More People Cycling

Calgary's Cycle Track Pilot

The cycle track network proposed by the Tour de Nuit Society and the David Chaplin advocacy group in the 1970s used commuter cycling demand as the basis for determining the optimal location for building bicycle infrastructure. Tour de Nuit used a number of metrics to ascertain demand when we undertook our research. Using computer software now available, transportation planners and engineers would normally take this approach too. Throughout both the cycling strategy debate and the Cycle Track Network debate there was never any evidence that the City of Calgary conducted any traffic demand analysis.

Unfortunately, commuter cyclists vote in suburban wards so it was inevitable with our ward system that inner city aldermen would turn the exercise into a political one regardless of what the business case revealed or where the data pointed. On top of this there was an entrenched attitude of antagonism in the bureaucracy that preceded the David Chaplin Committee. Instead of a system of cycle tracks designed to maximize the safety of commuter cyclists in downtown core, routes were chosen on side streets and the critical east-west connector was placed outside the business district on 12th Ave to cater to Beltline voters. In a grand gesture, the flagship cycle track would be located on Macleod Trail (1st St SE from the Bow River to the Repsol Sport Centre).

Demand Floor space with Midlines

The midlines are the data set are shown in red. The horizontal line would prescribe one way cycle tracks on 5th Ave. and 6th Ave. South. The vertical line is 5th St. S. which of course has a subway under the CPR railroad tracks.


The Tour de Nuit Society proposed the pilot cycle track network in December of 2009 to a high profile member of Calgary City Council. The Society worked with Ric McIver to draft a proposed Notice of Motion that is first vetted by senior city managers and then would be submitted to Council for debate. What was being proposed was a inexpensive pilot, limited to the summer months, that would have cost under a quarter million dollars. (Marketing costs, staff time and evaluation expenses not included.)

City administration's first action was 'no action' by procrastinating to minimize the opportunity for implementation in the summer of 2010. They had four decades of experience procrastinating on the cycling file and this was a matter of departmental pride. Week after week they ignored the proposal and inquiries about its status. The cycle track pilot was rejected by the Transportation Department, which instead proposed to McIver that he propose that they write another new cycling (strategy) report. (Council just passed a new Bike Policy in 2008, which Transportation was doing nothing to implement.) McIver and the Tour de Nuit Society both rejected the multi-year cycling strategy as a waste of time and a needless expense for taxpayers.

The pathway speed review supported by the Parks business unit was submitted as a notice of motion. In less than four weeks it would pass unanimously with a one word amendment. However in the meantime Alderman Brian Pincott spent a considerable amount of time organizing two cycling groups to oppose our legislative initiative. The Tour de Nuit Society is proud of the fact that we were able to initiate a comprehensive benchmark safety audit of the whole multiple use pathway system, then approaching 800 km in length.

The sponsorship of the Tour de Nuit plan by a conservative suburban alderman in the municipal ward farthest from downtown Calgary caused a media maelstrom. The biggest stirrer of the pot in this regard would be the closet Tour de France trivia fan and page five columnist at the Calgary Sun, Rick Bell.

Social Engineering Gone Wrong

Inner City Councillors embarked on a very risky cycling proposition when they decided the Cycle Track Pilot would be built to serve highly transient, young lifestyle cyclists who are the tiniest segment of Calgary's tiny cycling population. At the time we argued that this demographic, which cycles relatively short distances, would revert to its customary mode of transportation during periods of inclement weather. It would be bike commuters who would reliably use downtown bike infrastructure. We were supported by two City cycling surveys completed in the years before cycling became a contentious political issue. These showed that the primary reason people rode to work was for exercise. The road with the best record in the Cycle Track Pilot report is 5 St SW because it is used by commuter cyclists. This should not be a surprise.

The City of Calgary also failed to undertake any lifestyle economic analysis although in the Mayor's office itself we have an example of a senior staff member starting a family and moving to the suburbs. (He changed jobs and no longer works for the City of Calgary.) Inner city lifestyle cyclists will mature or age and can reasonably be expected to enter relationships, move to the suburbs and start families.

The Evaluation Metrics

For the most part the City of Calgary set the evaluation criteria as low as possible. They made their case in front of the Transportation and Transit committee. The business and economic benefits would be problematic because they started by using an inappropriate study from Toronto and convinced themselves with religious fervor that it was a universal law. The Calgary Downtown Association successfully lobbied for the inclusion of meaningful safety data. The Tour de Nuit Society was advocating for a mode share increase target (the benchmark around the world to evaluate cycling programs), a limit on the acceptable level of cannibalization and a risk reduction target. At this public meeting five of six interns on the Tour's presentation team, including a graduate student with ten years of urban planning experience, were ruled out of order. No mode share target was included among the standard evaluation metrics.

Building a Robust Cycle Track Network

The solution to the failed Cycle Track Network Pilot is to amend the pilot to incorporate features that benefit the commuter cycling community and limit harm to other stakeholders (such as businesses dependent on proximity to parking). These recommendations will get the cycling network back on track:

  • Remove the 12th Ave South cycle track in its entirety and restore the road.
  • Recommission the 10th Ave South bike route and direct Administration to set up a temporary cycle track using traffic cones for the inbound and outbound bike commuter traffic (similar to the 5th Ave SW lane reversal).
  • Direct Administration to undertake a scoping study to determine if the Heritage Greenway and its bike path would meet the recreational and transportation needs of Beltline residents. If so restart this urban renewal/improvement project.
  • Remove the 7th St SW cycle track north of either 4th Ave SW or 3rd Ave SW and replace it with a woonerf. (This is a superior location for a woonerf than the place where one was built in Toronto.)
  • Remove Stephen Ave Mall from the Cycle Track Network and restore it to the pedestrian realm. (This was never an original recommendation from Administration anyway.)
  • Remove the underutilized 8th Ave SW cycle track west of 7th St SW and restore the road.
  • Direct Administration to undertake a scoping study to replace the Crowchild pedestrian bridge with a pedestrian and bicycle bridge.
  • SPC Transportation and Transit should fund directly (from the cycling budget) a bicycle transportation demand analysis for the central business district by a third party that will not be influenced by outcomes dictated by Administration as has happened so frequently in the past.
  • Extend the Amended Cycle Track Pilot for a period of seven months to evaluate these modifications.