Where are all these bikes hiding?

Well, it has been over a year since the city of Calgary really ramped up their rather aggressive policy of dropping bike-lanes on us in areas with little demand and with little warning. The city almost always calls these “pilot-projects” yet when these projects fail they still never seem to go away. The miniscule but profoundly vocal bike lobby in Calgary has been more shrill than usual lately and it appears to be paying off as City Council has just approved making “bike-tracks” on 6th and 7th street in downtown Calgary. Depending on the design, these “tracks” will cost potentially as many as 120 parking spaces downtown and will cause some new snow removal challenges. Downtown business associations raised concerns but they were shrugged off as they languish in an increasingly inaccessible city core with parking costs second only to New York City in all of North America.

The number cooking, hyperbole and outright misinformation from the bike crowd has been striking. One of the most fluid anecdotal numbers being tossed all over the place is the estimated number of bikes that commute daily into our city core. I have seen numbers from 6000-12000 tossed out there.

The only measure that I can find is here where it is estimated that bikes make up between one and two percent of downtown commuter traffic. That is a 100% margin of error so it leaves more than a little room for interpretation here. The bottom line is that nobody really accurately knows how many bikes actually commute downtown daily.

Another number tossed out there is that while bikes make up potentially as much as 2% of the traffic out there, they are being ripped off as only .05% of infrastructure is directly dedicated to them. That number is sheer bunk when it is considered that bikes utilize nearly every road in the city, alleys, parks and sidewalks at time. Cars are 100% limited to driving on automotive infrastructure.

Some other justification for bike lanes/tracks has been pointing out how much cheaper they are than automotive lanes being only$25,000 to $100,000 km to make as opposed to upwards of millions per km for road lanes. Again that is simply bunk. The bike lanes are being built on top of automotive lanes that taxpayers already paid to build! That is not a savings in any way. This is extra expenditure.

I even heard Mayor Nenshi making the case that every extra bike put on the road helps ease traffic for us all. As these extra bikes come at a cost to many lanes of formerly drivable roads, it will take thousands of extra bike riders to make up for the lost roadways. That simply is not happening. Bike ridership has remained static in Calgary for over  21 years. It simply is not growing no matter how hard city hall tries to choke traffic to encourage it.

Yesterday I had to travel down South to run some errands. My wife Jane constantly has railed about the bike lanes that were created on 11 st SE at the expense of two driving lanes despite rarely ever seeing a bike using the bike lanes. With all the disparate numbers out there I figured I would check things out for myself. I went to Staples and purchased a little handheld counter for accuracy’s sake and parked myself on 11 St. SE between 4pm and 5pm to count the number of bikes in rush hour as pictured below.


Well it turns out that I didn’t really need that spiffy tally tool. The grand total of bikes using the bike lanes on 11 St SE during rush hour was:

That is correct. The number was two! I did not forget a couple zeros. I did not nod off and have 500 bikes sneak by me. On a busy Thursday rush hour only 2 bikes used the bike lanes during peak hours.

Lets assume that perhaps 12 bikes per day use those lanes (that will drop in winter). For these bikes, we have given up two entire automotive lanes and made a double-wide and useless turning lane in the middle of 11 St SE to complement the unused bike lanes on each side of the road. This street is now a priority one road for plowing as well as the needs of 12 bikers are more important to the city during snowstorms than streets with firehalls or school zones.

I should give some benefit of the doubt here. Perhaps the city planners ate the brown acid that day and this was a one off. Other bike lanes have been well worth it right?

Well, typically I spend the early morning drinking a coffee and reading the news. Today I thought I would pop down to 10 St NW by SAIT to count the bikes there. That street was a pilot project turned permanent that was dumped on us over a year ago despite great objection from citizens.

Now last year a ballpark estimate was given that perhaps 600 bikes per day use 10th St NW to commute downtown (while 15,000 cars do). Those 15,000 cars have been jammed into one lane rather than two now and the congestion is brutal. Still the upswing in bike ridership should compensate for that no?

The city and the bike lobby has always claimed the old “if you build it, they will come” sort of attitude. If 10th St NW had apparently 600 bikes per day using it before the bike lanes were created, that street should be a veritable Tour De France by now right?

Well between 7am and 8am I counted a grand total of  52 bikes using the lanes in either direction! That works out to even less than the use claimed before the lanes were built!

Yes while cars lined up and passed by the thousands, a mere 52 bikes used the lanes that were built at the expense of a very busy artery into our city core.

One thing I did note though is there is a terrible bottleneck at the pedestrian crossing as many bike riders play the game of suddenly becoming pedestrians and hitting the light to cross as seen in the video below.

So it is safely determined that these thousands of bikes are not coming into downtown from the 10 St NW bike lanes despite them apparently being ideally placed for Northwest Calgary traffic. Where then are these bikes sneaking in?

