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Should the City build more bike lanes?

No, bikes lanes are impractical and a waste of money

By Derek Baker, October 9 2014 —

Calgary’s construction season saw the completion of a variety of projects, including new bike lanes.

In theory, bike lanes should remove cars from the road, reduce congestion, lessen the environmental impact caused by traffic and provide a safer route for cyclists.

These ideas aren’t misplaced, but the implementation of bike lanes has been poorly planned in Calgary.

Calgary doesn’t have favourable biking weather. Five months of the year have an average temperature below freezing. Coupled with blizzards and severe wind chills, biking in Calgary’s winter is both unappealing and dangerous. Why is the City spending money on something that can only be used during half the year?

The implementation of Calgary’s Cycling Strategy is estimated to cost $12.2 million. Bike lane proponents claim that widening a street for vehicles is more expensive at $8.5 million per kilometre. This argument ignores the prevalence of automobile use in this city. While it might be more expensive to widen roads, it also benefits more people.

Calgary has a known problem with traffic congestion. But narrowing roads to set up buffered bike lanes is a poor decision that makes the problem worse.

Northland Drive is an excellent example of the problems bike lanes cause. Apparently, the old system of having clearly labelled bus and bike lanes was confusing to some people. Now, cement barriers have been built to divide the road.

This road was already busy. The addition of extra barriers only means that it will be more congested. Bikes will also have to weave around buses, creating a safety hazard. This project cost $575,000.

I have yet to see a single person use these fancy new lanes.

Bike lanes are meant to improve cyclists’ safety, which is a valid concern. After the implementation of the Cycling Strategy in late 2011, collisions increased in 2012 by 21 cases, from 217 collisions each year to 238. Having a painted line that separates cyclists from motorists doesn’t provide cyclists with some sort of force field.

Bike lanes have the potential to improve the safety of cyclists, but right now they only create confusion. If you’ve ever driven down 40th Avenue, you’ve seen the bike lane on the far right transform into a lane in the middle of the road, cutting through traffic. Are these bikes supposed to teleport across?

Calgary is an expansive and sprawling city. Though biking is an eco-friendly and healthy choice, it isn’t a viable option for the average Calgary commuter.

Calgary’s transit system is mediocre at best. A better way to reduce traffic congestion and the environmental impact of vehicles would be to use the resources spent on ineffective bike lanes to improve public transit.

Cycling proponents claim that there are large environmental benefits to cycling. But the benefit of converting motorists to cyclists won’t outweigh the increased time cars will spend in gridlock traffic. According to engineers at the City, bike lanes in the downtown core will increase motorist commute time by 20 per cent. That’s not efficient or environmentally friendly.

Calgary will continue to grow and roads will get busier. Instead of narrowing roads to make room for bike lanes, the City should focus on traffic signal coordination, public transit and carpooling initiatives. This would reduce carbon emissions and alleviate the congestion on roads, making it safer for all people — cyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike.


Yes, they’re environmentally friendly and make our streets safer

By Brittany Haines, October 9 2014 —

Bike lanes are an essential part of transportation infrastructure that allow cyclists to commute safely and comfortably. Bicycles are also recognized as vehicles on Alberta roads, although many believe that they don’t belong there.

Our road network isn’t accommodating to cyclists. Drivers constantly have to slow down or swerve around cyclists to avoid collisions. And biking down the side of the road while cars speed past is a nerve-wracking experience.

Since 2005, there have been over 2,000 collisions involving bicycles. Six of them have resulted in fatalities. Cyclists should feel safe while commuting and they deserve infrastructure that allows them to travel on our roads without danger or inconvenience.

Transportation should be safe for everyone, no matter how you’re getting from place to place. In Thunder Bay, adding bike lanes led to a 70 per cent drop in bicycle collisions and a 22 per cent drop in car collisions, according to the city’s active transportation coordinator. They also add a sense of security for cars, cyclists and pedestrians.

When the road is such a hostile environment to cyclists, many take to the sidewalks to stay safe. But cycling on sidewalks is illegal in Calgary. Cyclists shouldn’t have to resort to illegally using sidewalks and potentially endangering pedestrians to feel safe travelling to school or work. Using infrastructure designed for other methods of transportation is dangerous for cyclists. Bike lanes are necessary so cyclists can have a way to commute that is specifically designed for them.

Though there are over 700 kilometres of bike paths in Calgary, most are multi-use paths — rollerblading, walking, running, skateboarding — that are located in parks or along the river. While they might be nice for a scenic bike ride, most people don’t commute to work through city parks. We need bike networks designed for daily commutes, not just recreation.

Critics of bike lanes often argue that they don’t see enough cyclists to justify their implementation.

But people won’t bike to work if they feel unsafe doing so. In Montreal, investing in bicycle infrastructure led to a 40 per cent increase in ridership over two years. If you build it, they will come.

Some argue that harsh Calgary winters prevent bike lanes from being usable for large portions of the year. Fewer people walk to work in the winter, yet there isn’t a campaign to get rid of sidewalks. Bike lanes should be a normalized part of our roads, not add-ons argued about for years in city council.

Bike lanes are also much cheaper than road expansions for motorists. In Portland, their whole bike lane expansion cost less than expanding one mile of highway. Expanding bike lanes in Calgary is the most economically viable way to improve transportation networks in the city.

Cycling is an environmentally friendly and healthy decision. Hopping on a bike to commute reduces carbon emissions and slips some cardio into your daily commute. Biking also increases personal mobility without the required investment of a vehicle or the inconvenience of public transit.

There are many reasons to work on Calgary’s bike lanes, but we’re stuck in a political gridlock. The City is only half committing to a bike lane strategy. Bike lanes won’t be successful until they’re widely accessible for all cyclists — not just people on a few select roads. In the absence of a safe way to travel on a bicycle, people are finding other ways to commute.

If we want people to bike more, we need to commit to sustainable infrastructure to make it happen.

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