Invisible ghost town.

At a glance Calgary’s downtown appears to be vibrant and thriving.

Huge modern buildings shine and tower while cranes are hard at work building even more. Traffic appears to be bustling until one realizes that this is more due to lane reductions from bicycle tracks and poor traffic light synchronization rather than a volume of commuters. Parking lots are expensive and bursting at the seams but then one realizes that this is due to a purposeful strangling of parking supply by the city of Calgary which led to Calgary being second only to New York city in parking costs throughout North America only a few years ago.

The reality is that Calgary’s downtown is languishing with near a whopping 30% vacancy rate!

People don’t see it but this is nearly catastrophic when measured against other major cities in North America. A 10% vacancy is considered high. 30% is unimaginable (except in Calgary).

Of course most of this is due to the crash in Alberta’s energy industry but there is a great deal more to this picture than that. Large companies were bailing out of Calgary’s downtown well before the most recent crash.

CP rail moved their headquarters out of the core in 2012 in a move that saved them an estimated $19 million per year. 

Imperial Oil decided to move from downtown to Quarry Park in 2012. 

The trend of companies leaving Calgary’s congested and expensive downtown has been going on for quite some years now. The energy crash only made the trend much more acute.

A friend of mine who was working in multiple buildings last spring shared some video with me of the spaces.

It’s almost eerie seeing these modern yet abandoned spaces. Some are portions of buildings, some are entire floors.

Some areas are gutted, some are partially renovated.

Some offices are still furnished.

Some even have packing boxes left behind almost as if folks were fleeing an impending disaster (I guess in a sense they were).

This urban catastrophe could actually be turned into an opportunity but Calgary city hall will need a complete change of attitude and ideology in order to take advantage of it.

We have all of this modern space within a city with an international airport. In the right conditions businesses could be flooding into the city.

To begin with, the city needs to court small to medium businesses to fill all of these gaps. It was almost embarrassing to see tossing their figurative panties at Amazon as they dove into a spiral to the bottom in whoring themselves in hopes of gaining a massive new entity. Logistically Calgary was never in the race for new headquarters. Why on earth would a company that specializes in shipping items stay on the same side of the continent as their current headquarters in an expansion? They needed an eastern location with modest labor costs. While Calgary only spent $600,000 and didn’t offer massive subsidies to draw Amazon, it still was utterly wasted money on an unrealistic dream.

The powers that be in Calgary city hall now want to piss away 10s of millions chasing an Olympic dream which may cost billions if we get it. Meanwhile Calgary’s downtown ghost town gathers dust.

Instead of chasing these whales that demand massive taxpayer subsidies, the city needs to look for those small to medium businesses that are flourishing within the modern economy. All these offices are virtually plug and play as some are even furnished.

As was written recently, Calgary’s business taxes are outright out of control. 

It’s a competitive world. Businesses simply won’t move to a location where taxes are too high and Calgary’s are way too high. Sadly Mayor Nenshi and most of city council are obsessed with vanity projects such as the Olympics and ugly public art projects which consume tax dollars when they should be seeking ways to reduce spending in order to reduce taxes.

Unless Calgary reduces the business tax burden, Calgary’s downtown will keep its vast number of empty offices.

Calgary needs to drastically reduce the parking rates.

Parking costs downtown amount to another tax on businesses down there. Companies either have to spend to pay for their employees parking spaces or compensate their employees more in order to offset the cost for the employees.

This is due to an ideological push from Calgary city hall over the years to try and force people out of their cars and into public transit. The city owns the bulk of the parking spaces downtown which allows them to essentially set the baseline price. In keeping supplies of parking spaces down through regulation on new buildings and in taking spaces out for barely used bicycle tracks Calgary managed to get the grossly expensive parking rates that were highlighted earlier.

The effort failed. Calgarians still overwhelmingly choose to live in the suburbs and they choose to drive their personal vehicles to work. They won’t ride bikes or get on cramped sporadic buses. City hall needs to face reality and accommodate consumer demand by reducing parking costs downtown and adding more spaces as needed. Despite their rainbow and unicorn ideals professed, companies don’t choose headquarters based on the number of bike tracks. They look at the dollars spent and the comfort and convenience of their staff.

