Keep or kill Calgary's cycle track network? Final report is in

Have the separated bike lanes in downtown Calgary met their goals? Check out the results of the final report, which will guide council as it votes to keep, change or kill the project later this month.

City councillors to review data and hear from public before voting to keep or kill the cycle track network

The cover image from the final report on Calgary's Centre City Cycle Track Network. (City of Calgary)

Click here for the latest news on the city's cycle tracks.

The final report is in on Calgary's downtown network of separated bike lanes and, later this month, city council will decide whether to keep, change or kill the project.

The Centre City Cycle Track Network was built 18 months ago and has been controversial from its inception.

Originally approved by an 8-7 vote at city council, the pilot project was given a year and a half to demonstrate its worth before facing another vote by council in December 2016.

  • You can find the city's full report on the cycle tracks at the bottom of this story

The city says the entire project — including lane separations and related infrastructure such as new signs, signals and those green 'turn boxes' you see at some major intersections — cost $5.5 million, coming in $1.6 million under budget.

City staff have been gathering data on the impact of the cycle tracks, which they've compiled into a report that will be presented to a city committee on Thursday next week, then to council as a whole on Dec. 19.

So how has the network performed? Let's take a look.

Goal 1: Ridership

Various metrics will be used to evaluate the success of the cycle tracks, but the most talked about measure is the number of people using them.

The city set goals to double, triple or even quadruple ridership along different sections of the network, compared to baseline measurements taken in the fall of 2014.

Here is an interactive map depicting the various bike-count locations. The locations in black are ahead of city ridership targets. Those in red are behind the target levels. Click on each location for specific numbers:

As you can see from exploring the numbers in the map above, the ridership results have been uneven.

The Fifth Street S.W. cycle track has been smashing its targets and the western portion of 12th Avenue South has been exceeding expectations, too.

The rest of the network hasn't fared as well, however, with some sections seeing below-target growth in ridership — or no growth at all.

Goal 2: Satisfaction

Based on phone surveys and interviews, city staff evaluated whether Calgarians are satisfied with the experience of walking, biking and driving along the cycle track routes.

Targets vary slightly from route to route, but the general goal was an increase of 10 to 30 percentage points in cyclist and pedestrian satisfaction, and no reduction in driver satisfaction.

Here's how many satisfied pedestrians, cyclists and motorists they found before the network was built and after:

As you can see, the biggest gains in satisfaction came among cyclists.

Changes in the number of satisfied pedestrians and motorists, by contrast, were small and mixed.

Goal 3: Safety

The city set a target of a 10-per-cent reduction in the collision rate along cycle track routes, as measured by police data.

The final numbers in the report compare the annual average of collisions of all types — including those between cars, bicycles and/or pedestrians — at various points along the network as of June 2014 to the number of collisions between July 2015 and July 2016, when the cycle tracks were in place.

Scroll your mouse over or tap on this interactive graph to explore the results:

As you can see, the number of crashes declined on Fifth Street S.W. and 12th Avenue South — the two most collision-prone routes — to levels below the target.

There was no change on Eighth Avenue S.W., meanwhile, and an increase of six collisions on Stephen Avenue.

Goal 4: Driving Time

The cycle track network uses 6.5 lane-kilometres of downtown roadway that used to be available to cars, representing about two per cent of total travel lanes in the city's core.

This has been one the most common complaints among motorists about the cycle tracks — that the loss of lanes would make their commutes longer. 

​Based on GPS data and physical stopwatch trials, city staff measured how long it took drivers to travel along the cycle track routes during rush hour. The goal was to keep any increase in travel time below 20 per cent.

Scroll your mouse over or tap on this interactive graph to explore the results:

As you can see, the only route where driving time increased above the target level was 12th Avenue South during the morning commute, eastbound.

The same route in the afternoon saw a big decrease in travel time, but the report says that's likely due to construction of the nearby Hotel Arts in 2014 affecting baseline measurements at the time.

Driving times along Eighth Avenue S.W., meanwhile, stayed the same in the afternoon commute and decreased slightly (15 seconds) during the morning commute.

Goal 5: Unlawful cycling

In 2014, along the future cycle track routes before the separated lanes were installed, city staff measured the proportion of cyclists who were illegally riding on the sidewalk or against traffic on the road.

Based on direct observation and recordings from video cameras, they then compared unlawful riding along the same routes in 2016, once the cycle tracks were in place.

The goal was to reduce sidewalk cycling to below two per cent.

Scroll your mouse over or tap on this interactive graph to explore the results:

On this front, it seems the cycle tracks had one of their biggest impacts, as unlawful sidewalk riding dropped precipitously along each route.

It did remain above the two-per-cent target on 12th Avenue, however, with 3.3 per cent of cyclists observed using the sidewalk even after the cycle track was built. That was down from 23 per cent in 2014, though.

For cyclists riding against traffic, the goal was zero per cent, which was achieved along Fifth Street S.W. and 12th Avenue South. Along Eighth Avenue S.W., the observed rate was 0.1 per cent.

Secondary goal: More women, children, seniors

In addition to the five main metrics, the city also examined several "secondary performance measures" including the age and gender of cyclists.

The goal was to have female ridership grow to account for at least 25 per cent of people using the network, and to increase the number of cyclists under the age 14 and over the age of 65, compared to baselines from two years earlier.

Again, this was measured using in-person observations and video recordings of cycle traffic in September 2016 compared to September 2014.

The proportion of female cyclists measured at the network's three middle count locations grew to 30 per cent, up from 22 per cent.

The proportion of children and young teens, meanwhile, grew to 1.3 per cent, up from 0.1 per cent.

No significant increase in the proportion of senior cyclists was observed, however.

Secondary goal: More business

The city also set out to measure the economic impact on businesses near the cycle tracks, based on surveys of both merchants and potential patrons.

The report notes the baseline measurements were taken in 2014, however, before the economic downturn that has since gripped the city in the wake of the oil-price crash.

Potential patrons walking along the cycle track route reported no change, on average, in the number of visits they said they made to businesses in the area in 2014 compared to 2016.

They did report spending less money at those businesses, however — an average of $131 per month in 2016 versus $153 in 2014.

Merchants, meanwhile, mostly reported a decline in customer traffic to an average of 92 per day in 2016, compared to 112 per day in 2014.

The only exception were merchants along 12th Avenue South, who reported an average of 71 customers per day in 2016, which was virtually unchanged from the 70 per day they reported two years earlier.

What's next?

None of these numbers, on their own, will make or break the cycle tracks.

The data in the report will likely guide the decisions of Calgary's lawmakers but, ultimately, it will be up to the 15 members of city council to decide whether the network stays or goes.

City staff will formally present the report to a subset of those councillors who sit on the city's transportation committee when it meets on Dec. 8. Members of the public will also have the chance to speak to committee members during that meeting.

Then, the report — and the final decision — is set to go before council, as a whole, on Dec. 19.

And remember: back in April 2014, council voted by the narrowest of margins to implement the cycle-track network as a pilot project in the first place.

For the record, the eight who voted in favour were councillors Evan Woolley, Druh Farrell, Gian-Carlo Carra, Andre Chabot, Richard Pootmans, Shane Keating, Brian Pincott and Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

The seven who voted against were councillors Ward Sutherland, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Peter Demong, Sean Chu, Joe Magliocca, Jim Stevenson and Ray Jones.