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Calgary, it is Time for a Thorough Discussion on Separated Bike Lanes

© H-JEH (Jack) Becker, Third Wave Cycling Group Inc. 2007-2012., Velo.Urbanism 2012

A recent radio interview highlighted the timeliness for Calgarians to have a comprehensive dialogue on separated bike lanes (SBL), especially local cycling advocates and those interested in better cycling facilities. The dialogue should start with the question of why have SBL and then continue into concepts and designs, fit into local streetscape and urban form.  Then the dialogue must include how SBL contributes to local business and to the city as a whole.

Separated bike lanes have been shown to be successful in instigating a shift from driving to cycling. It is a tool that comes in many configurations of designs and fit into local urban form. The type chosen has a direct impact on the degree of local acceptance and of success in increasing cycling.

So, what types of separated bike lanes do Calgarians want? Some of the dialogue should cover

• Cycling traffic capacity

How wide should the separated bike lanes be?  Well, first it should be established what the objectives for the SBL should be.  Is it for the convenience of current cyclists?  Is it to provide capacity to meet natural cycling traffic growth or the city’s future cycling mode share targets?  Is it part of a city reshaping itself into a large city or world-class city form, instead of a sprawling metropolis?  What current barriers are hindering cycling growth that could be accommodated with SBL?  What human characteristic could be designed into SBL to cause significant growth?

Acceptance of SBL is greater by cyclists and by potential cyclists if they could see efficient trip time.  One of the factors, capacity to pass slower cyclists, is key.  The next big step into cycling growth is to move away from solitary cycling to accommodating social cycling of two people side-by-side deep into discussion.  Intersection passage time is also key.

• Forms of separation

Generally, separated bike lanes comes in various forms of separation from vertical to horizontal, at general traffic lane level, on sidewalk elevation, outside of road right-of-ways, etc.  Separation comes in many forms from virtual where drivers’ observance of painted lines provides the separation to physical through various forms of barriers that will have negative effect on cars if drivers were not to observe the barriers.
Physical separation can be provided at various cost levels from minimal to sophisticated separation designs that fit well into urban and streetscape forms.
Observations of various forms of SBL in cities within Europe and North America indicate the need for physical separation where cars, trucks, and motorcycles are prevented from entering into bike lanes.
With virtual separation (painted lines or buffers) and half curb height separation (Copenhagen style), it is only driver decency that causes the bike lanes not to be used for passing motorized vehicles stopped for a turn, overtaken a slower vehicle, or parking, especially by delivery vehicles. Even car entry into bike lanes needs to be prevented for such bike lanes not to become parking lanes.  However, the form of separation should allow police and other emergency vehicles to use the lanes to efficiently get by street traffic.  This also tends to encourage width of bike lanes to accommodate a police vehicle and a cyclist.

• Two-way bike lanes versus one way

A dialogue on this subject usually gets around to selection of one-way separated bike lanes on the same or adjacent streets to the use of two-way bike lanes.  There are many arguments that can be made for either solution that would better fit the needs of cyclists, motorists on the streets, local businesses, and urban and streetscape form.
Two-way separated bike lanes are self-levelers of traffic accommodating cycling traffic jams and supporting social cycling.  Bringing together into one space cyclists going both ways, the presence of cyclists on the road is much more evident to motorists, a bit of a marketing tool.  Motorists will see the lanes actually being used and become more aware that their driving style needs to adjust accordingly.  Another important benefit is the reduction of potential cross traffic of cyclists and motorists, limiting that to one side of a street.

• Which side of road

One-Way Bike Lanes

Should two one-way bike lanes be located on one road, no matter if one of the lanes is contraflow or be placed on two neighbouring roads?

Two-Way Bike Lanes

Location of two-way bike lanes should recognize night cycling and the effect of car headlights shining into cyclists’ eyes with overhead lights often being too weak in intensity to overcome cyclists' blindness or blocked out by tree leaves making sidewalk curbs or separation barriers difficult to be seen by cyclists.
Two-way bike lanes should be positioned on the roadway with direction of flow of cyclists and adjacent car traffic being in the same direction.  This will place contra-flow cyclists horizontally farther away from the headlights of cars moving in the opposite direction lessening light impact on cyclists.
The dialogue should include such factors of one side of the street to the other as to the number of ingresses and egresses from local properties, the volume of cars turning across the two-way bike lanes, visibility of cyclists to motorists who are making turns across the bike lanes (left side visibility of motorists of parallel cyclists versus right side), and visibility of oncoming cyclists to motorists at intersections.

