What is urban living and who really cares?

By Richard White, November 27, 2014 

80% of Canadians live in cities, but only a small part live urban,” reads one of the tweets in a recent tweeter debate by a few of us urban nerds.

This got me asking myself “what really is urban living anyway?”  Can you live in a city and not live “urban?”

I tweeted the author asking what his definition of urban living was, but got no answer.  Indeed, too often people – including urban designers planners, architects, engineers, politicians, developers and yes, even myself use terms that even we don’t really have a shared meaning of and/or doesn’t make a lot of sense to others.

I have often thought the term “urban sprawl” should more aptly be called “suburban sprawl” as what is being referred to is the sprawl of low-density predominantly residential development at the edge of a city, areas commonly thought of as suburbs. But, I digress; perhaps a topic for another time.

  Urban living is about diversity? Young and old? Bikes and pedestrians? Residents and retail?

Urban living is about diversity? Young and old? Bikes and pedestrians? Residents and retail?

  Is this urban living?

Is this urban living?

What is urban living?

I admit – not only did I not have a handy definition, I could not recall ever seeing one.  It begs a number of questions, including:

  •  Do you have to live in or near downtown to “live urban?”
  • Do you have to live in a community with a certain density to be considered urban living? 
  • Is urban living measured by the percent of time you walk vs. take transit vs. drive?
  •  Does urban living mean not having a car? Or, is it driving less than the Canadian average of 18,000 km/year?
  • Is urban living about the size of your house, condo and/or vehicle?
  • Is urban living about residing in communities with a diversity of commercial and residential buildings?  

I thought a Google search might help, but I struck out. Unable to find a nice clear and concise, definition I went “old school” and checked some dictionaries. They all just said something about “living in a city,” much too ambiguous to satisfy me.

  Urban living is about living on the streets?  Food carts in Portland's suburbs encourage street dining.  

Urban living is about living on the streets?  Food carts in Portland's suburbs encourage street dining.  

  Urban living in Calgary's West Hillhurst?

Urban living in Calgary's West Hillhurst?

 

Statistics Canada says…

 Not one to give up quickly, I turned to our government, specifically (and logically) Statistics Canada.  I found out that, in 2011, Statistics Canada redesignated urban areas with the new term "population centre" a new term was chosen in order to “better reflect the fact that urban vs. rural is not a strict division, but rather a continuum within which several distinct settlement patterns may exist (their words not mine).”

Stats Canada went further, identifying three distinct types of population centres: small (population 1,000 to 29,999), medium (population 30,000 to 99,999) and large (population 100,000 or greater).

They go on to say, “It also recognizes that a community may fit a strictly statistical definition of an urban area but may not be commonly thought of as "urban" because it has a smaller population. Or, functions socially and economically as a suburb of another urban area rather than as a self-contained urban entity. Or, is geographically remote from other urban communities.”  Have I lost you yet - it is getting very muddy for me!

For example, Airdrie, with its population of 42,564, is a medium size population centre, but it is socially and economically a suburb of Calgary.  On the other hand, Medicine Hat, with its population of 61,180 is also a medium size population centre, but because it is the largest population centre for a large geographical region, it could be thought of as “urban.” 

Despite its change in terminology, Statistics Canada’s current demographic definition of an urban area is “a population of at least 1,000 people where the density is no fewer than 400 persons per square km” (which would include all of Calgary’s 200+ communities).

Dig a little deeper and Statistics Canada defines low-density neighbourhoods as those where 67% or more of the housing stock is composed of single-family dwellings, semi-detached dwellings and/or mobile homes.  A medium-density neighbourhood is deemed one where the percentage of single-family, detached or mobile homes is between 33 and 67%, while high density is where these types of dwellings comprise less than 33% of the housing stock.

By this, Stats Canada identifies six high-density neighbourhoods in Calgary (they didn’t name them), by far the least of any of Canada’s major cities.  Perhaps the author of the tweet meant only those Calgarians living in Calgary’s six, high-density neighbourhoods are living urban?

  Urban living is about great public spaces, like this one in Strasbourg, France.

Urban living is about great public spaces, like this one in Strasbourg, France.

YYC Municipal Development Plan

Still not satisfied, I moved on. I wondered if the City of Calgary’s Municipal Development Plan has a definition of “urban living” or a related term in its glossary of terms. The best I could find were the following:

Intensity: A measure of the concentration of people and jobs within a given area calculated by totaling the number of people either living or working in a given area. 

Complete Community: A community that is fully developed and meets the needs of local residents through an entire lifetime. Complete communities include a full range of housing, commerce, recreational, institutional and public spaces. A complete community provides a physical and social environment where residents and visitors can live, learn, work and play. 

So, where does that leave me and others who are interested in a meaningful debate about how we work together to build a better city. What would be a useful definition of “urban living” that professionals and the public to agree upon as the on debate how best to “urbanize” Calgary continues?

  Brookfield's SETON mixed-use community on the southern edge of Calgary will offer many of the same urban experiences as living in Calgary's City Centre. 

