Infrastructure Ride with Councillor Dr. Jyoti Gondek

by Dr. Pratim Sengupta, Infrastructure Lead, Bike Calgary and Professor, University of Calgary – Werklund School of Education

When you think of Bike Calgary, bikes might come to mind. 

Well, that is not entirely off the mark. After all, as Bike Calgary volunteers, we ride a lot on our bikes. And we advocate for things like Bike Lanes and Bike Pathways. 

BUT we stand for a lot more: multi-use pathways, for all ages and abilities, which can be accessed anytime during the day or night and the year. Councillor Dr. Gondek (Ward 3), a doctorate in urban sociology from the University of Calgary, refers to MUPs as Mobility Corridors. Last week, Dr. Gondek invited Bike Calgary to join her on a ride in her Ward so that she could show us some missing pieces of active transport infrastructure.   

So, on Oct 31, a few volunteers from Bike Calgary joined Dr. Gondek for what we in Bike Calgary refer to as an Infrastructure Ride. In these socially distanced rides, that typically last over 3 hours, we ride along pathways and designated bike routes, stopping and reflecting intermittently along the way. This is an essential lifeline of Bike Calgary, where we collectively learn and decide what to advocate for, and how. 

A Key Highlight: Missing Connections

A key highlight of our ride was the importance of paying attention to missing connections in the pathway network. While new communities are often looked down upon as sprawls, they also offer Calgarians affordable housing. In a few cases, as Dr. Gondek informed us, they also offer greater urban density than some (comparatively more) inner city neighbourhoods.

Dr. Gondek was quick to point out that it is immediately obvious to her why the city should invest in MUPs and Mobility Corridors. As more pedestrians and people with active transportation are able to move around, the pressure on roads will be less. So, less wide roads, alongside investment in MUPs in many cases, may actually be better for both urban vehicular traffic and active transit. But, it does a lot more: this can also lead to more diverse land development, which then increases the scope for procuring more revenue for the city. 

It is clear to both Bike Calgary and Councillor Dr. Gondek that new communities need to connect into the existing infrastructure for active transportation. In our ride together, Dr. Gondek showed us several areas where existing pathways either simply ended with no warning, or led us into unpaved muddy terrain that would be tricky even for experienced urban cyclists. 

Let us, for the sake of much needed levity in times of impending doom, now present to you some images of Dunder Mifflin -ish infrastructure:

  • Nice wide asphalt multi-use path leading to a narrow sidewalk with painted line;
  • A pathway that literally just ends (another thing that Bike Calgary folks will ride over anything);
  • And my personal favourite: a slushy, gooey nothingness (dis)connecting the Rotary Mattamy Greenway by Stoney.

Strategy for a Way Forward

In our recent presentation to the city’s Standing Policy Committee for Planning and Urban Development Bike Calgary presented a three step strategy, that emphasized making sure that “Phase I of the 5A network addresses the most significant, high-priority gaps in Calgary’s existing network… BEYOND the downtown core”. The map below shows the missing pieces of active transportation infrastructure (marked in yellow) that can be easily addressed for a fraction of a fraction (not a typo) of the cost of construction of new roads. And federal funding can be procured for doing so.

There is no reason for Calgarians not to advocate for this, and no reason for the City of Calgary not to address this issue. With over 1000 Kms of dedicated infrastructure for active transportation, it would be a shame if our communities within Calgary remain inaccessible or less accessible because of a few missing stretches. We need to move beyond the binary of the “downtown core” and the “urban sprawl”. We need to urgently recognize the vitality of both and the critical importance of connecting them with just a bit of investment that is long overdue, and should not be any longer.

And while we are at it, a heartfelt shoutout, again, to Councillor Dr. Gondek, who welcomed us in every possible way. Genuinely worried that she was pointing us toward infrastructure that did not exist, she was patiently waiting for us and continuously relieved when we kept showing up past the hurdles. Dr. Gondek, thank you for listening to us, and helping us strategize how to argue even more effectively for better infrastructure. 

Keep riding, Calgary.

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