On Calgary’s 7th Street Bike Track: I like it!

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As regular readers here know, I have been rather critical of the city of Calgary’s addition of bike infrastructure at the expense of automotive infrastructure based on some extremely questionable utilization numbers. My main targets have been bike lanes placed on automotive routes where either residential parking is stripped and or expensive automotive lanes are reduced altogether despite there being a paltry number of cyclists at best.

I see downtown Calgary as something of a different story. While the number of daily bicycle commuters to downtown Calgary has been greatly exaggerated by some, through multiple counts in different locations and with a long drawn out twitter debate with pictured below; it was established that a few thousand people per day commute to work in downtown Calgary.

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Three thousand is a tiny fraction of those who commute downtown in Calgary daily and is a far cry from the completely unsubstantiated twelve-thousand number that some folks have tossed out there. That being said, this is still a sizeable number of commuters and we should reasonably ensure that the infrastructure exists for these people to safely get to work and back.

In doing my counts, I found that while bike lanes on roadways had limited bike use, the Bow River bike path is quite busy with hundreds of cyclists riding it daily. I personally feel that the path should be expanded somewhat to reduce pedestrian/bicycle issues but that is a separate issue right now.

The Bow River bike path gives excellent access from East to West across downtown Calgary. What has been lacking is a safe bike access from North to South in the core and the 7th Street bike path has provided this (on the West side of downtown at least). Now a cyclist can get to many parts of the Calgary core while greatly minimizing the time spent on the open road with automotive traffic which can be a hair-raising experience to say the least.

In visiting the bike track today, I thought it looked very well done. Esthetically it was good and not looking too utilitarian. Directions for both cyclists and auto drivers appeared pretty clear. 7th Street was never really a main automotive artery and the number of cars displaced by the track is negligible. Parking was lost but it can and should be made up elsewhere if city council can get off their policies of choking it.

One thing that was terribly lacking on the 7th street bike track though was actual cyclists.

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Today was what I would consider to be ideal cycling weather. While cars were evident in the thousands as always downtown, I saw only a handful of cyclists using the track. In the next day or so I will get to the track in rush hour and see what sort of traffic the cycle track is drawing but in mid-day the cycle track almost could have sprouted tumbleweeds.

In wandering further downtown, I walked down 5th St. SW which parallels the 7th St. bike track only two blocks away. What I saw there was somewhat dismaying. I saw about as many cyclists on the street with no track as the one with one. In the 10 minutes on 5th, I saw one cyclist going the wrong way on the one way street, another pair riding side by side with a long line of traffic behind them and another riding while texting. Two of those are pictured below. I really do have to get a better camera for this stuff.

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To be fair, another thing I witnessed (wish I had been able to get a picture) was an idiot driving down the separated bike track in a Toyota pickup. Had there actually been bicyclists on that track there could have been a terrible accident as the barriers would leave the cyclists no room to escape. The point of the track is to provide a safe place for cyclists to ride and fools like the one I saw defeat this purpose.

While liking the track and the concept, I have to now wonder what it will take to get cyclists to use it in larger numbers. I used the term reasonable earlier when referencing bicycle infrastructure and I mean it. If bikes refuse to even go two blocks out of their way to use the track, how much infrastructure is reasonable? We can’t put tracks on every street in light of how tiny a portion of commuters ride bikes.

If we build infrastructure for cyclists only to find that pedestrians on sidewalks are still dodging bikes and auto-commuters are still being delayed by cyclists I have to ask: what is the point?

In Calgary we should start to look at bicycle infrastructure with real need, demand and traffic flow in mind. We can use more separated bicycle infrastructure but dammit if we are going to build that I expect a majority of cyclists to actually use it. With a couple more tracks built, I contend we could then heavily enforce and ticket bike users on sidewalks and designate some roadways downtown as being automotive routes only (and enforcing this). Just as no car should be on a bike track, there is no need to displace pedestrians and autos further with bicycles if the alternative infrastructure exists for them.

I am looking forward to seeing how rush hour goes on the new cycle track and do hope to see well built infrastructure in the future. If we continue to idiotically keep bike lanes on roads such as 11 St. SE that has a few bikes per 24 hours at best while taking an entire two automotive lanes up I think my hypothesis of Calgary’s bicycle strategy being one of an anti-automotive bent rather than pro-cycle will have been proven. There is no excuse.

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A string of comments on a newspaper actually worth reading.

It is pretty well known that the comment sections of most newspapers have quickly become cesspools of vapid and belligerent ramblings from people on all sides of the political spectrum who like to hide behind the veil of anonymity. This has been sad as with this wonderful age of communication it would be good to see more real discussion from average folks on news issues. What many newspapers have been doing to address this lately is switching to a facebook commentary format (have to get around to doing that on this site). While not perfect, this at least takes away most of the wall of anonymity hiding the keyboard cowards out there and has fostered some decent discussion and counterpoints to stories.