Next, the city of Calgary needs to massively reduce their regulatory burden on businesses. Just this week it was in the news how a local brew pub had to spend over $10,000 and wait 11 months just to get a tiny patio approved. 

This is ridiculous but this is typical. Calgary city hall is massively bloated and massively over managed. Useless regulatory burdens cost businesses in the city untold millions in compliance. These regulations cost taxpayers millions in administration and staff that we simply don’t need. City hall needs a strong bureaucratic suppository to flush out the clingons which would allow for the tax cuts that businesses to desperately need.

Calgary is run by a tax and spend administration right now and we all are paying the price for it. Council and administration need a massive change of attitude which likely won’t happen for at least another 3 years.

Small business needs to be courted and embraced rather than seen as a tax cow to be milked and regulated.

Downtown Calgary needs to be seen as a place to do business in rather than being a giant pet project where a pipe dream of some sort of bike riding, pedestrian utopia is to be created with tax dollars despite the wishes of citizens.

Until all the above changes are made, the massive empty spaces sitting in downtown will remain as an opportunity lost.

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Calgary’s 12 Ave bicycle track causing nearly 1/4 million extra driving hours per year for commuters

hipbike

The numbers are starting to come in from Calgary’s controversial and expensive bicycle track experiment and they aren’t pretty. Proponents highballed numbers claiming as many as 12,000 cycle commuters per day when pushing for the tracks. They then moved the goalposts to the more realistic couple thousand per day for a baseline when the tracks went in. Despite those number crunching efforts and an extremely mild winter, the cyclist numbers simply are not that impressive. The tiny but vocal cycle lobby has been sadly trying to cherry pick numbers such as a nearly insignificant uptick in female ridership in hopes of claiming success but it is falling on deaf ears for commuters tired of languishing in traffic only to see empty cycle lanes taking up parking and laneways.

Naheed Nenshi said in a radio interview that on 12th Avenue alone the cycle track has added a 2 to 2.5 minutes for drivers to get a short 14 blocks.

While those numbers sound small at a glance, one really needs to look at the cumulative impact of these tracks and in that context they are staggering and bad.

When crunching the numbers and being generous on 12th Ave alone, we see the addition of nearly a quarter million driving hours per year in the city due to the tracks!


12th Avenue SW in Calgary moves between 15,000 and 21,000 cars on an average weekday. It is a very busy avenue on weekends too as it is a main artery. I picked the lower part of the average and used 17,000 cars per day.

In splitting the difference in Nenshi’s numbers, we get an average of 2.25 minutes of driving time per driver due to the tracks which adds up to 637.5 extra automotive hours per day on that road.

When those extra hours are applied over the course of a year, we have 232,687.5 extra hours per year that cars are running on 12 Ave SW due to the empty cycle tracks.

So much for proponent claims that these tracks would reduce traffic.

The cost of so many wasted hours cant be understated.

What kind of environmental impact is caused by an extra 232,687.5 hours of active vehicular traffic?

What does this add up to for consumers as extra fuel is purchased and extra wear and tear is imposed on vehicles due to this slow, start and stop traffic?

How about productivity? I bet if those 1/4 million hours were applied to work rather than sitting in traffic, we would see some benefits.

How about quality of life? 232,687.5 unnecessary hours are being wasted sitting in cars. What if that time was spent with family? Perhaps in the gym? Maybe simply sleeping or getting a better breakfast. Pretty much anything is better than sitting in traffic without cause.

These numbers are from just one avenue in Calgary. The cycle tracks are on many other streets and are impacting traffic there too. What kind of extra commute time numbers are we talking when all of the cycle tracks are added up? Possibly into the millions of hours.

Millions of hours of time wasted with fuel burned by Calgarians so that a handful of hipsters can use cycle tracks downtown during good weather. Is this a good trade?

Calgary has one of the best cycle path systems in North America but you wouldn’t know it to listen to the few but shrill downtown cycle lobbyists.

