Calgary cyclist advocate wants city to fix 'impossible' construction detours

Path users are increasingly calling on the city to do better when it comes to planning and executing detours for two-wheelers after a few summer gaffes caught commuters off guard.

After several sketchy construction detours bike boosters want Calgary to follow a better standard

The Bow River pathway will be closed between 14th Street and 29th Street N.W. until mid-October. (James Young/CBC)

Traffic headaches and construction detours aren't just for motorists this summer — cyclists and path users are getting their fair share.

But path users are increasingly calling on the city to do better when it comes to planning and executing detours for two-wheelers after a few summer gaffes caught commuters off guard.

The most recent detour was alongside Memorial Drive in the Parkdale area.

The city said it sent information to nearby community associations and posted signs for the detour meant to last until October.

Some cyclists who snuck by the detour barriers ended up on Memorial Drive between 14th and 29th Streets N.W. as cars whizzed by — a safety concern the city had to mitigate with extra signage and barriers.

At another summer detour in Inglewood, by the busy intersection at 19th Street and 17th Avenue S.E., someone defaced construction signs to air frustrations about the detour.

The commentary, printed on paper and taped to the existing signs, included colourful language and sarcastic "instructions for use" saying good luck crossing the intersection for those walking or biking.

A frustrated commuter in Inglewood vandalized this sign to express concerns with the pathway detour. Profanities in the photo have been blurred out. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

"With bikes, we find it's not consistent," said cycling advocate Kimberley Nelson.

"The expectations of people on bikes is that they're going to stop and look at a tiny little map … it's almost impossible unless you already know the area."

She added when you get in a vehicle and head to any destination there's a reasonable expectation that you can follow a detour and get there easily. But for cyclists she says that's often not the case.

In 2013, Nelson spoke to CBC News about a detour under Bonnybrook rail bridge that added time for commuter trips and made the route uncomfortable to ride. Ogden Road was the proposed detour, and the four-lane road didn't feel safe for cyclists, she said.

"It has to be similar quality or an upgrade, it can't be a downgrade," said Nelson. "Detours have to be reasonable."

She added in that case the detour added kilometres to commuter routes, which isn't feasible. 

Farrell frustrated

Coun. Druh Farrell said it's frustrating to see cycling still being treated as a recreational activity.

"It's a way for people to get around the city. And we somehow haven't figured that one out," Farrell said.

She added the city makes mistakes from time to time when it comes to accommodating commuters through traffic, but she sees bad construction detours happen more often for bikers and pedestrians.

"We often just truncate the pathway or the bike lane without recognizing there's nowhere to go," she said. "And so I think it's a matter of just thinking before we act and treating all modes of transport with respect."

Nelson said in the past the city has sprung for pathway flagmen to help guide users down the trails when there's a closure. And that's the type of standard she said the city should strive for.

Across Canada, Nelson said bike detours still aren't up to a gold standard — there's a lot of work to do in Calgary and across the country to improve accessibility during construction.

In her role as the director at Vélo Canada Bikes — a federal not-for-profit that brings together the country's cycling community — she said she's seen how other cities accommodate bikes throughout construction. For the most part, Vancouver is doing well and places like Montreal are improving.

More cycling cash

"It would be really nice if we could get a national cycling strategy approved where this was built in," she said.

Farrell she hopes there can be better training when it comes to creating the perfect pathway detours in Calgary. But she also floated the idea of consequences when they aren't done properly.

"We say we are trying to encourage active mobility, we want people to live healthy lifestyles and be able to get around the city in all different modes," she said.

"So give them that option and make it safe, make it comfortable."


Helen Pike


Helen Pike led CBC Calgary's mountain bureau in Canmore. She joined CBC Calgary as a multimedia reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist with a focus on municipal issues and wildlife. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.