The Calgary Herald recently reported that CUPE was working to organize flight attendants with WestJet. (CUPE is the union for federal civil servants but they will try to pad their membership in any industry)

Now the story implies that there may actually be a real chance that a union may finally be making inroads with WestJet. I say finally as pretty much every year unions salt a few staff into WestJet in order to try and fail dismally to organize in a company that has well paid and very happy employees. I wrote on this a few years ago when the Canadian Auto Workers Union made a laughable attempt to break into WestJet.

Unions despise WestJet as the company has consistently remained profitable in a sea of airlines that chronically lose money. WestJet has never made bones about the fact that it is the lack of unions that is the paramount reason that the company has been such a grand success for both it’s shareholders and employees. In the usual union manner, the unions would rather try to break in and drag WestJet down to the level of the other airlines than try to improve things at the already unionized airlines that are bleeding terribly. Socialism is indeed the equal distribution of poverty.

Now getting back to that comment section, it is worth giving the few dozen comments a read. Real employees of WestJet using their real names repeatedly and very effectively put lie to the threat of unionization within the company. Without the comment section in this case a person not familiar with the WestJet situation may have mistakenly thought that the company may actually get a union.

The internet provides us with a barrage of information. Sifting through this mass of information to find out what is true, what is exaggerated and what is outright BS can be a fulltime job. With true exchanges of views without anonymity we are seeing a great new tool in helping us find out what is really happening out there.

In light of the utter destruction of Detroit thanks to both public and private sector unions over the last few decades, getting to the truth of the costs of unionization in the modern world is more important than ever these days.

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Recall legislation would have settled questions with disgraced MLA Mike Allen

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There are few more effective ways to destroy a political career than to get busted in a sex scandal. Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen pretty much eliminated any real political future for himself when he got arrested in a prostitution sting while on government business in Minnesota. Whether charges get laid or not, the damage is pretty much done at this point.

While Allen has resigned from the Progressive Conservative caucus and all committees (to save Redford the task of kicking him out of those roles), as of this writing Mike Allen is still sitting as a member of the legislative assembly.

In light of this scandal there really are only two possible paths in Allen’s future; he can resign from the legislature altogether or he can sit in shame as an independent lame member who gets the odd opportunity to ask a question during sessions.

I can only see two reasons why Allen would choose to remain in the legislature for the remainder of his term. Mike Allen may simply really really need the job and the money and is willing to endure the shame of sitting in there or Allen may remain in his seat as a favor to Redford to ensure a by-election does not add yet another Wildrose MLA to the opposition that has been so effectively bringing the Redford administration to task this last year.

If we had recall legislation in Alberta Mike Allen could have had a third option ahead of him. Allen could have legitimized his place in the legislature by withstanding an effort to recall him or even have won his seat again in a by-election triggered by a recall.

People usually view recall as a means to get rid of an MLA who no longer enjoys much support among their constituents but it should be remembered that recall can vindicate a member who is caught in a controversy as well.

Recall is a mechanism that allows the electorate to potentially get rid of an elected official should they have done something so odious while elected that a large segment of the electorate feels that this person should no longer be able to serve out the rest of their term. Mike Allen’s prostitution bust is a perfect example of this. The situation and perception of Mike Allen as a person has dramatically changed and many within Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo may now feel that they do not want somebody who indulges in such activities to represent them any longer. The package that was presented to voters in that constituency just over a year ago looks much different today and voters may want a new choice.

I have seen some people defending Mike Allen and speaking to how well he has served the community in a municipal role and then as an MLA. Some people have expressed the view that Allen’s transgression is not serious enough to warrant his resignation as an MLA. The decision of how serious this issue is can only be left to the electorate and not to straw polls and pundits. Recall legislation would have allowed for this.

Mike Allen may remain in his seat and weakly try to claim that he has heard from constituents that they want him to remain. I suspect that most of Alberta would look at such claims with a jaundiced eye at best.

Recall legislation must be crafted so that the bar is not set unreasonably high nor so low that it is done frivolously. This has been managed in many jurisdictions before and there is no reason that it couldn’t be brought into legislation effectively within Alberta.

Only though a full accounting to his electorate can Mike Allen now claim to be entitled to his seat as an MLA. It is too bad that we don’t have the means in an effective recall legislation to have given Allen the chance to have vindicated himself through his constituents. A failed recall effort would shut down any further claims that Allen is not entitled to remain in his seat as an MLA.

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On the Zimmerman verdict.

I have been working predominantly in the USA for the last few months. As you can imagine, the Zimmerman trial has been pretty big news down here lately and I have found the coverage of it to be fascinating. Down the road I will likely have one of my more long-winded rants on this but as I am on the tail end of a field stretch I will let somebody more learned than I on the Florida justice system cover things.

A Florida lawyer has posted a great rant on the post-verdict reaction to Zimmerman’s acquittal. I particularly like how he addresses those who are commenting who clearly did not actually follow the trial along with his shots at the horrific media coverage along with the piss-poor “experts” who really should never grace a television screen again. Strongly recommended reading for those watching this issue.

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