The Deerfoot Trail Study: what does it mean?

The City of Calgary and Alberta Transportation recently released the Deerfoot Trail Study, which looked at upgrading the safety and accessibility of Deerfoot Trail. While the 5-year study focused on motor vehicles, some recommendations were made to improve safety and accessibility for pedestrians and wheelers. These recommendations focused on crossings of Deerfoot Trail. Here is our analysis.

On the one hand, walking and wheeling infrastructure made up a very small part of this report. On the other hand, there is a lot to unpack.

The study goals were twofold:

  • “Improve freeway operations and safety on Deerfoot Trail”
  • “Improve air quality and reducing vehicular emissions as part of the City’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the time needed to travel to and within the corridor”

The City of Calgary spent the past 5 years soliciting local residents’ feedback and looking at the options from a technical perspective. They have now handed the report to Alberta Transportation, who will take it into account when they’re budgeting highway improvements for the coming decades. This is good, because it means relevant local input for a highway that is the responsibility of the Alberta Government.

While they were looking at improving the flow of vehicle traffic on the highway, they also looked at ways to incorporate walking and wheeling infrastructure (i.e. “multi-use paths”). If the province is going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading ramps and bridges for automobiles, they might as well spend a few million more to add quality pathways to help walkers and wheelers cross Deerfoot.

The Recommendations

In terms of multi-use paths, here’s a breakdown of the recommendations by time scale (the wording is mostly taken from the report):

Short Term (next 10 years)

  • 128 St NE – Build multi-use path on one or both sides of the cross street
  • Country Hills Boulevard – Build multi-use path on one or both sides of the cross street
  • Heritage Drive – Consider multi-use path on one side of the cross street

Medium Term (10-20 years)

  • 16 Ave NE – Build multi-use path on the north side of the cross street
  • Southland Drive – Consider multi-use path on one side of the cross street
  • 24 St SE – Consider modifications to the ramp terminal intersections to improve accessibility
  • Barlow Trail SE – Consider new multi-use path across Deerfoot south of Barlow Trail (Douglasdale neighbourhood)

Long Term (20+ years)

  • Airport Trail – Consider multi-use path, ideally on the north side
  • Beddington Trail – Build multi-use path on the north side of the new bridge
  • McKnight Boulevard – Build multi-use path on north side of existing bridge
  • Pedestrian overpass south of Memorial Drive – Replace existing path to improve accessibility
  • 50 Ave SE – Build multi-use path either on the existing Calf Robe Bridge (currently Deerfoot Tr) or on a new bridge.

Unknown (these were identified, but not listed in the timeline)

  • 32 Ave NE – Consider multi-use path on south side of the bridge
  • 8 Ave NE – Consider multi-use path on one side of the bridge
  • 130 Ave SE – Consider modifications to ramp terminal intersections to improve accessibility. Investigate possibility of extension of path across Bow River.
  • McKenzie Towne Boulevard – Consider modifications to ramp terminal intersections to improve accessibility.

Some of our highlights

Here are some of the things we’ll be keeping an eye on:

How does this fit in with the 5A network?

The 5A network (“Always Available for All Ages and Abilities”) is proposed in the Calgary Transportation Plan. The Calgary Transportation Plan is meant to provide policy direction for the coming 60 years, yet there is no timeline specified. In the map below showing the proposed 5A network, nearly every interchange in the Deerfoot Study is identified. But some of these vital connections cannot wait for the timeline in the Deerfoot Trail study, so how will the City address those?

Map of the proposed 5A network (Always Available for All Ages and Abilities) from page 92 of the Calgary Transportation Plan.

The “Crossing of the Crossing”

Any time a pathway crosses Deerfoot Trail along a major roadway, it also crosses at least two entrance/exit ramps. Because of the high speed ramps that need to be crossed, the “crossing of the crossing” needs to be addressed in any final design. For example, there is a tunnel to bypass the Southland Drive exit ramp, but it has stairs instead of a ramp. Not ideal for wheelers!

Google Street View of Southland Drive crossing.

Connections to existing pathways

We need to ensure rapid and simple connection with existing pathways. For example, at the Heritage Drive bridge, the recommendation is to consider a multi-use path “on one side”. Given that the paths to the east and west are on the south side of Heritage Drive, we’d recommend this path be installed on the south side to avoid unnecessary and dangerous crossings of Heritage Drive. Of course, the ideal would be to have a path on each side for best accessibility, safety, and planning for future demand.

Google Maps view of Heritage Drive bridge and existing pathways.

The Deerfoot Divide

The so-called Deerfoot Divide has been discussed in the media and academia. Wards 5 and 10 in northeast Calgary have very culturally diverse neighbourhoods and Deerfoot Trail tends to divide them from the rest of the city. For example, where is 64 Ave NE in this proposal? We have brought up our concerns with this extremely dangerous narrow sidewalk in the past. It’s currently the only option to cross Deerfoot in that area, since there is no safe crossing at McKnight. But under this plan, a path at McKnight will not be built until 20+ years from now.

View of the narrow sidewalk crossing along 64 Ave NE as documented in a Bike Calgary ride in October 2020. This crossing is not up to 5A standards but did not make it into the Deerfoot Study recommendations.

Separate crossings

What about separate crossings like the one south of Memorial or the one between 16 Ave NE and 32 Ave NE? These bridges are safe and convenient for all, since they keep slow-moving traffic away from high speed vehicles, while providing pedestrians and wheelers a direct connection between neighbourhoods on either side of Deerfoot Trail.

Pedestrian and bike bridge over Deerfoot Trail between 16 Ave NE and 32 Ave NE.

Greenhouse Gases

Taking a step back a moment, we see that one of the two goals of the study was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Taken at face value, it seems like reducing congestion is a way to reduce vehicular emissions. However, if the approach is to increase volume of traffic (i.e. smoother flow and additional lanes), then this may have the opposite effect. I’m referring to the principle of “induced demand”, or “induced traffic”: if it becomes easier and safer to use Deerfoot Trail, more users will be comfortable with driving and overall emissions may increase.

Ultimately, if we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we need to increase the share of people walking and wheeling. This does not seem to be taken into account in the study.

What are your key takeaways?

The main thing to take from this report is that it is just one small piece of the puzzle. Here are some things we’d like to hear from you:

  • Where does the timeline fall short? In other words, which interchanges are vital for you, where we need to look for alternate funding to get some kind of infrastructure installed sooner than the timelines listed in the study recommendations?
  • Which crossings are missing from the plan?
  • Do you have a specific suggestion where the recommendations are vague?
  • What interchanges are a current source of frustration for you?

Please reach out at

We’ll follow up with the City on this, and of course we’ll push for equity of transport access for all.

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