Our series on the Cycle Track Network continues with an article of support from Rob Taylor, president of Beltline Communities.
Since the 1950s, when cycling became popular as a mode of transportation, there’s been a debate about how to keep all users of urban streets safe. Two schools of thought emerged. One, largely adopted in North America, argued that bicycles should behave like any vehicle. The other, made popular in Europe, argued that all users are safer when bicycles are separated from cars and pedestrians. So, who was right? Thanks to decades of evidence, separated cycle tracks are demonstrably the best way to keep bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers safer and more comfortable, particularly on urban roadways.
Why cycle tracks?
A lot of the conflicts and collisions between cars, bikes and pedestrians happen because, when different users share the same space, they don't behave in a predictable manner. The law says bikes are allowed to share the roadway with cars, but drivers don't always expect to see bicycles on “their street”. In addition, bicyclists may not feel confident that motorists will look out for them, so they choose to ride on sidewalks where pedestrians don't expect vehicles of any kind. This unpredictability makes problems more likely. At best, it makes life more stressful for everyone involved.
More than 80% of bicyclists don't feel comfortable on main roads. There are few alternatives in Centre City. So, many cities like Calgary have installed separated bike lanes. Residents of these cities are 2.5 times more likely to bike on a cycle track than on a regular road. In Montréal, 61% more bike traffic was measured at intersections with protected bike lanes. Similarly, cycle tracks have been shown to reduce the incidence of bicycles on sidewalks. After protected green lanes were installed for bikes on two streets in urban Philadelphia, cycle traffic nearly doubled. At the same time, the number of bicycles on sidewalks decreased by up to 75%. Right here in Calgary, indications are that the short 7th street SW cycle track downtown is already becoming a success even though it’s not yet connected across the tracks and to the south.
Why for everyone?
Some people will bike on any street with any type of traffic. Nevertheless, most are not so fearless. Measuring the diversity of users is a good way to assess the safety and comfort of a bike network. Without cycle track, it’s unlikely to see families and older people biking around the central business district or Beltline.
Calgary’s cycling strategy report states that less than 25% of downtown bicycle commuters are women. In Denmark, Germany, and Netherlands, where cycle tracks are commonplace, 45 to 55% of bike trips are made by women. It’s reasonable to conclude that insufficient safety and comfort are why that’s far from true here. Safety and comfort are also key factors for children to ride their bikes to school. In Copenhagen, with lots of urban style bike infrastructure, nearly 60% of children do.
It’s pretty evident that there are many thousands of less than intrepid, ‘ordinary’ people in our city who would welcome the opportunity to bike. These people are discouraged by the lack of safe and comfortable bike infrastructure. The City's cycling strategy indicates that some 60% would like to bicycle more often.
Why in Beltline?
The number of potential bike users is even higher in urban districts like Beltline. In Beltline, 40% walk as a primary mode of transportation. There is also a very large segment of active bike users in the Beltline district. Apartment and high rise condo undergrounds are filled with bikes, and they’re displacing more and more cars. Demand to purchase parking stalls with new apartments is dropping.
Through our transportation committee, Beltline Communities supports constructing permanent bike infrastructure in the urban residential centre. At the same time, we recognize Beltline’s role in city-wide mobility and seek to attract Calgarians from all parts of the city to work, shop and play in our community district. We understand that private vehicles and transit also have essential roles, and that these users must be provided with sufficient road space.
After a decade of rapid growth, Beltline is at the leading edge of urban lifestyle in both Calgary and in Canada nationally. Along with residential density, shopping, restaurants and entertainment, parks, car sharing and walkability, bicycling is a big part of the emerging ‘urban light’ way of life that Beltline and its neighbouring communities offer. In many ways, bikes have become the global symbol of 21st century urban. There’s good reason for that.
High density urban living is sustainable, creative and enjoyable, as well economically and culturally productive. In large part, it’s not highly dependent on cars. This kind of positive, ‘millennial’ change gives the cycle track proposals for Beltline a high rank for impact.
Stampede is in Beltline too. So come hell or high water, as we’re fond of saying, Beltline and centre city growth is very far from over. Best estimates indicate that Beltline can successfully accommodate as many as 50,000 residents – that, along with enough room left for quality urban design infrastructure. As the urban transformation continues to unfold, it will create a ‘no kidding’ increase in demand for multiple modes of transportation around Calgary’s urban centre.
On safety and comfort, the evidence is in. A cycle track network will make getting around our urban districts safer and more comfortable for everyone. Consequently, the uptake will very likely be significant.
On supporting high density and the option for a less car dependent way of life in Calgary, the conclusion is clear. In the end, it’s a matter of balance. The balanced solution tips in favour of approving the centre city cycle track plan.
A message from Bike Calgary:
We need your help to get the Cycle Track Network passed!
Contact your councillor and let them know that you support the Cycle Track Network.
Contact the Mayor and let him know that you support the Cycle Track Network.
And don't forget to check out the Facebook page!