• Networking

Networking of cycling facilities is a cycling traffic growth factor.  A cycling facility leading to on-street, shared cycling will only draw a smaller portion of motorists who could be induced to cycling if the cycling facilities were to their liking.

The dialogue for downtown Calgary should include the priority of SBL extending a limited cycling capacity Peace Bridge facility into the downtown core along 6th or 7th St or both.  The dialogue should also consider an option of SBL extension into the working core of downtown Calgary within the catchment area of cycling facilities to cyclists’ work places.

SBL’s along these two streets would have limited value unless the SBL were continued and networked into the downtown core and underneath the railway tracks to the shopping areas of 10th to 12th Ave and to 17th Ave.  Considering the cycling unfriendly 5th St and 8th St underpasses for potential cyclists and also cycling infrastructure catchment area, 7th St may be a more desirable street for an SBL as a first level network infrastructure.

Some grey research that I have been doing over the last 10 plus years and supported by lower-level rigour research by others would indicate that catchment area of cycling facilities tends to be from 0 metres to 500 metres (5 blocks, 2 minutes cycling).

For downtown city centrum, a catchment area of 2 blocks each side of cycling facilities is a highly desirable, first level networking design with catchment area eventually being decreased to two blocks between cycling facilities as the second level and then adjacent major streets as a third level. 

From a networking perspective, any off-road bike trails such as that along the Bow River should also have on-road bypasses as cycling traffic will built up on bike trails that will cause commuter cyclists to want to use on-road facilities from a commuting time perspective.  This factor would encourage an on-road cycling facility parallel to the Bow Trail.

Considering cycling infrastructure catchment area, the location of the Bow Trail, and the concentration of downtown workplace, a two-way SBL should be provided on 6th Ave as a first priority or alternately 5th Ave connecting with the Bow Trail via 11th St in the west and 6th Ave through the East Village at the east end.

• Right turn or left turn prohibitions across SBL’s

The dialogue should include discussion on intersection design especially motorists’ capability for turns across SBL.  A through understanding on current motorists turning pattern needs to be had on candidate streets and alternate routing options for motorists should full or partial banning of turns occur across SBL.

Cyclists trip time, cyclist’s’ visibility, and perceived safety for potential cyclists are driving forces for intersection limitations for motorists.

Especially full prohibition or alternately no turn on red signal phase will enhance the perceived safety of SBL for potential and current cyclists.  

• Cyclists advance timing at intersection

The dialogue should also include an alternative to banning turns across SBL
Alternately to full or partial turning for motorists at intersections, a cyclists advanced signal phase to clear backed-up cyclists at a traffic signal first before car movement starts will enhance the cyclists’ experience and the attractiveness to potential cyclists.

• Bike boxes to accommodate turns

The dialogue should also consider how to efficiently move cyclists with high visibility to motorists from SBL to intersecting streets and also bringing cyclists from these intersecting streets to the SBL.
Coloured bike boxes (especially environmental green colour) at intersections of streets with SBL and diagonal streets is a good solution.  At some streets up to 4-coloured bike boxes may be desirable.

• Road maintenance

The dialogue should also include housekeeping and maintenance of SBL’s.  What type of equipment should be added to the city’s arsenal and what cleaning frequency should be built into the city’s budget and maintenance procedures?
Wind tends to move dirt and garbagy materials left behind by cars and especially trucks into SBL.  Water ponding on SBL’s can be a significant problem for cyclists especially during freeze-thaw periods.
Maintenance procedures should be providing quality of cycling service that reduces the chances of tire flats for cyclist and provides for safe operation of bicycles at any speed.

• Winter operations and snow and ice clearing

With a SBL network the desirability of cycling during rainy weather and winter increases significantly.  While initially SBL were convenient places to dump road snow, slowly these SBL’s are now being maintained throughout the winter in some cities with much more snow than Calgary and heavier snow to move with a bicycle.  In Copenhagen, the cycling facilities are cleared of snow before road lanes.  As we know now in Calgary, snow clearance on the river bike trails starts early in the morning.
Ice removal from SBL before morning commuting cycling starts is critical for making SBL desirable to potential winter cyclists.  Reduction of cyclists’ injury and associated health care costs results from such a program.
Road snow removal procedures will need to change.  Today, the procedures usually call for two or more passes with the first pushing the snow to the curb or also on the pedestrian walking facilities and then followed by a number of trucks and loading equipment to carry away the snow.  One-pass snow removal would make winter walking in Calgary much more pleasant and safer, especially for seniors and those with disabilities.
One-pass snow removal procedures are in place in many cities and may safe time, cost, and greenhouse pollution production from snow clearing trucks for Calgary.
• Urban and streetscape form

The discussion contribution should be focused on a dialogued on SBL being a tool for shifting the appeal of downtown Calgary streets from places to avoid to people streets that attract Calgarians to spend time after 4:30 pm when the streets now become very deserted.

