Calgary rolls out a downtown protected bike lane network all at once

June 18, 2015

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer


Calgary's 7th Street protected bike lane, built in 2013, now has company. PhotoBike Calgary.

One of North America's unlikeliest and most ambitious protected bike lane projects is now on the ground.

Calgary, the arid Alberta prairie town and natural gas capital, agreed last year on a novel strategy: instead of upgrading one street for biking at a time, as most cities do, it would pilot a connected protected bike lane network on four downtown streets at once.


A city map of its pilot project.

The stakes are high, and Wednesday's official opening is obviously too soon to declare a success or failure.

But something's working so far, reports CTV News:

“We’re completing it almost two weeks early, ahead of schedule, as well as under budget,” said Mulligan. “The budget was $7.1 million for this project. The costs have now been totaled and it’s coming in at $5.75 million. It’s $1.35 million under budget.

Earlier this spring, city crews opened the 12 Avenue S. and 5 Street S.W. sections of the track. Mulligan says track usage has exceeded expectations.

“On 12 Avenue, we’re counting, on an average weekday, 1,000 vehicles a day,” boasted Mulligan. “Our target was 800, which was four times what it was before we had cycle tracks.

“We now have counts for the first time of 5 Street, under the CPR tracks, and they’re coming in at 1,500 cyclists a day which is the highest we’ve ever encountered on any street for bikes in Calgary.”

According to data released by the office of the City of Calgary Transportation Infrastructure, the 12 Avenue cycle track’s impact on motorist travel times has been minimal.

Travel times compiled from 11 Street Southwest to 4 Street Southeast (the duration of the 12 Ave cycle track) indicate commute times for motorists over the 15 block stretch have increased by an average of 60 to 90 seconds since the track was installed.

According to the Calgary Herald, the savings came mostly from the city's decision to rely on standard traffic lights at some intersections rather than using bike-specific signals. Time will tell whether that'll lead to any problems, but one of the nice things about bike projects is that they're easy to tweak after construction.

For Calgary, the question will be whether a connected downtown sequence of comfortable bikeways will lead to meaningful change in just one year, especially in the absence of the bike sharing system that would make the bike network useful to users of Calgary's above-average public transit system. But if this spring's early ridership numbers hold up, cities everywhere should be looking to Calgary as an example of how to get results by going big.

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

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