City council needs to look at the real and cumulative impact of these tracks downtown. They are a failure and should be removed if the interests of the majority of Calgarians are to be taken into consideration.

Of course, if the interest is an anti-auto agenda rather than that of the majority of Calgarians, we can expect these tracks to stay no matter how terrible the numbers are.

Sad when the damage and cost is considered.

 

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City of Calgary’s war on cars getting ridiculous.

Macleod Trail

I honestly have to wonder if the plan to close an entire lane on downtown Calgary’s section of Macleod Trail (1 St SE) in order to put in a bike track is not a bait and switch tactic. Perhaps the plan is to get people so worked up with this profoundly stupid plan that Calgarians will sigh in relief when our ideologues in city planning decide to move the lanes over to 4 St SE in that precious parking lot of subsidies that they call “East Village”. The question on most people’s minds when it comes to this plan is; “Can they really be that stupid?”. Sadly the answer is yes.

Let’s look at some numbers right now to dispel some of the weak bullshit that proponents of this pending traffic catastrophe are using in order to justify this idiocy. Last spring the city took a lane of parking from 7 St. SW and created a separated bike track. I checked it out and didn’t find it too bad aside from a lack of cyclists actually using it. The lane came at tremendous expense as our cities finest needed to have 10 people to paint a simple box. It’s done, the lane is now there and we are expected to get over it.

Well in a matter of a few months the city has compiled some numbers and now is claiming that traffic flow has increased on 7 St SW due to the bike track. At best that is a half truth. Traffic flow on 7 St. SW has increased but that has been due entirely to the city finally synchronizing the traffic light system there and has nothing to do with the lane itself. Those lights could (and bloody well should) have been synchronized with the same effect on traffic flow without a bike track being placed at all.

Some are trying to spoon-feed us the horsepoop that this justifies the crazy plan to close an entire traffic lane on one of downtown Calgary’s busiest streets and that this will actually aid traffic flow on Macleod Trail South. Macleod Trail South (1 St SE) and 7 St. SW are completely incomparable as city transportation corridors and it is nothing less than utterly disingenuous to try and compare them as many are trying to do.

To begin with, the lane taken to use as a bike track on 7th St. SW was a parking lane, not a driving one. If anything, just the loss of people stopping and meddling around to parallel park eased flow a little bit. If traffic flow was the real goal, it could likely have been doubled simply by getting rid of the parking lane and opening it up to vehicular traffic along with synchronizing the traffic lights. Many drivers now choose to use other streets to drive rather than the one with the bike track as well which contributes to increased flow on 7th but decreases flow wherever they have spilled to of course. To reiterate, the bike track itself had nothing to do with the increase in traffic flow on 7th St. SW.

Next, 7th St. SW was one of the least used streets in all of downtown Calgary. It is a short connector of a street with only a couple lanes that only moved about 5,000 cars per day. Macleod Trail South (1 St. SE) in the city core however moves over 25,000 vehicles per day and is one of the most critical arteries in the entire core. The proposed area for this ludicrous bike track is not a parking lane, it is a traffic lane and it is heavily utilized. To squash thousands and thousands of cars into even less lanes will impact traffic on all of the roads feeding this critical route as well. Anybody who works downtown knows just how fun it is to try and turn on to 1 St SE during rush hour. Now imagine that task with one less lane and a ridiculous two way bike lane in the way. We can count on increased traffic jams on 4th Ave, 6th Ave and so on as people desperately try to adjust to this loss of critical infrastructure. There are bus stops on one side of the street and will be bike tracks on the other. Over 25,000 vehicles will be squashed in between as there is no comparable egress from downtown nearby.

The statement that the transportation planning is anti-car is quite well justified when looking at this lunacy from them. To purposely target the busiest street in all of Calgary to accommodate 1% of commuters proves this point rather well. Why the hell is it impossible to synchronize traffic lights throughout the city anyway? Oh yeah, our planners are focused on traffic “calming” rather than flow. In the last 20 years the percentage of people who choose to commute to work on bikes in Calgary has remained at a flat 1% range despite a huge increase in bike infrastructure.

