By Kate Beck
Calgary’s new cycle tracks through the downtown core have been a major topic of discussion this summer. There have been many positive reviews, some mixed reviews, and some negative reviews, so I decided to go check the new cycle tracks out for myself.
Like we’ve done in the past with some of our projects, I used Jan Gehl’s place observation method, which basically means spending a few hours observing the cycle tracks, taking notes, snapping photographs and having conversations with people. Here are my observations and thoughts.
Date: July 2, 2015
Time: 3:00-5:00 pm
Locations: 8th Avenue and 4th St SW, 8th Avenue and 5th St SW
A Conversation I Had
A photographer was taking photos of people on the same street corner I was doing my observations. He asked what I was doing, I asked what he was doing, and we started up a conversation about people, sidewalks and bike lanes, that sort of thing. A few interesting things came up in our conversation;
1) I asked the photographer what he thought of the new bike lanes, and he pointed to the wheel chair he was sitting in and explained how cracked and bumpy the sidewalks downtown are. He told me that it was pretty difficult to be a pedestrian in a wheelchair downtown. He seemed somewhat frustrated that the people on bicycles could now safely and rapidly get through the downtown core, while he was stuck with his wheels on the cracked sidewalks.
2) He asked me if I thought the cycle tracks were built for white middle class men to bike to and from work. I paused and thought about it for a while, because the comment made some sense. The cycle tracks don’t connect to Calgary’s industrial areas, they don’t pass by any schools, they pass by a few grocery stores. They really only seem to connect the business area in the downtown core with the existing river pathways.
I decided to count the number of men, women and children using the cycle tracks to see if the photographer’s comment was valid. Here’s what I found
Who is using the cycle tracks?
8th Ave and 5th St SW 4:30-5:00 pm
So the majority of people biking on the cycle tracks seem to be men, however compared to the data collected by the City of Calgary in 2013, which states that 79% of people biking in the city were male, we seem to be seeing more women, youth and families using the cycle tracks even though the tracks are mainly connecting the business core. That’s pretty cool!
Why the diversity?
According to this research, young men are more likely to take risks, while women and people over the age of 65 are much more risk averse. Separated cycle tracks are safer, they reduce the risk of injury by 90% according to this study. More importantly, however, separated cycle tracks make women, elderly people and children feel safer, which means these groups are more likely to use them.
Here are my observations and photos of the array of people using Calgary’s downtown cycle tracks
On the cycle tracks
- 1 couple on a tandem bike, the woman on the back of the bike had a broken arm
- 1 man biking with a trailer full of bags of cans and bottles
- 1 person in a handicap bike
- 3 people biking with cowboy hats
- 3 people skateboarding in the cycle tracks
- 2 kids under the age of 10 biking
On the sidewalks and crosswalks
- 4 people in wheel chairs
- 7 people with strollers
- 1 photographer
- 6 people dressed up as Vikings
- 3 people sitting on benches
- 2 travellers trying to find a bus stop
People Breaking Rules
I’ve heard a lot of people say that even with the cycle tracks, cyclists are still riding on the roads and sidewalks, they’re still not stopping at 4 way intersections and they’re still not signalling when turning. I decided to record the number of cyclists “breaking the rules” at the intersections I was at, however, I soon realized that cyclists were not the only people on the roads and sidewalks “breaking the rules”.
People Breaking Rules
- 5 cyclists riding on the sidewalks
- 1 pedestrian standing in the cycle track taking a photo (slowing bike traffic)
- 2 people walking in the cycle tracks
- 1 cyclist in the wrong bike lane
- 1 pedestrian walking on through car traffic
- 1 cyclist did an illegal turn to get on to the bike path
- 1 car making an illegal right turn, nearly hitting 3 cyclists in the intersection who had the right of way
In all, I think it’s important to remember that the cycle tracks are new, Calgary has never really had anything like this before. It may take some time for cyclists, drivers and pedestrians to get used to the cycle tracks. When biking, walking or driving, I think it’s really important to remember this and allow for all of the road’s users to make a few mistakes without dangerous consequences.
Are They Worth It?
Firstly I should say that personally, I am a huge supporter of Calgary’s newest cycling additions. I think they are really beneficial for the downtown community and so important in directing how are city grows.
However, when looking at these observations, conversations and some numbers, are the cycle tracks worth it? In terms of official counts, which state that cycling has increased by 44% compared to 2014 and currently 5000-8000 people use the cycle tracks per week (remember; this is potentially 44% fewer people driving and 5000-8000 fewer people a week driving downtown), I would say the cycle tracks are really doing their job!
Based on my observations and conversations I’ve had with people over the last month, I’m a little more critical of the new cycle tracks. Firstly, I think the photographer I was talking with may have a point, the cycle tracks may be more useful for those who work downtown, however a wider array of people seem to be biking downtown than before the cycle tracks were installed, which is really great! It’s also important to note that people go downtown for other reasons than just work. People go to shop, to the many restaurants, and for entertainment as well, so we can’t discount the importance of the cycle tracks for these uses. Secondly, I think the cycle tracks will take a while to get used to, and it’s important that people biking, driving and walking pay a little more attention to the roads than they did before. Thirdly, I think the photographer I was talking to was right about his other point, in the excitement cycling has generated in our city over the past year, we can’t forget about safety and wellbeing of our pedestrians.
Got some feedback? Talk to the city directly by calling 3-1-1
Garrard, J., G. Rose, and S. Lo. “Promoting Transportation Cycling For Women: The Role Of Bicycle Infrastructure.” Preventive Medicine (2008): 55-59.
Halek, Martin, and Joseph G. Eisenhauer. “Demography of Risk Aversion.” The Journal of Risk and Insurance (2001)
Teschke, Kay, M. Anne Harris, Conor C. O. Reynolds, Meghan Winters, Shelina Babul, Mary Chipman, Michael D. Cusimano, Jeff R. Brubacher, Garth Hunte, Steven M. Friedman, Melody Monro, Hui Shen, Lee Vernich, and Peter A. Cripton. “Route Infrastructure and the Risk of Injuries to Bicyclists: A Case-Crossover Study.” American Journal of Public Health (2012): 2336-343.
Cycle Count information
7th Ave SW http://eco-public.com/public2/?id=100017181
Peace Bridge http://eco-public.com/public2/?id=100018487
Stephen Ave http://www.eco-public.com/public2/?id=100020243
Kate Beck is an aspiring urban planner who’s passionate about streets, social justice, bicycles and rock climbing. She has recently finished a degree in geography at University of British Columbia in Vancouver and will be studying transportation planning at UC Berkeley beginning in September 2015.