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.