How one city’s big idea transformed urban cycling all at once

My home city of Calgary made waves last year by installing an entire downtown network of separated bike lanes, all at once. Here’s a spin through the city a year later, to assess its success.


Also published on Medium.

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4 Comments

  1. Frank Krygowski

    That seemed like a largely fact-free promotional video! In the beginning, he mentions that Calgary was a car-centered place. At the end, he says it’s still a car city, with very little utility riding. “Boldness pays off…”? But how?

    I don’t doubt that more people are riding since the network went in. But there’s no mention of how many more, to judge the return on the investment. And it’s worth noting that San Francisco experienced a big increase in bike use during the time when a lawsuit prevented the construction of any bike facilities at all. Biking simply became fashionable during that time.

    Is that the case in Calgary? If so, the obvious problem is that fashions come and go. Yet the “still plenty of room for improvement” may remain – for example, the hazard of motorists making right turns across a cyclist who feels ‘protected’ by a bike lane, as almost happened at 1:20 in the video. Like it or not, cyclists at the edge of the road are less safe than cyclists who are visible in the lane.

    Finally, it’s interesting that European design codes have abandoned the idea of bi-directional bike lanes (like at 0:30 in the video) as being less safe than ordinary streets. But American dreamers still claim these are wonderful. See this article by Europe’s most influential bike promoter: http://www.copenhagenize.com/2014/06/explaining-bi-directional-cycle-track.html

    I don’t doubt that there are things that can make cycling more appealing, and in some cases make it a bit safer. However, I don’t think that weird facility designs are the best strategy.

    Keep in mind that cycling is already an extremely safe activity, with benefits far outweighing its tiny risks. (No study has ever denied that.) That’s true even on ordinary streets. If cyclists simply educate themselves on correct riding techniques, they can ride wherever they choose, with no need to be limited to segregated paths. And if we begin to enforce proper behavior by motorists, we can diminish the unreasonable fear that dissuades many from making better use of their bikes.

    • Rolf

      Totally agree with you on the education part of your comment. I bike every day to work and as an exercise, and it drives me nuts when I see cyclists burn red lights or use the side walks and the pedestrian lights as a right of way. If we Cyclist want a better infrastructure (separated or not) we all must adhere to the traffic rules first, then we can make demands for others to also do the same and have tolerance and respect for us all!
      Yes, cycling is safe and is made safer by the cyclist following all the rules of the road.

  2. Good comments and I agree with many of them. This wasn’t intended to be a comprehensive look at the network. I’ve written about it extensively elsewhere, including here: http://calgaryherald.com/life/swerve/one-cyclist-celebrates-the-first-anniversary-of-calgarys-cycle-track-by-thanking-an-unlikely-councillor.

    A few facts for you: More people are riding since the tracks went in, according to city statistics: http://www.calgary.ca/Transportation/TP/Pages/Cycling/Bike-Data.aspx

    The cycle tracks saw a boost in collisions immediately after they went in, but that has since fallen to levels below what they were before the lanes went in. http://www.calgary.ca/Transportation/TP/Pages/Cycling/Cycling-Route-Improvements/Downtown-cycle-track-pilot-project.aspx

    I agree the bi-directional lanes are not ideal, but my interpretation of Mikael Colville-Andersen that you cite isn’t that bi-directional lanes are worse than nothing. It’s that uni-directional are best. We do have a few of these in Calgary, and I find them superior. I hope we get more.

    Also: Cycling is a safe activity, but we’ve built up a culture of fear around it, and safe bike lanes help combat that perception. We’ve had 40 years of trying to encourage cyclists and motorists to get along (a.k.a. vehicular cycling: http://shifter.info/heres-what-happened-when-one-city-rejected-vehicular-cycling/) and it didn’t work. Bike lanes are aleady working.

    My larger point was simply to say this is a good start. It’s aleady made a difference, but much work remains to make cycling a truly viable transportation alternative.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

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