Various forms of separation designs can enhance the visual appeal of downtown streets and softening the austere look of 1960 designs of car-moving streets.  Street functionality can be enhanced with restricted-time, commercial drop-off zones, although neighbouring buildings should really provide that.  Bus loading zones can be designed to allow for pedestrian level crossing of SBL.  Bike parking can be built into the SBL design.  Even motorcycle and moped parking can be incorporated.

Downtown Calgary streets are already well situated for SBL with sufficient off-street parking for cars and lack of street facing retailing.  On-street parking is not required nor should not be encouraged.  In fact, SBL may encourage more street retailing.

• Local retail business activities

Any change on a street that affects on-street parking tends to be a rallying point for retail businesses to call on city politicians to do nothing.  The reality of retail marketing, as one vice-president of a major Canadian property company once stated to a municipal council, is that retail businesses need people traffic.  People traffic is critical for retailing success.  The source of the people traffic is not that important.  Bringing cycling to a street increases retailing traffic.  One car parking spot can be converted to 10 to 14-bicycle parking.  About 80 to 100 bicycles can be parked along one side of 100 metres street block that could only accommodate up to 10 to 13 cars.  It is understandable that retailers are very reluctant to let go of the umbilical cord of car parking that is now starting to fail strip malls, which were designed for the car driving customers.  The marketing model for retailers must continually change with time along with its customers or these businesses will go bankrupt.

The influences of cycling customers and differences in purchasing capacity are now slowly being documented by researchers.  Without a car, a person has about $10,000 more available to spend each year.  Without a second car, that may be about $5,000.

The dialogue should be around how to make that happen focusing on urban form, cycling, and combined mobility of transit and cycling.

If retailers cater their products to cyclists, then a 10-fold increase in street traffic is a potential.  With retailers offering the right product mix, people will cycle to stores.

• Congestion

Dialogue would be worthwhile to explore this further.  The usual “NO, do not change anything from a car-oriented street” argument is that congestion will increase, meaning car congestion not cycling growth, transit growth, or walking growth, all of which should happen.

“Car congestion is good” is an argument used by some.  It is argued that congestion or any other type of roadblock, which could include car trip time increasing due to car congestion or continued car collisions, financial, personal health, obesity, and health during the aging process, causes people to consider which transportation alternative is in their best interest.

For people to make the transition from car transportation to another mode the infrastructure must be there and to a level that is appealing to them to make a change.  This includes peak and off-peak transit capacity and service level, combined mobility capacity whether it is car-cycling or transit-cycling supported by cycling infrastructure from home to local rapid transit and high service bus routes, safe and dependable bike parking in all weather, and a cycling network that is appealing from home to final destination including for commuting.

Introduction of SBL on a road should be with expectation and target that car traffic will reduce as a result of people make the shift in transportation mode from car-based, not as a facility that is being imposed on top of a car traffic level that will continue to increase in the future.

• The final direction

With extensive dialogue, it will be become very apparent that downtown Calgary needs a network of connected SBL’s as another tool for reducing driving into the downtown core and reducing already beyond acceptable and historically high levels of greenhouse pollution.  

Back in the 1970’s, people wanted to come to Calgary for health reasons as allergies and sinus discomforts and health side effects improved for them.  Now these suffers look for other cities to improve their health as even in January brown pollution clouds can be seen on Nose Hill, with much contribution from the high level of driving in the city.
With carefully thought-out design parameters for SBL and the resulting reduction of driving, the downtown core will become more of a people place attracting people after business hours, increasing downtown retailing, increasing the vitality of the city core, and will be a place to attract tourists beyond the stampede.

Yes, it is a first phase in the introduction of public bike sharing system, as Paris proofed out so successfully.

© H-JEH (Jack) Becker, Third Wave Cycling Group Inc. 2007-2012., Velo.Urbanism 2012

















Unless stated otherwise, photographs are the property of the article author(s)
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013
©H-JEH Becker, Velo., 2013