Calgary Opens a Downtown Protected Bike Lane Network All at Once

A city map of Calgary’s pilot project.

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.

One of North America’s unlikeliest and most ambitious protected bike lane projects is now on the ground.

Calgary, the arid Alberta prairie town and natural gas capital, agreed last year on a novel strategy: Instead of upgrading one street for biking at a time, as most cities do, it would pilot a connected protected bike lane network on four downtown streets at once.

The stakes are high, and Wednesday’s official opening is obviously too soon to declare a success or failure.

But something’s working so far, reports CTV News:

“We’re completing it almost two weeks early, ahead of schedule, as well as under budget,” said [Calgary Transportation Planning Director Don] Mulligan. “The budget was $7.1 million for this project. The costs have now been totaled and it’s coming in at $5.75 million. It’s $1.35 million under budget.

Earlier this spring, city crews opened the 12 Avenue S. and 5 Street S.W. sections of the bike lane. Mulligan says usage has exceeded expectations.

“On 12 Avenue, we’re counting, on an average weekday, 1,000 vehicles a day,” boasted Mulligan. “Our target was 800, which was four times what it was before we had cycle tracks.

“We now have counts for the first time of 5 Street, under the CPR tracks, and they’re coming in at 1,500 cyclists a day which is the highest we’ve ever encountered on any street for bikes in Calgary.”

According to data released by the office of the City of Calgary Transportation Infrastructure, the impact of the 12 Avenue protected bike lane on motorist travel times has been minimal.

Travel times compiled from 11 Street Southwest to 4 Street Southeast indicate commute times for motorists over the 15-block stretch have increased by an average of 60 to 90 seconds since the bike lane was installed.

According to the Calgary Herald, the cost savings came mostly from the city’s decision to rely on standard traffic lights at some intersections rather than using bike-specific signals. Time will tell whether that’ll lead to any problems, but one of the nice things about bike projects is that they’re easy to tweak after construction.

For Calgary, the question will be whether a connected downtown grid for comfortable biking will lead to meaningful change in just one year, especially in the absence of the bike-share system that would make the bike network more useful to users of Calgary’s above-average transit system. But if this spring’s early ridership numbers hold up, cities everywhere should be looking to Calgary as an example of how to get results by going big.

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6 thoughts on Calgary Opens a Downtown Protected Bike Lane Network All at Once

  1. Calgary is building on an already well established bicycle system that has been in place for over a decade. There was already a nice layout of bike boulevards (aka quieter side streets laid out on a grid) and multiuse paths along the Bow River, streams, topographic discontinuities, and various rail cuts and even one going out to the airport. Back when I visited in 2005, they had a good bike map and a bike coordinator. Bicycling was popular then, so I am not surprised they are going whole hog into protected lanes.

    Remains to be seen whether the lack of bike-specific traffic cycles will claim a bicyclist. As Michael says, this treatment costs money and decreases everyone’s Level of Service. But it leaves bicyclists vulnerable in intersections, which is where traffic gets complicated and mistakes are made.

  2. Uh huh! Boise, a way cool bike town, tried this approach and it bombed horribly. The blowback was strong and swift forcing the county that controls the streets to pull out every protected lane. If they had done this one street at a time, allowing drivers time to get used to the idea of protected bike lanes, I’m convinced there would be a complete network of protected lanes (where the LTS requires such a facility) in the city today.

  3. I was wondering whether anyone from Calgary could comment on the opposition on this ambitious roll out. While it is nice to have a complete grid dropped in all at once, it will still require time for people to realize that this resource is available and start using it. Until then there’s the threat of opponents claiming that no-one uses the system and it should be removed.

  4. Calgary is largely an automobile oriented city. People are not accustomed to living in a dense urban area as most of the city was built by policy geared toward sprawl. The mindset of most Calgarians toward cyclists is not good. The problem is the infrastructure was not meant for the cyclist and therefore anyone “on the road” that isn’t a cruising car or truck is a nuisance. There is a large cohort opposed to ANY kind of progress toward making the city attractive to the shifting demo.

  5. I want to point out that the article is a bit misleading. The entire system was not put in all at once. Several years ago the 7th St track was installed. Tons of people were against it, tons of people were vocal about it, tons of people eventually got used to it. This year they built three more – 12th Ave, 8th Ave and 5th St. Again people are very vocal and very opposed. But the opposition will adapt and get used to it and heck maybe they’ll even give it a whirl. (I’m a Calgary motorist, cyclist and pedestrian).

  6. Well rest assured the commuting delays are far greater then the Spin Doctor 60-90 sec statements. In fact the City meeting I attended they did not even want to show my photos of the gridlocks! Funny thing is they boast a $12,500,000.00 cycling budget while the Food Bank receives ZERO! We have winter for 6 months a year and families in need 12 months! Very shameful indeed that the people with money and bikes will not be using bike lanes to pick up food from the Calgary Food Bank…….

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