Calgary cycle track pilot riding a wave of support

After a bumpy start, Calgarians appear to be warming up to the city's cycle track pilot project. "It's essentially a doubling of the cycling trips on these corridors," said co-ordinator Tom Thivener on downtown tracks.

Number of bike trips has almost doubled through downtown routes 5 months after opening

Tom Thivener says the city's cycle track pilot project has met their expectations one year early. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC )

After a bumpy start, Calgarians appear to be warming up to the city's cycle track network.  

Tom Thivener, the city's cycling co-ordinator — who not surprisingly uses sections of the 6.5-kilometre network every day, says peoples' views appear to be changing.  

Calgary's cycling co-ordinator Tom Thivener takes a spin down Fifth Street S.W. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

He has prepared an update for the city's transportation and transit committee that will be presented to councillors Friday morning.  

Among the highlights, Thivener says bike trips along the five-month old track reached 388,000 between mid-June when it opened and mid-November.

"It's essentially a doubling of the cycling trips on these corridors," said Thivener while standing on the edge of the track on 12th Avenue S.W.  

Cyclists feel more 'comfortable' 

He says cyclists feel safer on the separated track, which includes temporary barriers.  

"We've now got some basic accommodation for the cyclists and we're confident that it made it safe and comfortable for a lot more people to ride," said Thivener. 

The city says daily bike trips along Calgary's cycle tracks increased 95 per cent from September 2014 to 2015. (City of Calgary )

"We've seen women riding here, and that's a great sign because if women are using the facility it's an indication that it's safe for everybody, and there's a lot of research that points to that."  

Thivener says the data shows 27 per cent of cyclists who use the tracks are women.

Great addition, says courier

Robyn Scrutton is one of them. The bike courier, who is used to sharing the roadway with vehicles, says the tracks have been a great addition.  

Robyn Scrutton is a bike courier in downtown Calgary. She says the cycle track network has improved safety for her and other cyclists. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

"I think it's been hugely beneficial especially for people commuting to work who aren't necessarily as comfortable riding in traffic as I am, but I use them whenever possible, I mean we kind of go anywhere [anyway], but I think they've been awesome."  

Hundreds of Calgarians reacted negatively to the cycle track network shortly after it opened.  

The city's 311 call centre received 1,400 complaints, mostly due to the removal of some parking stalls and traffic signal timing. Thivener says the city has made dozens of changes, including adjustments to signal timing, signage, pavement markings, on-street parking and loading zones.  

The city's analysis so far shows the cycle tracks have only slowed four-wheel traffic slightly, anywhere from 10 seconds to two minutes — the equivalent of enduring a two traffic light delay.  But Thivener says almost two-thirds of Calgarians support the bike-only lanes.  

64% support

A survey by IPSOS Public Affairs in September found 64 per cent of Calgarians who were asked strongly support or somewhat support the cycle track pilot project.  

The survey says 33% of those who were asked somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the network.  

Local bike shop owner and cycling advocate Sean Carter says the strong support and high usage numbers make a good case for expanding the separated bike lane network in a city that's known for its love of pickup trucks and flashy SUVs.

He owns Bike Bike Inc., a popular shop on 17th Avenue S.W. — which is five blocks from the 12th Avenue track.  

Sean Carter hopes the high numbers of cyclists prove to councillors that cycling is a viable form of transportation in Calgary. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

"[I'm] excited to see so many people out there riding in the cycle tracks and enjoying them," said Carter, who says the numbers should send councillors a clear message.

"Hope they can see that in my opinion it's a bit of a win. People are cycling in this city and it is a viable form of transportation year-round, and that all ages are doing it," he added.

Carter knows there's still a full year of analysis left for the cycle track, but he thinks the city should start planning to expand the network.  

Calls to expand network 

"It's a great starting point to reach out into the neighbourhoods that surround the downtown where we already know there's a high number of people that ride bikes, so making those connections into those neighbourhoods I think is pretty critical if the whole plan is going to succeed in the future," said Carter.    

Thivener says there are no plans to make any "grand modifications" to the $5.7-million cycle track network over the next year. He says they're going to focus on creating more off-pathway, on-street improvements.

“We're seeing people traveling on bicycles in larger volumes than what we've seen in previous years and months,” says Kim Fisher, a transportation safety education specialist at the City of Calgary, about the pandemic-induced bike boom. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Painted bike lanes will be added to 20th Street S.W. through Marda Loop down to the Glenmore reservoir in 2016.

Thivener will simply present the cycle track update and the city's cycling strategy to councillors Friday morning without a request for any new funding. 

He says he's looking forward to hearing their feedback, and his message will be that most Calgarians are now on his side of the debate.