. When people first hear of such a project, their immediate reaction is to the lost parking/street space. But once they see it in action, they notice how nice it is for everyone for cyclists to be separated from motor traffic.

    It’s odd to me how few drivers seem to see the benefits of getting cyclists (largely) out of “their” lanes. Or maybe they’re just less likely to speak out than the angry ones.

  • fdtutf

    winters are too cold in New York City to adopt the Calgary model

    Colder than Calgary? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Please tell me you were kidding.

  • BBnet3000

    The whole thing is a joke on common excuses.

  • Kevin Love

    Yes, for those who are geographically challenged, I’ll point out that LA is mostly dead flat, San Diego has very little rainfall and the roads in Phoenix are insanely wide.

  • Bicycles need license plates

    Who is going to pay for “protected bike lanes”? These “special lanes” seem like “special treatment” If motorists brought up “protected motor vehicle only” lanes the bicycle advocate/lobby would be howling.

  • Gezellig

    Haha I love the “this can never happen here because we’re special snowflakes” excuses!

    The hilarious part is the absurdity of that “logic” knows no bounds. In SF we’ve even seen groups say “well that protected bike lane might be nice for that neighborhood but we’re SO different over here a mile away. It’ll never work here.” Lol.

  • Gezellig
  • Bicycles need license plates

    I have seen posts on a certain bicycle advocates facebook page where they want the highway speed limit lowered.

  • Arnaud

    Still too few lanes are cleared during winter basically only 2 or 3 downtown and that’s it. I’d like to see all the protected lanes cleared in the winter and other major ones.

  • Bicycles need license plates

    Why segregation ok when bicyclists bring it up, but a double standard when a motorist brings it up?

  • NoeValleyJim

    You have never been on a limited access highway?

  • gneiss

    They already exist. Try going across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco on a bicycle.

  • bildanielson

    You win for the most dense comment. All interstate highways are protected for autos and many other freeways and highways are as well. Moreover, many other roads are poorly designed to accommodate equally taxed cyclists who get no benefits commensurate. Your argument fails on multiple levels.

  • Bicycles need license plates

    Cyclists are not equally taxed! If all those motor vehicles you cyclists bash were banned, there would be a lot more people out of work, and industries destroyed, the unemployment rate would be astronomical. If bicycles were banned from the roadways there wouldn’t be much damage.
    The fact is, because a bicycle advocate says something, doesn’t necessarily make it true.
    Those so called interstate highways are protected for a reason! For YOUR safety. Motor vehicles are prohibited in much more places than a bicycle ever will be, so stop complaining, motorists bend over backwards to accommodate you ingrates.

  • Bicycles need license plates

    Unfortunately those “limited access highways” don’t go directly to my house.

  • Bicycles need license plates

    I would never set foot in california!

  • Jeremy Whittle

    “Cyclists are not equally taxed!”

    You’re right. They’re effectively taxed MORE than drivers, because bike infrastructure is at least an order of magnitude cheaper than car infrastructure, and much of road construction comes out of general tax funds that cyclists and motorists pay for equally.

    If only we could get government to stop forcing cyclists to subsidize those darn mooching drivers!

  • Jeremy Whittle

    Protected bike lanes generally don’t go directly to your house, either.

  • Jeremy Whittle

    Who pays for protected walk lanes? Everyone does, the same way everyone pays for transportation infrastructure of nearly every kind.

  • Jeremy Whittle

    Most transportation cyclists are actually FOR segregation (in the form of dedicated bike lanes, especially protected ones). The cyclists against it are the hardcore, take-no-prisoners-in-the-war-against-cars guys, who are a small but loud minority of cyclists. If you look at places like the Netherlands where just about everyone bikes, cyclists generally keep to protected bike lanes where they exist and everyone is fine with it.

  • Miles Bader

    Of course then there’s Japan, which has a far higher bike modal share than anyplace outside amsterdam and the like, and a ruthlessly practical and egalitarian bike culture, and yet has bugger-all in the way of bike lanes, protected or otherwise.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a proponent of separate and protected bike lanes, especially if they come at the expense of car lanes and parking…. but there are many routes to success… ?

  • Bicycles need license plates

    Mostly Makes sense. Though the Netherlands plan would never work in the United States. The bicycle advocate in my state has that “take no prisoners” approach, and then they wonder why people are against them when they want to ram through bad legislation that doesn’t fix or prevent problems.

  • Bicycles need license plates

    Taking away parking & lanes doesn’t make motorists support bicycling, it is regressive & self sabotaging for bicycle advocates to be anti-motor vehicle. But the bicycle advocates don’t like to hear from people that don’t tow the line on their views & beliefs.

  • Miles Bader

    The point is not to be “anti-motor vehicle,” but rather than the current configuration of roads is often actively harmful. Big wide roads with a zillion motor lanes are a significant problem in the U.S.

  • BootsandMary Whitlock

    E-bikes are legal in calgary… but not in NYC 🙁

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