By 2018, the best bike city on the Plains could be…

February 11, 2014

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer

Summer biking on Calgary's Seventh Street. Photo via City of Calgary.

The best urban bike infrastructure plan on the Great Plains comes straight from the top: Calgary, Alberta.

The booming oiltown expects its population to leap 15 percent in the next four years, and it just unveiled a plan to deal with the traffic with a simple grid of protected bike lanes that would be the envy of almost any downtown in North America.

Why? Because the two-way protected bike lane installed last summer on Seventh Street has turned out really, really well.

Bike traffic on the route almost immediately quadrupled, to 1,100 bikers a day. Sidewalk biking fell from 25 percent of trips to less than 1 percent.

In a city poll, 87 percent of Calgarians said they wanted protected bike lanes and 59 percent said they personally would like to bike more.

Not everybody's a fan — one city councilor called it "madness" to slow auto travel by an average of 30 seconds on one 18-block stretch of First Street — though the city notes that the entire plan would dedicate only 3 percent of downtown lane-miles to biking.

Drew Anderson, publisher of altweekly newspaper FFWD, wrote last week that the plan would be better if it offered a continuous east-west bike route on Fifth or Sixth Avenues rather than attempting to route bikers through the thriving Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall.

"People are justifiably excited" about the plan, Anderson said. "But this is the time when you worry about getting it right. If they don't get it right the first time, politically it'll kill it, you know?"

Last week, in a full-throated endorsement of Calgary's downtown bike plan, the head of the city's main economic development agency made an interesting argument: Calgary can reduce its long-term traffic problems by attracting the sort of people who like to ride bikes.

"People want to live in a city that invests in making the lives of its citizens better," Calgary Economic Development CEO Bruce Graham wrote in the Calgary Herald (pictured at right). "Sixty-two per cent of recent transplants to Portland, Ore., said that the city’s bike friendliness was a factor in their decision to move there. By 2018, Calgary’s population is expected to grow by more than 150,000 people. We’d love to add the cycle track network to our people-attraction tool kit before we see tens of thousands of new cars added to our morning commute."

Though we at the Green Lane Project would quibble with the city's choice of the phrase "cycle track" to describe its infrastructure, it's an inspiring plan — almost as inspiring as this picture by Calgary bike coordinator Tom Thivener of bikers in the 7th Street protected bike lane in December.

But that's the true north for you — strong and free.

The Green Lane Project is a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow us on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our weekly news digest about protected bike lanes. Story tip? Write

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