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City of Calgary Cycling Strategy

Posted by: Alan Fedoruk | June 19, 2011 | No Comment |

I like the new Cycling Strategy.

I will concede a few things about it:

  • it is not brilliant;
  • it is not original;
  • it is not detailed;
  • it is not very ambitious.

The strategy rests on three pillars: I Plan, Design and Build; II Operate and Maintain; III Educate and Promote. This is good stuff. It is not innovative or groundbreaking and it is definitely inside the box, but it will get the job done. These pillars and most of the details that go with it are well known strategies and tactics that have been used in other jurisdictions. If you were to ask any cycling advocate they would likely come up with something similar. Calgary is not the first city to try to increase the cycling mode share! There is no need to invent our own unique solutions; we can use what works.

A common complaint regarding the strategy is that it is lacking detail and it is. But it is a strategy, not an implementation plan. For a strategy document it includes a lot of detail on what needs to be done in the next few years, and in fact there are more than 50 actions listed. Some of these actions are not all that specific, for example

C1: Engage key stakeholders in creating a new Pathway and Bikeway Implementation Plan.

Sigh. Another round of planning. It would be better to have construction on new lanes start at the end of the month a la the airport tunnel, but this is the process.

It is not all that ambitious. Given that Calgary has a head start, we can copy cities like Portland and Montreal, we should be able to do far better than 4% of downtown commuters on bikes by 2020. Draw a 5 km radius circle around downtown. There are a huge number of people living in that circle that work in the core. Those are the people that can switch from cars and transit to cycling. If the same were done around the U of C, Foothills Hospital, and MRU, there is the potential for thousands and thousands more to switch to bike commuting. The universities and hospitals are ahead of the game as they already have good destination facilities (showers, racks).

Even if the 4% goals is not very ambitious, at least it is a quantifiable goal. I was concerned that the strategy would only contain statements like “make the city more bike friendly”. With a statement like that anything, like a new bike rack at city hall,  that is done can be said to meet the goal.

The strategy is missing some things, notably

  • ongoing stakeholder consultation;
  • emphasis on education for children.

Action C1 above calls for engaging the stakeholders to create the implementation plan. Wouldn’t it be better to have a permanent advisory committee? This would be something like CPAC or maybe even an expanded CPAC. It would include representation from cycling groups, cyclists, pedestrians, motorists, and business. Inevitably there is going to be pushback as soon as shovels hit the ground. Possibly having broad stakeholder input before that can alleviate some of that.

Kids should learn about safe cycling in school. If we get this generation of kids cycling to school and using bikes as a primary means of transportation, maybe more of them will continue that as adults, and if they don’t they will still be better motorists because of their cycling experience.

I also think that trying to implement a bike sharing system too soon will just cause it to fail, but I have never been too excited by bike sharing schemes. I have two bikes.

All in all it is a perfectly acceptable strategy. It is built on sound ideas and acknowledges that fear of getting mangled by a drunk and texting SUV driver is what is keeping people from cycling more. Now we need to get the strategy funded and to get on with making improvements. It is in line with the long term vision for Calgary, PlanIT, and it supports the transportation pyramid. The cost of the strategy, $9 M per year, is so small that it should really be rubber stamped. Given the tight constraints the city is under this will be money well spent, and it will benefit all Calgarians through less wear and tear on the roads, improved traffic flow, a fitter and healthier population, less pollution, and a net financial gain for everyone.

Lets hope that this gets approved quickly and crews are out building lanes and painting bike boxes soon.

By the numbers

under: Bike, Calgary, Cycling

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