Brookfield's SETON mixed-use community on the southern edge of Calgary will offer many of the same urban experiences as living in Calgary's City Centre. 

  Calgary's new suburbs are being as complete communities with both a density and diversity of residential dwellings (single-family, town homes and multi-family) that would make them a medium to high density community. It will take 15 to 20 years to achieve this; don't be too quick to judge!  

Calgary's new suburbs are being as complete communities with both a density and diversity of residential dwellings (single-family, town homes and multi-family) that would make them a medium to high density community. It will take 15 to 20 years to achieve this; don't be too quick to judge!  

Possible working definitions

One potential definition of “urban living” might be, “living in a place where you can comfortably walk, cycle or take public transit to 80% of your regular weekly activities (i.e. work, school, shop, medical entertainment and recreation).

As for The definition of “comfortable,” I leave up to the individual. For some, a comfortable walking distance might be 15 minutes; for others it might be 30 minutes. I know Calgarians who take the bus or even drive the two kilometers from Mission to work downtown, while others cycle 15+ km to work (and back). I myself used to walk 50 minutes to and from work downtown for 10+ years.  

A second possible “urban living” definition might be, “when you regularly use at least three of the four modes of transportation (walk, cycle, take transit and drive) to engage in your regular weekly activities.”

  High-rise living in Edmonton's downtown.

High-rise living in Edmonton's downtown.

  Downtown Calgary's West End.  Are condos just vertical suburban dwellings?

Downtown Calgary's West End.  Are condos just vertical suburban dwellings?

  Low-rise condos on a residential street in Mission.

Low-rise condos on a residential street in Mission.

Last Word

But really, does the average Calgarian even care if they a live urban or suburban? Thanks for indulging me.  I hazard a guess to say most don’t. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I highly suspect they just want to be able to get to their activities in a timely, affordable manner.

Yet for us urban nerds, we are always thinking about how can we build a better city for everybody, one that is more cost-efficient, environmentally-friendly, affordable, integrated and inclusive. It’s what turns our cranks!

By Richard White, December 4, 2014

Reader Comments:

GG writes: "Initially the definition was applied to the rural/city divide, and has since become a true city ‘divide’. It doesn’t seem to matter than many of these ‘urban inner-city communities’ were the suburbs of a few decades back, and the reasons that people built there and moved there are no different than those today.  By virtue of Calgary’s rapid growth, they are now close to the city center and have developed a ‘cachet’. This was not a result of great urban planning, foresight, or any attempt at smart growth. The densities in many of these communities are less than they are in the ‘reviled’ suburbs that are being built today. They were the product of development methods of the day, and schools and community centers were part of the package.  Families were one car or even no car, and transit was a common denominator. And today, it is all too common to see perfectly liveable houses bulldozed so that the affluent can enjoy a big house but be environmentally and developmentally superior by being an urban dweller, an inhabitant of the inner city."

CW writes: "A most excellent column. Certainly people do care very much about their urban living, yet our language completely fails to capture how we choose to situate ourselves in life. Why would that be? Everybody knows it's not good manners to talk openly about class, but a definition of urban living should take into the account the ability to insulate oneself from undesirable situations of class. Most people love the city they choose to live in, but they also wouldn't be caught dead in some parts of it."

If you like this blog, you might like:

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary 

Don't be too quick to just the new suburbs?

Importance of comfort, convenience and privacy in urban living 

Urban cottages & Gentrification 

 

 

Calgary's MAC attack

Over the next few months, Calgary’s planners and politicians are going to experience a “MAC attack” as developers present plans for new Major Activity Centers (MAC) on the west and north edges of the city. 

What is a MAC you ask?  The City of Calgary Municipal Development Plan defines it as an urban center for a sub-region of the city providing opportunities for people to work, live, shop, recreate, be entertained and meet their daily needs.  

MAC is not a new idea

In the early ‘90s, the City’s Go Plan called for “mini-downtowns” at the edge of the city and in many ways a MAC is like a small city downtown with a main street and offices surrounded by low rise residential development.  Then in the early 21st century, planners started using terms like “urban villages” and “transit-oriented development (TOD)” for mixed-use (residential, commercial) developments that incorporated live, work, play elements.

The problem with TOD was that in many cases Calgary’s new communities were getting developed years before the transit infrastructure was actually in place. For example, Quarry Park and SETON in the southeast are both being developed today along the future SE LRT route, but the trains won’t arrive for probably another 15+ years away.

TOD also had other limitations, as MACs are not always right next to major transit routes, but more oriented toward major roadways in the city. For example, the Currie Barracks has all of the attributes of MAC but no major transit connections. Its focus is more on Crowchild Trail and Glenmore Trail, with Mount Royal University and the Westmont Business Park and ATCO site redevelopment as its employment centre.   

  Currie Barracks Mount Royal University is just one of several Major Activity Centres (MACs) identified by the City of Calgary as places where vibrant mixed-use urban density developments should take place. The numbers refer to various amenities like parks, schools, shopping etc.