There will always be a hardy one in a hundred souls who want to ride a bike to work all year round. That number has not grown however and it simply will not. People will not give up their cars and ride bikes to work no matter how hard our city tries to pressure them to. Do we really expect a middle aged person in the suburbs to decide to spend an extra two hours of their day riding a bike back and forth to work in the snow downtown? How about in summer? How many folks do you think will ride a bike for 15km each way in 30 degree heat? Do they all have the time and means to shower and change every day at work or will they funk it out? We have to get realistic here.

If city transportation planning really isn’t anti-car, then why does cycle infrastructure always seem to come at the expense of vehicle infrastructure that is already heavily in use?

As a growing city, we have pressures on our transportation infrastructure. Our freespending mayor loves using that as an excuse to keep up his lobbying for record tax increases. We will get much more bang for our buck in transportation infrastructure if we began planning and building it to reflect the real needs and wants of commuters. That would require having city hall dropping their anti-car agenda however and I am not sure if and when that may happen.

As a final note, it is not like we shouldn’t have seen this coming. The city planners released a plan to run a bike lane at the expense of as many as two automotive lanes down the entire length of Macleod Trail. Don’t underestimate their capacity for ideologically driven foolishness.

 

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Tell me where to go!

I know, people usually don’t need an invitation to tell me where to go and usually do so without hesitation.

In this case I am asking folks to direct me to where these apparent 12,000 daily bicycle trips in in Calgary’s downtown are happening. That 12,000 number has been used over and over and indeed it is referenced on the City of Calgary’s own site.

I simply have not been able to believe that number is even close to accurate so I have been going out and measuring bike traffic on city bike lanes during what should be peak times for bicycle traffic heading downtown. The maximum I have been able to find has been 52 bikes in a peak hour on the 10 ST NW lane. On some bike lanes I have been lucky to find even a handful of bicycles.

Now I know I have been rather stuck on this but it is important. Busy automotive lanes are being closed throughout Calgary in order to make lanes for bicycles that frankly just don’t seem to exist. Our city has limited infrastructure dollars as it is and we can’t be pissing money down the drain on infrastructure that is based on an ideological need rather than actual citizen need or use.

Now the folks in the fanatical bike lobby in Calgary have been getting rather grumpy with me. Some of the comments on my posts have tried to claim that I am picking less than ideal times to measure or that my snapshots are too limited. When I ask where I can go to find a count that would reflect this apparent 12,000 daily bike rides downtown I tend to get greeted with silence or insults.

One exchange was rather funny. I had done my second count on the 11 St SE bike lane which appears to be the least utilized in all of Calgary. On one day I counted 2 bikes and on another day I couldn’t even find a single bike during rush hour. When commenting on this on twitter, I got this response from one of the prime bike fanatic accounts in Calgary:

 

It was nice to see a bike proponent acknowledge that the 11 St SE bike lane indeed was not a busy bike spot. When I responded and asked why we even have a bike lane there at all since it isn’t in use, he disappeared without response of course. This only re-enforces my case that the whole thing with most of our bike lanes in Calgary is not based on need or usage at all, it is all about an anti-car ideology. Two automotive lanes were removed on 11 St SE in order to put in these utterly useless bike lanes yet the bike lobbyists refuse to let it go. That sort of says it all.

Now back to my initial point. I am inviting bike enthusiasts or pretty much anybody else to direct me to the location and time where I can find evidence that 12,000 bicycle trips are indeed happening daily in downtown Calgary. Calgary’s downtown really only has so many ways in and out of it. It should not be hard at all to direct me to a spot where I can count at least a couple thousand bicycles during the morning rush. It would still only be a fraction of the daily use.

I have demonstrated repeatedly that I am willing and able to set up and accurately count bicycle users on bike lanes. Now, do what should come easily and tell me where to go.

I look forward to finally finding this elusive hoard of bicycle commuters into downtown Calgary and reporting it here. 🙂

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