My thoughts on commuter mobility.

There has been a lot of conversation in Calgary about bicycling recently. Discussions and debates should not become diluted with rhetoric regarding which user groups deserve priority over another. What should be discussed is how we find ways to fund all forms of accessible transportation.

In a City that continues to experience rapid growth, traffic congestion will continue to worsen unless viable alternative solutions are considered and implemented. In Calgary, it has been said that 80% of vehicle trips involve one passenger. It is this mentality and culture of commuting we need to continue working on changing. 

Creating this change does not necessarily mean extensive investment in new bike lanes in all areas of the City. There are small processes that can have an impact, such as the current trial of adding bike racks to transit buses.  Longer range goals may include bike lanes in the planning stages of the future dedicated SETWAY right of way.

If the need arises for capital projects requiring vast investment, monies could be raised with the possible introduction of bicycle licenses. Every penny collected would go directly to ease costs and provide the ability to create bike lanes across the city without penalizing other forms of transportation.  

I have done some research in order to gather and share a few of the facts with you:

About 1% of Calgary’s commuting traffic involves bicycles, according to the 2011 census. It makes good sense to realize the numbers increase closer to the middle of the city, where 2% of traffic involves bikes, as per the results of “Downtown Cordon Counts 2012.” There are a few more cyclists who are missed by surveys, such as recreational cyclists and kids who bike to school.

You may wonder whether bike lanes attract more bicyclists. Yes, they do. This may not be immediately evident, but as the network broadens and people realize the route is safe, there is an increase in numbers of cyclists. An example is that bike traffic increased by 133% near SAIT, at one point along 10thStreet NW, once the bike lanes were installed in 2011.

What about winter? Do we really need bike lanes at that time of year? There are factors, such as snow and cold, which may deter some riders, but many cyclists dress for the weather, and if the snow is cleared soon after it falls, riders are willing and able to continue cycling year-round. 2011 data tells us that about 30% of summer bicyclists continue riding in the winter. As our network develops, and as our snow clearing improves, we will retain more riders year-round.

Calgary has nearly 15,000 km of roadways and a network of freeways, and is a continuously-growing City. The trick is to manage the growth and keep up with traffic demands. The City has invested in transit in order to alleviate traffic challenges. There has been a shift in travel patterns, with a huge decrease in people commuting in private vehicles.

What has the City done to promote bicycling? The 2000 Pathway and Bikeway Plan identified a network of bike facilities for development. In 2008, the Bicycle Policy & Needs Report reaffirmed the importance of bicycling as a choice of transportation. The Calgary Transportation Plan (2009) emphasized increased mobility options, promoted safety for all, environmental sustainability, and enabling affordable mobility/access. More recently, the 2011 Cycling Strategy called for investment in infrastructure, maintenance, and public education regarding bicycling.

What about bike racks on buses? Isn’t that a common sense part of the solution? Yes, it is, to some degree. Calgary Transit already has bike racks on about 16% of buses, and has been experimenting with bike racks for more than 10 years. Although the cycling community has asked for racks, the usage has been very low, as not all buses have racks, which means cyclists cannot rely on the service for every route. There are a few additional factors which make equipping all buses with bike racks a challenge: garage space (bike racks extend the length of each bus, which results in less buses for each lane); higher maintenance costs (racks must be removed & reinstalled for some procedures); and lack of use (some cyclists would rather cycle the whole way, and do not need to use a bus rack) to justify the cost ($1.6 million) of equipping the entire bus fleet with bike racks.

Are there other ways being developed to integrate cycling and transit? Certainly! Bike cages at LRT stations are one option. Bike lockers at LRT stations are another option, but are currently only being used at about 20% of capacity. Also, bike paths are being built and improved in order to increase access to major transit hubs. Calgary Transit has also responded to a request from Bike Calgary to allow cyclists to take folding bikes onto buses.

What is coming up for 2013? The 12-year-old Pathway & Bikeway Plan is about to undergo a major revision as a result of the Cycling Strategy. The City will benefit from a couple of years of planning in order to determine priorities for improvement. There will be a focus on planning and completion of existing projects, so there will be few new bike lanes in 2013.

Future discussions should be a collaborative effort by all groups and parties. A solid solution can be developed if these conversations are less about the goals of specific groups, and more about the overall good.
As I have stated earlier, I do not agree with dedicating mass amounts of dollars to one mode of transportation and all expenses should be rated according to users.  It should be understood that the vast majority of cyclists also use vehicles at some point, but not all vehicle operators use bikes, this aspect must also be taken into account when allotting transportation funds.

 In closing we must accommodate cycling but not at the detriment of other forms of mobility.