Calgary's separated bike lanes: smart idea or moral outrage?

Does downtown cycling infrastructure make riding a bike a safer and more viable transportation choice, or is the presence of cyclists on centre-city streets a moral outrage? It depends which caller to Alberta@Noon you ask.

Callers weigh in on Alberta@Noon, as cycling experts from Calgary and Edmonton compare cities' infrastructure

Cyclists wait for a traffic light on the 5th Street S.W. cycle track in Calgary in May 2016. The network of separated downtown bike lanes opened the previous summer as an 18-month pilot project. (CBC)

Does downtown cycling infrastructure make bike riding a safer and more viable transportation choice, or is the presence of cyclists on centre-city streets a moral outrage?

It depends which caller to Alberta@Noon you ask.

The polarizing issue of urban cycling was the topic of conversation Tuesday, with guests Tom Babin, author of FrostBike, in the CBC Calgary studio, along with host Frank Rackow, and Conrad Nobert, founder of Paths for People, in Edmonton.

Callers also weighed in with a diverse range of opinions, both in favour of and opposed to separated bike lanes in Alberta's densest urban areas.

'Terrified' of paint-only bike lanes

Angela from Calgary called in to say she's concerned about her son cycle commuting to his downtown job, but it's not the downtown area, itself, that scares her.

She's reassured when her son rides on the network of separated cycle tracks in Calgary's core, but said she's "terrified" by the paint-only bike lanes that lead him downtown.

Caller Angela explains why she has pled with her son to stop cycling to work, for fear of his safety. 3:39

Her son has been hit twice on the non-separated cycle lanes, she said.

"Both times the cars have come out from a side road, not stopped long enough to see the cyclist ... and both times the people driving the cars have been charged by the police with careless driving," Angela said.

"But the last time he was scraped off the road, the ambulance driver said he was lucky not to be dead. I just think that these painted-on bicycle lanes are the most dangerous thing."

Downtown streets no place for 'toys'

Another caller from Calgary, however, had a different take on the Centre City Cycle Track Network.

Mike called in to say cyclists have no "moral right" to use busy streets and the city shouldn't be building infrastructure dedicated to people who want to ride bikes because the space is better used for street parking.

A caller to Alberta@Noon says people have no "moral right" to ride bikes downtown during weekdays because there's no time for "toys" when the "big boys" go to work. 3:15

"The big boys have to go downtown and go to work, and you can take your toys and play with them on the weekends and at night," he said.

"The downtown of our city is an economic engine and it needs to be driven by people who get there en masse — mass transit — but risking your lives and complaining that you're getting hurt going downtown on extremely busy roads, where no one has been able to figure it out, in terms of how to safely bicycle or tricycle or skateboard downtown, you do not have a moral right to do this."

Calgary vs. Edmonton infrastructure

Nobert said Edmonton has lagged behind other cities when it comes to installing separated bike lanes, a relatively new phenomenon in transportation planning but one that has been gaining traction in urban centres around the world.

"We really believe that urban infrastructure drives behaviours," he said. "And so, the number one way we can get people out on bikes — and it's been proven literally everywhere it's been tried — is to install high-quality, separated, safe, comfortable infrastructure."

Tom Babin and Conrad Nobert talk about the different bike infrastructure in Calgary and Edmonton. 3:33

Babin said Calgary, by contrast, has already taken several major steps to expand cycling infrastructure, with the network of separated downtown bike lanes chief among the projects.

"We're seeing all the things that Conrad's talking about," he said. "The number of cyclists is going up. We're seeing different kinds of cyclists; we're seeing more women, more kids, more older people."

with files from Frank Rackow


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