I decided to head down to one of our better travelled bike paths to see if the bikes were indeed packed fender to fender there in agony trying to get to work but stalled due to our critical lack of bike infrastructure. To be fair here, I am strongly supportive of bike paths such as the one on the Bow as they do encourage and enable more bike and pedestrian traffic and they do it without impacting existing vehicular lanes!

My count in 1/2 an hour was 41 bikes.

While that is certainly a better number than 10 St NW was, it still does not account for these thousands of missing bikes that apparently head downtown daily. Some are claiming that 5% of downtown traffic is bike traffic. Anybody driving downtown on a regular basis knows that this is utter hogwash. There simply is no congestion or shortage of bike infrastructure and choking vehicular traffic is not causing increased bike ridership.

The lanes are failing all over. The 10th Avenue lane is proving to be a failure and again no flood of bikes or drop in traffic have resulted.

How many more vehicular lanes will be wiped out by a bike obsessed city hall despite a lack of need? How many parking spaces gone despite a gross shortage of them? How much longer will city hall ignore Calgary citizens as they move along on this bike crusade?

That is up to us folks. It is a year to election time. I strongly suggest that we wake up and clean house in city hall. It is simply getting nuts down there.

14 thoughts on “Where are all these bikes hiding?

  1. I have been waiting for someone to do a published count, thanks…
    For about 18 years I have driven 11 st se between 6:45 and 7:30, Monday to Friday… I think I have seen about 5 cyclists on that street in 18 years… There is no massive need for bike infrastructure, the need does not exist.. Its a delusional anti-car fringe movement pulling the feel good strings at city hall..

  2. Well Richard, I did indeed google as your link provides. Everything keeps sourcing back to that guess between 1&2% which is essentially useless considering they can’t even ballpark by half. 10th is supposed to have 16,000 cars per day most of which pass during peak hours so yes there were indeed thousands of cars over an hour

  3. From the second Google result, http://bikecalgary.org/node/3179: “During the 2011 morning peak hour, 19,287 cars, 197 trucks, and 330 buses were counted entering the CBD. The percentage of bicycles [1,182] among peak hour road traffic is thus 5.6% (up from 5.2% in 2009).” You can find the precise numbers for the 2% of downtown commuters claim in that link as well.

    The ratio of morning peak hour to total traffic for downtown is about 1:11, which would make the morning peak hour car traffic on 10 Street about 1,200-1,300, if traffic is still the same as the 2010 count at 15,000 total. In mid-June I did a count on 10 St and 17 Ave, counting 528 cars northbound over 40 minutes in the pm peak hour, that would scale to 14,600 cars in 24 hours using the ratio of pm outbound peak to 24 hour total of about 1:28 from the cordon counts, so it’s about the right number you’d expect with 15,000 cars total. In the same period, I counted 62 bikes, or 10.5% of the total NB peak hour traffic on 10 St.

  4. 41 bikes in a 30 minute span. Even if you use 16/24 hours you end up with: 1312/day

    Add those numbers with the numbers from the many ways to get into down town and you have your thousands. As gas prices grow and the strain on families is felt even more as time goes on, more and more people will be resorting to alternative transportation. It’s a matter of getting with the times or falling behind.

    It’s always the same group complaining about the problems (city gridlock traffic) while also complaining about the solutions. I didn’t sign up for that when I became a Conservative.

  5. Candice that is 41 on the busiest path in the city during rush hour. Aside from the rush hours, very few use that path and after dark nearly none do.

    The bottom line is that there simply is no way that bikes in the 10 thousand range are heading into the core daily. Anybody working in the core can see that as clear as day.

    The demand simply is not there nor will it be.

  6. Fear not Richard. I will go out in January or February and do a recount. Perhaps my initial seeking of the bikes was a one-off sort of thing. Doubtless I will encounted those bikes in the thousands and thousands that apparently only those in the bike lobby can see. 🙂

  7. Why wait until Januray? Just go out in the middle of the night, do a 30 minute count, and proclaim that there are 0 people that ever use any bike lane or path anywhere in this city.

  8. I use 40th Ave NW as access to my place from Crowchild Trail. In a year and a half, I’ve only seen 1 bike use the lane there. They have changed it once due to traffic backups at the four way stop but it’s still there.

  9. The city first changed 52 St. NW off Home Road to a one way, 2 lanes, going South. Then they blocked off one lane for a bike lane, so there is one lane for traffic with cars parking along the curb. I use that road quite often, and I have only seen one bike using it.
    If they want to block off roads meant for cars, they should start licensing the bike to let them help pay for them. The cost should be equivalent to what motor vehicles have to pay. They would soon find out how many people are serious about needing bike lanes.

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