With Calgary’s cycle track proposal, numbers do indeed matter.

With the next Calgary Transportation committee meeting on the proposed (and ridiculous) cycle track network for downtown looming, people are paying more attention to the numbers in this issue and the numbers do not look good for cycle proponents.

Hard examples are building up that simply put lie to the tiresome “if you build it, they will come” theory¬†with bicycle infrastructure. Calgary has one of the most extensive pathway networks on the continent. Still the number of cycle commuters was barely over 1%. “We must build bike lanes!” was the cry of the cycle advocates.

Bike lanes sprung up throughout the city. Numbers were batted around by the cycle proponents claiming as many as 12,000 people cycle into Calgary’s downtown daily. Search as I may, they could not be found. With multiple counts throughout the city it was confirmed that there were still only a tiny number of cycle commuters going downtown despite all the lanes. Some lanes hardly draw more than a couple cyclists per day even. Other counts can be found here and here.

Having clearly established that the 12,000 cyclist claim was utter nonsense, the cry now moved to “We must build separated bike tracks!”

Portland Oregon and Vancouver BC both tried extensive bike track networks. By the business numbers, the network in Vancouver was a failure and by the usage increases both networks were failures.

Well 7 St SW got a separated bike track and the results are as dismal as the rest of the initiatives. Just today I went down there to have a look. With good weather on a busy weekday the lanes and bike racks were empty.

The only thing missing was tumbleweed.

Now when members from Calgary Transportation stand before a committee and try to imply than more than 1000 rides per day are happening on that lane, is it any wonder that tempers get frayed and words like bullshit are used?

We would like to think that Calgary’s Transportation planners would try to be as objective as possible when using figures such as traffic statistics. What we are seeing from Calgary Transportation is gross exaggerations based on short measures that can only lead us to mistrust them even further. Are these transportation planners or advocates?

Just as we can’t measure all cycle traffic based on a measure at 2am on a -30 January day, we can’t plan based on numbers hi-balled in a short count at a peak time in August.

The numbers matter. The numbers are in $10s of millions of tax dollars when the infrastructure being impacted is considered and the numbers of cyclists appear to remain insignificant. We are talking about closing lanes on Macleod Trail and 12 Ave here. These are critical roadways for personal autos and transit alike.

If Calgary’s cycle network can only be justified through massaging the numbers and exaggerating the demand, I think it is safe to say that the network is not worthwhile.

We are not getting lost in a numbers game. It is the only game that counts in the end.

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.