Currie Barracks Mount Royal University is just one of several Major Activity Centres (MACs) identified by the City of Calgary as places where vibrant mixed-use urban density developments should take place. The numbers refer to various amenities like parks, schools, shopping etc.

  An example of a street in Currie Barracks where attached houses are nestled together with shared front lawns, narrow sidewalks and alleys. 

An example of a street in Currie Barracks where attached houses are nestled together with shared front lawns, narrow sidewalks and alleys. 

  MACs have a enhanced sidewalks leading to public spaces and shopping areas, which make for more pedestrian and wagon friendly streets .  Also note the open storm water area which allows for natural water run off for vegetation. 

MACs have a enhanced sidewalks leading to public spaces and shopping areas, which make for more pedestrian and wagon friendly streets. Also note the open storm water area which allows for natural water run off for vegetation. 

  This is a back alley in Currie Barracks with a mix of traditional garages and laneway housing. 

This is a back alley in Currie Barracks with a mix of traditional garages and laneway housing. 

MAC 101

The City’s Municipal Development Plan has some very specific guidelines when it comes to what is a MAC, these include:

  1.  200 jobs per gross developable hectare (a hectare is approximately the size of two CFL football fields including the end zones).
  2.  Provide a business centre/employment center; this could be an independent office buildings or office/medical space above retail.
  3.  Range of housing types – single-family, town and row housing, medium-density condos (under 6 floors), rental and affordable housing
  4.  Large format retail (big box) should be at the edge of the MAC to allow access from other communities
  5. Pedestrian/transit-friendly design i.e. pedestrians and transit have priority over cars. For example, vehicle parking should design to minimize impact on transit and pedestrian activities, ideally underground.
  6.  Diversity of public spaces i.e. plazas, playgrounds, pocket parks and pathways.  Sports fields should be located at the edge of the MAC as they take up large tracts of land and are only used seasonally.  Planners want to keep as many higher uses clustered together near the LRT or Main Street.

While these are useful guidelines, they should not be prescriptive, as each site must be allowed to develop based on its unique site opportunities and limitations - no two MACs are the same.

 

  This is an early conceptual computer rendering of Brookfield Residential's SETON showing the South Health Campus in the background with low rise condos and office buildings and a pedestrian oriented main street with shops, cafes, restaurants and patios.  

This is an early conceptual computer rendering of Brookfield Residential's SETON showing the South Health Campus in the background with low rise condos and office buildings and a pedestrian oriented main street with shops, cafes, restaurants and patios.  

  Early conceptual rendering of SETON pedestrian street.  

Early conceptual rendering of SETON pedestrian street. 

  Conceptual rendering of a mixed-use street in SETON.

Conceptual rendering of a mixed-use street in SETON.

  SETON at might with street patios. 

SETON at might with street patios. 

Coming Soon

Earlier this year the City approved land-use plans for the University of Calgary’s West Campus an inner city MAC that was developed after extensive community engagement. 

Up next for Council’s approval will be West District that links the west side communities of West Springs and Cougar Ridge and Brookfield Residential’s Livingston at the northern edge of the city, both of which will be topics for future blogs.  

  This is an artist's sketch of the central retail area proposed for Currie Barracks. Surrounded by offices and condos, this public space is designed to allow for a diversity of uses by people day and night, weekdays and weekends. Also note that designers are also taking into account Calgary is a winter city. (rendering provided by Canada Land Corporation) 

This is an artist's sketch of the central retail area proposed for Currie Barracks. Surrounded by offices and condos, this public space is designed to allow for a diversity of uses by people day and night, weekdays and weekends. Also note that designers are also taking into account Calgary is a winter city. (rendering provided by Canada Land Corporation) 

  West Campus' main street has been designed as the community's focal point with spaces appropriate for boutiques, cafes, restaurants, pubs, a hotel and cinema. It will be a place that appeals to Calgarians of all ages and be accessible by pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.  (computer rendering by RK Visuals provided by West Campus Development Trust 

West Campus' main street has been designed as the community's focal point with spaces appropriate for boutiques, cafes, restaurants, pubs, a hotel and cinema. It will be a place that appeals to Calgarians of all ages and be accessible by pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.  (computer rendering by RK Visuals provided by West Campus Development Trust 

Last Word

As Calgary evolves as a city, so does the glossary of terms used by planners and developers to describe their utopian vision of what Calgary could and should be in the future.

Calgary’s development community has enthusiastically taken up the concept and challenge of creating MACs; this is a good thing for two reasons.  One Calgary needs to speed up its residential development approval process if we want to create affordable and adequate housing for the next generation of Calgarians. Second, more and more new Calgarians are looking for walkable urban communities.

While in the past developers and planners didn’t always see “eye-to-eye” on how new communities should be planned, more and more there is a shared vision of how to create pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use and mixed-density communities.  

Calgary’s planning department use to have the motto “working together to make a great city better.”  I am thinking this would be a good motto for all of the city’s departments, as well as the development community and the citizens of Calgary. 

By Richard White, November 22, 2014

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, titled "Big hopes for mini-downtowns" on Saturday, November 22nd in the New Condos section. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Brookfield: Working together to make Calgary better!

