Calgary Wins Gold Medal For Cycling

Given that spring is in the air, which means many of us will be starting to think about getting out and cycling more, I thought it would be interesting to check in with Tom Thivener Calgary’s Cycling Coordinator to get an update on how Calgary is doing in its quest to create am more cycling friendly city.

I emailed him a few questions and here are his responses.


What have been the key accomplishment to date with respect to cycling infrastructure?

Calgary should be very proud of the off-street pathway network. The river path network and connections into some of the communities are very good. It is a blessing to have so many bridges across the rivers. Rivers can be a barrier to cycling, but clearly Calgarians figured out a long time ago bridges can be a true asset to the city. 

The downtown cycle track network has proven, in a short amount of time to be a huge success in extending the protection and comfort of the pathway network into the heart of the downtown and Beltline, through on-street in the form of separated bike lanes.  People of all ages and abilities bicycle, roller blade and skate board on them.  It’s great to see.


What have been the biggest disappointments?

The most disappointing piece of infrastructure in Calgary is the maze gates in many suburban communities.  They usually show up on walkways between two homes on a corridor that goes to a park, an LRT station or university campus. These corridors are a perfect place to walk or bike to destinations except for the fact that a set of two strategically placed steel gates are there to keep cyclists from flying down them.

The placement of these gates makes it next to impossible to get a bike with a trailer, wheel chair or a large stroller through them. We have so many of them across the city but we have identified a few locations to be retrofitted with simpler treatments this summer as part of the Spot Improvement Program I oversee. 


What have been the surprises?

The biggest surprise is the level of interest in Bike Share in Calgary. Several companies have approached The City to discuss launching bike share soon here. The typical model is very similar to Car2Go in that members can find a bike through a smart phone app and GPS technology.

Seattle, in a short amount of time has gone from having zero bicycles to 9,000 bicycles. And with that they are giving citizens and visitors a healthy, inexpensive and fast way to get around town, especially trips under 5 km. If one of the companies doesn’t launch this summer, I anticipate next summer for sure.


Where does Calgary rank as a cycling city in Canada? North America?

In the USA, the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) organization has a thorough application and review process that has ranked over 400 cities in terms of bike friendliness.  They focus on the 5 E’s (engineering, evaluation, education, encouragement and enforcement), arguing that you need to be strong in all these areas to be truly bike friendly. An organization in Ontario has adopted this model to rank cities there, but we don’t have similar national organization in Canada. 

But having been through the LAB process when I worked in Tucson, I’d say we’re approaching their level of bike friendliness, which is Gold rated.  While there is a lot to be proud of in Calgary, there is still a lot of work remaining, to graduate to Platinum or Diamond status.

While Calgary was once way ahead of Edmonton in creating and executing a cycling strategy, I recently read they may soon exceed Calgary. Is this true? If so why did this happen?

Edmonton has a lot to be proud with the addition of their Calgary inspired cycle track network downtown. While they are currently spending about three times what Calgary is spending on infrastructure upgrades for people walking or cycling they have not caught up to us yet.


What new cycling infrastructure can Calgarians look forward to this summer?

We have three corridors slated to get Complete Street improvements to them this summer. This includes bike lanes or cycle tracks, continuous sidewalks, traffic calming treatments, improved pedestrian crossings and intersection improvements for all modes of traffic.

In Midnapore, Midlake Blvd SE has been identified for improvements. While I don’t expect many people to bike to downtown from there, there are lots of local destinations including schools, shopping centers, lakes and Fish Creek park nearby. 

In Southview and Forest Lawn/Heights, 19 Av SE has been identified for similar improvements in conjunction with the Bus Rapid Transit project happening on International Avenue.  This project will connect to a new bridge with a pathway that will connect with Inglewood over Deerfoot Trail.  

And in Mission/Beltline 2 Street SW has been identified for some improvements. We still have several gaps in the network in the Centre City but this project will finally connect people from Elbow River Path into the Centre City network.


What is on your wish list of things to add to Calgary’s cycling infrastructure?

Our Pathway and Bikeway Plan is being updated right now. We need to continue to tackle and retrofit our collector street network in Calgary.  These are the streets, similar to the ones mentioned above, that connect people from their community to popular local destinations. These streets have so much potential to be great places to walk and bike but the design of the roadway needs to be improved first.

We also need to install a few more pedestrian bridges over the rivers and over barriers such as Deerfoot Trail. When you have to go a few kilometers out of your way to get to a safe crossing that deters many people from walking or cycling.

The other major thing to work on is the next phase of cycle track network in the inner city. Every community outside of Centre City deserves at least one safe way to bike into city core, where most of the jobs and entertainment lies.

There has been much criticism of the 12th Ave SW roadway design to accommodate cycling lanes?  How do you think it can be improved for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians?

You can either design a road to meet the needs of those driving across town or you can design it for those who live and work there.  We have heard people don’t like the lane jog. But on the other hand we’ve heard from people living/working there that there are strong parking demands that switch from side to side as you go down the corridor.  We are trying to balance the needs of both with the current design. 


Can you comment on how the pilot project of having cyclist use Stephen Avenue has been going?

The pilot to allow cyclists during the day on Stephen Avenue was approved by Council in December 2016. It is now permanent that cycling is allowed all day and in both directions on Stephen Avenue. People cycling share the space with people walking during the day and at night share the street with taxis and other vehicles.  We haven’t seen any real problems with adding cycling there. As we have seen in other cities in Europe and Asia people cycling tend to regulate themselves and even dismount when it gets too busy, like during the summer months.

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What are the myths/misconceptions Calgarians have about cycling in Calgary?

Probably that bike infrastructure is expensive. The City spent nearly $2M to upgrade a really deficient pedestrian underpass in the community of Bowness this summer.  We managed to double the width for people walking and biking and improved the transitions to and from the roadway.  The work was nothing flashy but residents and people traveling through Bowness will get to enjoy the improvement every day for the next 100 years or so.

$2M sounds expensive but that won’t even buy you one C-Train car


Do we know how many Calgarians cycle year-round today as compared to 5 years ago?

We have seen a lot of growth in the last five years in terms of ridership. Since the Cycling Strategy was approved in 2011, we have installed or improved 87 km of bikeway and in turn we have doubled the number of people cycling.

We have a couple sources for this data. Calgary’s Civic Census asks the question about how people get to work and that result went from just under 1 percent in 2011 to just under 2 in 2016. 

Ever year in May, the transportation Department monitors all traffic entering and exiting downtown. The portion of trips by bike has risen from just under 2% in 2010 to just under 4% in 2017. Whether you think this is a lot or a little, there are still several thousand Calgarians who bike, many year round. 

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Last Word

Every spring I say to myself I am going to cycle more, but I never seem to do it.  Perhaps this year will be different! 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the April 2018 issue of Condo Living magazine. 

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

What happened to saying, "On Your Left."

Calgary: Canada's Bike Friendliest City?

Could Calgary have the largest bike shop in the world?