District: Community Engagement Gone Wild 

West Campus: Calgary's first 24/7 community?

3Rs of walkable communities?

 

Safety + Segregation + Space = Sterility

I have a theory. In fact, I’ve had it for some time. Simply stated, it is Safety + Segregation + Space = Sterility. I’m inspired to publicly share it after my recent conversation with Mel Foht, President and COO of Royop Development Corporation. Having just returned from his trip to Europe, we began talking about safety, segregation and public spaces as well as how Calgary differs from European cities in its approach to urban design. 

Street Safety

“Are Calgarians obsessed with safety? Are we making our urban spaces and places too safe?” These are questions I’ve often wondered. Though many readers may well disagree, I’d hazard a guess to say Mel and I aren’t the only ones who think we are correct.

If we want our streets to be safer, the first step might be to get all walkers, joggers, cyclists and drivers to unplug from their headphones.  We need to take a page from the peewee hockey players’ manual – “keep your head up if you don’t want to get hit.”  Whether on the sidewalk or street, we all need to look ahead and around to be aware of our environment.

Street safety is a shared responsibility.

  In Salt Lake City, many of the cross walks have a reminder to look both ways. 

In Salt Lake City, many of the cross walks have a reminder to look both ways. 

Salt Lake City takes cross walk safety as step further by providing bright orange flags for pedestrians to use as they cross the street. Is this going too far?

Four-way stops are easier for pedestrians, cyclist and drivers to share the space and are a lot cheaper than round-abouts and speed bumps.  

Calgary roads for the most part have lots of room for pedestrians, cyclist and drivers if we respect each other and share the road. Share The Road signs are a good reminder that EVERYONE is responsible for sharing the road. 

Food Safety

And then there is food safety. Foht gives kudos to Mayor Nenshi and Council for fast tracking the licensing of food trucks a few years back. Calgary has about 45 food trucks (Portland, a city renowned for its street food culture, in comparison has over 500). It should be noted that Portland’s food carts are permanent street vendors (not trucks) and are often clustered on under-utilized parking lots. In fact, their downtown even has a block-long, surface parking lot ringed with food carts which creates a festival-like, outdoor food court. But as Portland, unlike Calgary, doesn’t have dozens of major office buildings each with their own food court, it is hard if not impossible to make any apple-to-apple comparison.

I am told Calgary once had the reputation for having some of the toughest food safety laws in North America. While on one hand that’s important and good, it basically restricted the food options by street food vendors to mostly hotdogs. If other cities can have rules that ensure food safety yet enable a wider variety of foods to be cooked and served on the street, we surely can too.

Portland has become a mecca for foodies partly as a result of the numerous food carts that transform surface parking and vacant lots into outdoor food courts - not just in the downtown but around the city.

Public Transit Safety

Safety also plays a key role when it come to the dominance of the car as the preferred form of transportation, not only in Calgary but I suspect in most North American cities. 

We experienced this firsthand in Memphis one morning this past winter when my wife Brenda planned to take a 20-minute bus ride from downtown to a shopping area. When ATM issues forced her to go into the nearby bank to talk to a teller, conversation ensued (which included an informal poll of all four tellers as to if she should take the bus or a cab) and a decision was made (solely by them) to call a cab - without Brenda’s permission and at her cost of 25 dollars! (Note: she took the bus back with no concern whatsoever re: her personal safety and at a cost of $3.)  This was not an isolated case – another day she was warned by locals (including a female tram driver nonetheless) to not take public transit alone. Clearly to us, whites in Memphis feel safer in their car than walking the streets or taking public transit. We also now better understand the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri. 

And safety is even shaping Calgary’s suburbs. The popularity of drive-thru coffee shops, ATMs and fast food stores is not only about convenience but also perceived safety.

Segregation

In many ways, by segregating the modes of traffic in Calgary’s downtown core - for example, 9th Avenue for cars, 8th Avenue for pedestrians and 7th Avenue for transit - we have virtually eliminated the urban vitality that comes from diversity and critical mass.  It is interesting to note that while in the early 20th Century, 8th Avenue accommodated street cars, vehicles and pedestrians, a century later we are arguing whether even pedestrians and cyclists can share the space.

 We have also segregated our activities in a way that chokes off vitality. Think about it. Most of Calgary’s cultural activities are clustered in the east end of downtown, creating a cultural ghetto away from the banks, offices, shops and restaurants. With most plays, concerts, shows, gallery events, festivals, etc happening on weekday evenings and weekends, there’s little need for most to go there during weekday days – other than to simply use it as a pass-through block to get to and from City Hall.

As well, most shops have been segregated to the +15 and +30 levels between the Hudson’s Bay and Holt Renfrew. Few small shops dot Stephen Avenue Walk itself. This stretch of 8th Avenue has become a restaurant ghetto, with vitality basically just around weekday noon hours. Recently, when touring a visiting architect from Holland and his family in the area, they couldn’t believe how the Walk changes at noon hour on weekdays. It is a phenomenon – not necessarily a great one though.

  Early 20th century postcard of Stephen Avenue with street cars, vehicle and pedestrians sharing the space. 

Early 20th century postcard of Stephen Avenue with street cars, vehicle and pedestrians sharing the space. 

  Salt Lake City allows cars, LRT and cyclist to share the road.

Salt Lake City allows cars, LRT and cyclist to share the road.

  In Dublin, as in most European cities, the streets and sidewalks are shared by everyone. The sidewalks are narrow and the roads are crowded with pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles and cars all interacting at close quarters. 

In Dublin, as in most European cities, the streets and sidewalks are shared by everyone. The sidewalks are narrow and the roads are crowded with pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles and cars all interacting at close quarters. 

Space

Foht speaks of how Europe’s sidewalks and streets are animated with people doing lots of different things, going in lots of different directions and using lots of different modes of transportation.  It is not unusual, he says, “to see pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, trams, buses, cars and trucks all mixing and mingling on the same street at the same time.” Urban guru Jane Jacobs referred to this as “sidewalk ballet;” others call it “messy urbanism,” while yet others call it “critical mass.” Regardless of what you coin it, great urban spaces are crowded with people who access the space by a variety of transportation modes.

He also noticed that in Europe people were able to share the smallest space that allow “a zillion scooters and bikes to co-exist.” In Calgary, we can’t even seem to get the fact that the sidewalks on in the Peace Bridge are for pedestrians while the middle roadway is for cyclists.  And while European streets may look like a free-for-all to us, they in fact are very safe.

Does this mean they have more or better signage? Not necessarily. In fact, many European cities are experimenting with removing signs, allowing roads and public spaces to be self-governing. We seem to enact the polar opposite approach, ie. more signage and more complicated signage. Perhaps we are too busy trying to read and understand the signs instead of just having some basic signs and rules and then just using common sense.

For some reason, it seems that part of Calgarians’ psychological DNA includes the need for lots of space around us – big houses, big vehicles, big streets, etc. Granted, it is what we have had and in most cases, what we continue to have; it is what we are used to. For us, the extent of “crowded spaces” experience consists maybe of rush hour transit rides and at Stampede or major street festivals.

If we want to create street animation, we need to learn how to share our space. I am a big fan of “Share The Road” signs, four way stops and painted bike lanes as cost-effective traffic calming measures vs. speed bumps, roundabouts and separate bike lanes.  Why is it that Calgary always seems to find the most expensive way to manage the sharing of our streets? 

Last Word

If we really want urban vitality in Calgary, we can’t live in our own individual bubbles. If we really want a sense of community, we have to be aware of and connect with others, embrace sharing public spaces and avoid “safety-phobia.” Safety + Space + Segregation = Sterility – it’s definitely not an equation I want for Calgary.   

By Richard White, November 1st, 2014. An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on November 1st, 2014. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Drivers, pedestrians and cyclists need to learn to share.

Calgary: A Bike Friendly City?

Design Downtown for Women and Men Will Follow?

 

 

Bowness: Past & Present

Richard White, August 2, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours titled "Busy Bowness rides into prosperous future."

Did you know that Main Street Bowness, now Bowness Road was once called Highway 8?  Did you know there once was a Bowness Golf & Country Club (located just off of the TransCanada Highway near the Greenwood/Greenbriar trailer park) and that Bowness High School site was the Bowness Flying Field from 1914 to 1929.  It always amazes me how much history there is in Calgary and how our neighbourhoods have evolved.

Early 20th century postcard of Bowness Park lagoon.

Downtown mural

Today, Bowness is perhaps best known as the home of Bowness Park and for its cycling culture, both motor and pedal. The 13th Tour de Bowness, takes place the August 2, 3 and 4th.  Saturday is the road race at Horse Creek in Cochrane, Sunday is the hill climb at Canada Olympic Park and Monday is the Criterium (street race, with 7 turns) in Bowness.  However, on any given weekend Main Street Bowness can look like the Tour de France with colourful logoed cyclist stopping at Cadence Café for coffee, breakfast, lunch or a snack.   Cadence is one of Calgary’s hidden café gems and one of our best people watching spots.

Cadence Cafe - super fine coffee.

Downtown Bowness is also home to one of the world’s largest cycling shops – Bow Cycle – with its 24,000 square foot store right on Bowness Road, as well as a 16,000 warehouse.  Bow Cycle has over 800 frames and 500 bikes in stock at any given time. For the road warriors, it has over 75 mountain bikes over $4,000 and 50 road bikes over $5,000 and 10 bikes over $15,000 in stock.  It is little wonder Bowness is home to Calgary’s cycling community. 

  Bowness Cycle bike shop.

Bowness Cycle bike shop.

Bowness Cycle - something for everyone.

Calgary’s paddling community is also attracted to downtown Bowness to check what’s new at Undercurrent Sports – Alberta’s largest paddling store and school.  This 6,500 square foot store houses more than 200 canoes, kayaks and paddleboards and the gear you need to go with them. 

  Undercurrents - perhaps Calgary's most colourful shop.

Undercurrents - perhaps Calgary's most colourful shop.

Another feature that makes Main Street Bowness unique is Hexters Rock’n Roll / Blues Lounge with its signature Sunday afternoon “Motown Revival” hosted by Gary Martin.  If you haven’t been and you like mid-century music and dancing this is the place to go.

If you are a shopper and you like the “thrill of the hunt” the Bowness WINS thriftstore is for you. Located kiddy corner to Bow Cycle is a small boutique store that often has treasures just waiting for you take home.  We found a great still-life drawing by Calgary artist Bruce Pashak.

WINS Thrift Store - where the treasures are.

Absolute Audio is one of Calgary’s leading audiophile spots with staff who are not only knowledgeable but simply love music.  In addition to all of the latest digital equipment, Absolute also offers a great selection of vinyl cleaners including the Audio Deske of Germany’s that involves giving your old records a “bath” and then some sort of “micro fiber drums” thingy – check it out!

Bowtown Music is the new kid on the block. Opening in 2011 it has developed a reputation as the place to go for ukuleles in Calgary.  In addition to lessons (guitar, piano, singing, drums, ukulele, banjo, mandolin and violin), Bowtown is developing a community space for ukulele and drum circles. 

Bowtown Music

Heritage Street Festival

Visiting Bowness is like travelling to a small prairie town with its wide Main Street lined with shops that are mostly one story tall.   It even has angled parking, how authentic is that? Like a small town there is even a hotel that isn’t a hotel, rather a pub and apartments.  There is even a charming branch of the Calgary Public Library on Main Street, located in the old Bow Motorcycle building.

In addition to the Criterium road race on Monday, August 4th, (annual event on the August long weekend) the 60+ merchants of the Bowness Business Revitalization Zone also hosting a family oriented Heritage Street Festival from 11 am to 4 pm.  Everyone is welcome to come and discover Calgary’s other Main Street.


Bowness Library use to be Bow Cycle's motorcycle, skidoo, seadoo and ATV store. The wheel with the spokes is still part of the facade and sign. 

Does this not look like something from a main street in a small prairie town?

This has small prairie town written all over it. 

Criterium fun....

Calgary: Is the proposed First St. SE cycle track unsafe?

Guest Blog: Lawrence Braul, Chief Executive Officer, Trinity Place Foundation of Alberta

Calgary's Cycle Track discussion has prompted me to speak out on an issue that will have direct impact on the seniors who reside at 602 1 St. Street S.E. The Cycle Track is an unsafe design and represents a hazard to seniors living at Carter Place. The impact will also be felt by visitors and by service providers who regularly attend at this location.  

Any person using the loading zone will have to load and unload closer to moving vehicles and they will have to cross the Cycle Track to enter Carter Place. Can you imagine EMS, Fire department vehicles, Moving Vans, buses, Handi-Buses, visitors, and delivery vehicles all trying to use a three stall loading zone? Imagine the double parking, congestion, and frustration.

DESIGN MATTERS

The Transportation department has agreed that there is a significant risk of conflict at this location but they have not provided Trinity Place Foundation with a revision of the design that is more acceptable. They were opposed to moving the Cycle Track to the west side of the street. Why is an unsafe design being proposed?

STRATEGY MATTERS

The Mayor and Council needs to find other alternatives that will ease the conflict and develop a five year plan to enhance cycling in Calgary. The current strategy, and its latest “Pilot Project” approach, has resulted in suspicion and it does not effectively promote urban cycling. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Opponents of Cycle Tracks have been pitted against the advocates and this “win-lose” strategy is counter-productive to the important objective of promoting cycling in Calgary.  

SAFETY FIRST

The purpose of a Cycle Track is safety for cyclists and pedestrians. I had the privilege of getting very acquainted with the cycling infrastructure of Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City in 2012. My son and I spent three days each in these wonderful cities and then cycled to our next destination, accumulating 1250 kms in total.

Ottawa has a very well-developed pathway system with no Cycle Track infrastructure but it is a very safe place to ride. When you cycle in Montreal, the “mecca” for urban cycling in North America, you need to navigate a route that is sometimes interrupted by a block or two of shared lanes. It is a system that seems to be evolving and slowly improving through the much larger downtown core of Montreal. Quebec City is a pathway system with a lot of shared lane infrastructure to link pathways. All three cities are beautiful examples of how to creatively include bicycles into an urban transportation system. These cities prove that there is more than one solution to developing cycling infrastructure.

BUILD ON THE SAFE INFRASTRUCTURE THAT EXISTS

As Ottawa and Quebec City demonstrate, the pathway system is a very effective method of moving cycle traffic. Calgary’s excellent system must be enhanced and improved, especially after the damage caused by the June 2013 flood. No other prairie city has the cycling infrastructure that Calgary has in place. Try cycling in Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Regina where there is virtually no bike infrastructure. Edmonton lags Calgary as well. We can build on what we have because it is a solid base.

EAST VILLAGE NEEDS TO BE CONNECTED TO A SAFE SYSTEM

I have spoken to a year round cyclist who uses different routes daily to get to his downtown worksite. He often uses 4th Street S.E. even if it is slightly "out of the way". He finds 4TH Street less intimidating on a bike. As the East Village densifies, more riders will want to connect to the east side of downtown, including the rapidly developing Victoria Park. The 4th Street S.E. corridor can accommodate a Cycle Track and it can link to 11th and 12th ave and Stampede Park and the pathway system on the Elbow River.  This alternative should be explored, even it if is a little further east than some would prefer. It is also the safer route for cyclists.

THE “GRAND SCHEME” VERSUS INCREMENTAL IMPROVEMENTS

I favour incremental improvements to cycling infrastructure over the next five years. This should include repairs and expansion of damaged cycling paths as the first priority. One North-South Cycle Track on 4th Street S.E. can be added as budget permits, giving cyclists’ two options to enter the downtown from the existing pathway system. East-West options need to be developed on 10th, 11th or 12th.

These common sense and affordable solutions can enhance the very good bike infrastructure that presently exists.

LAST WORD

Removing the cycle track on 1st Street S.E. from any further consideration also eliminates a serious risk of conflict and injury with pedestrians and seniors. Let's let safety and common sense prevail.

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Cycle Tracks Revisited: Everyone Benefits

Calgary: Canada's Bike Friendly City

 

Cycle Tracks Revisited: Everyone Benefits?

By Richard White, March 1, 2014

R.W. writes: "Richard..you have done a great job of opening the debate past the emotional rants of radicals of both side of the argument. First time I have seen a well assembled set of facts and related benefits associated with bikes."

My February 13 and 20th cycling blogs generated interesting comments from both the “bike addicts” and the “bike bashers.” I thought it would be good for me to check in with the City’s key bike people – Tom Thivener, Cycling Coordinator, Katherine Glowacz, Active Transportation Educator and Blanka Bracic, Cycle Track Project Manager to see if I could get a better handle on the issues. They happily took me up on my offer to meet and learn more about the City’s plans to encourage more Calgarians to access downtown by bike and at the same time better integrate cars, bikes and pedestrians travelling in our city centre.

Everybody Benefits!

One of the key ideas that came out of these meetings is that everyone at the City is confident we can indeed encourage more Calgarians to access downtown by bike. And that if more people choose to cycle downtown to work and play, everyone will benefit - drivers, cyclists and pedestrians!  

There is lots of good research from other cities and Calgary’s new 7th Street cycle track that says if we create a few key separate bike lanes, we should see at least a doubling of cyclists in our downtown.  Currently the number of fair weather downtown cyclists (April to October) is about 6,000 (this number drops by 70% in the winter to about 2,000 cyclist), so a doubling would see about 12,000 Calgarians accessing downtown by bike, rather than car or transit.  

That is not unrealistic given there are over 160,000 downtown workers, plus another 20,000 people per day (just a guess) accessing downtown for various reasons.  So 12,000 cyclists per day out of 180,000 is not unrealistic for the peak cycling month – about 6.6%.

Visually and functionally the 7th Street cycle track creates a much better integration of cars, bikes and pedestrians. 

Eight Avenue Place has 300 secure bike parking stalls and showers, along with a separate bike entrance from the street.  All new downtown office buildings are including bike parking as it gets them one LEED point and additional floor space that they can lease out.  Approximately 1,000 new bike parking stalls have been added to the downtown with the completion of Eight Avenue Place, The Bow and the Centennial Place office towers. 

More cyclists benefits drivers in three ways:

  • less cars on the road
  • better integration of cyclist and cars
  • more parking spots for cars

There is recent evidence from New York City that shows traffic speed for cars actually increased on roads with separate bike lanes, perhaps because there is no more weaving in and out of each other’s way. Did you know the 9.5 km of proposed cycle tracks is only 3% of the 296 km of total traffic lanes in the City Centre? That’s, roughly the same proportion as the 2.5% of Calgarians who choose to access the city centre by bike.

If you assume half the 6,000 new cyclists were driving and half taking transit, that means 3,000 less people looking for parking stalls and 3,000 more seats on buses and trains. Three thousand less people looking for parking doesn’t mean you free up 3,000 stalls, as there is a mix of all day and short stay parkers. 

I won’t bore you with the math but it should equate to about 1,800 stalls being freed up. More parking should make car commuters, retailers and restaurateurs happy. The Parking Authority is currently planning to add a couple of new parkades in the downtown, perhaps they would be better off investing in bike lanes for $25 million vs. $100 million for say two new 1,000 stall parkades.

While Centennial Parkade is perhaps one of the more attractive parkades in North America, it has not been a catalyst for street life despite being designed with sidewalk retail spaces.  The same can be said of most parkade blocks in our Downtown and those in other cities. 

I don’t know the math for the cost of purchasing and operating buses, suffice to say the 3,000 transit seats that would be freed up by more cyclists spread over several routes. While there may not be much saving in purchasing buses or operating costs, it would help ease the chronic overcrowding of buses and trains. Maybe Calgary Transit would like to kick in some funds for bike lanes, rather than buying more buses or streetcars.

From a pedestrian’s perspective, the separate bike lanes would mean less bikes jumping onto sidewalks to bypass cars and other obstacles.  We know that after the completion of the 7th Street cycle track the number of cyclist using the sidewalk dropped from 25% to less than 1%.  The redesigned corners and changes to traffic signals would also mean a more systematic sharing of the road at intersections to allow all three modes of traffic (cars, bikes and shoes) to take their turns crossing the street.

Looks to me like creating more bike lanes could be a win-win-win situation.

Safety in Numbers?

The other lesson I learned is that while many argue we need separate bike lanes so cyclists will feel safer; this may be a bit of a red herring.  Current information for Calgary shows that car/cyclist collisions have in fact decreased over the past 10 years, while the number of cyclists has increased.

One of the benefits of more cyclists on downtown streets is that drivers are becoming more aware of cyclists and learning to share the road with them. While cycling advocates point to better infrastructure as the key to safety, the best way to increase safety might simply be to have more cyclists on the road which makes them more visible and top of mind for drivers.

  This graph indicates that collisions involving cyclist on Calgary's roadways is decreasing as cycling increases in Calgary. 

This graph indicates that collisions involving cyclist on Calgary's roadways is decreasing as cycling increases in Calgary. 

Cycle tracks budget not out of line 

At the meeting, I was reminded the total budget for the cycling improvements city-wide is about 1.1% of the City’s transportation budget, which is less than the 1.3% of Calgarians city-wide who cycle to work. It then seem fair to me that we should invest at least 1.3% or our transportation budget in cycling improvements (city wide) and maybe more if there is some low hanging fruit.

There is strong information that investing in bike infrastructure and programs in the city centre will have the biggest immediate impact. Not only is this area where we see the most cyclists, but also the most pedestrians.

As mentioned before, the bike infrastructure that is being proposed benefits pedestrians and cars by creating a more orderly and predictable integration of all three modes of traffic.

One reader this week also reminded me that significant investments have been made in cycling infrastructure in recent years by the City and private sector in communities like Brentwood, Sundance, Strathcona, along the West LRT and near the University. 

And then there is the mega 138 Rotary/Mattamy Greenway that will circle the city, headed up by the Parks Foundation Calgary, but with significant City assistance that will benefit many of the suburban communities.   

Last Word 

In the early ‘90s when Calgary’s politicians and planners envisioned a change from a 60/40 car vs. transit split between cars and transit for downtown commuters, to a 50/50 split there were a lot of naysayers. Yet that vision has not only been met but transit now exceeds the car as the primary mode of commuting into the downtown.

Downtown Cordon count changes: 1996 / 2013

Occupants/day           1996          2013              % Change  

  • Vehicles*        418,551      385,245                  -8%
  • Transit**          117,987      248,390                  111%
  • Pedestrian      30,963          61,610                  99%
  • Bikes                5,254            11,441                 122%
  • Total             572,655     706,686                  23%

*cars and trucks / **buses and trains (16 hour day total, inbound and outbound)

 

Focus on Pedestrians & Cyclists?

Cycling and walking to work is also on the rise, both increasing by over 100% since 1996.  Did you know, Calgary is already one of the leading downtown bike commuter cities in North America? Our 6,000-commuter cyclist for 160,000 downtown workers is on par with Minneapolis (considered one of North America’s leading cycling cities) 6,670 commuters for its citywide 197,791 workers (Minneapolis Bicycle and Walking Commute Date, 2011 Update).

However, I think we can do better because Calgary boasts one of the most active inner-city infilling housing markets on the continent.  We have a young and highly educated workforce and a dense downtown that is still growing; these conditions are ideal for creating a strong year-round cycling and walking commuter population.  For the past 25 years, we have been focusing on improving transit I would suggest for the next 25 years we should be looking at how, we can increase walking and cycling to work and play in our inner city communities. 

I am thinking the new vision for Downtown should be a 35% car, 35% transit, 20% walking and 10% cycling modal split. If I was on Council I would vote for a phased-in implementation of the City Centre Cycle Track plan over the next five or six years; this would allow time to learn from each track what works and what doesn’t. However, we must stop this paralysis by analysis; this issue has been studied and discussed to death.

The investment of $20 million to improve cycling (with spin off benefits for pedestrians, drivers and transit users) in our increasingly congested city center is worth the experiment.  

After all, city building is just one big ongoing experiment!

The blue line is the new 7th Ave cycle track.

The green lines are the proposed new cycle tracks which have been chosen based on their direct connectivity to key places people want to go. It is also more effective to create cycle tracks on one way streets than two way streets.  It is interesting to note that just a few years ago planners were advocating for changing one-way street back to two-way streets, now it looks like we want to keep the one way streets and add bike lanes.  Urban planning is not an exact science.

The yellow line is the 8th Street Public Realm Plan which is separate project from the cycle tracks. 

The orange line is Stephen Avenue Walk which will require further study to determine if some cycling could be allowed.