City Ignoring Its Own Lessons With Unprotected Bike Lane Proposal
The City of Calgary is proposing unprotected bike lanes on 2nd Street SW between the Elbow River at 26 Avenue and the railroad tracks at 10 Avenue on a key stretch of the City’s bike network that is currently marked only symbolically with “sharrows” (painted bike stencils).
The cycle tracks at 5 Street and 12 Avenue SW (Photo by Steve Coutts).
The City’s proposal calls for consolidating parking to the west side of 2nd Street SW with the addition of unprotected bike lanes on either side of the road.
While the unprotected bike lanes being proposed would be an improvement over the current condition, it neglects the important lesson that the cycle tracks taught us about safety: protected bike lanes greatly increase safety for less confident riders, particularly women and children.
What the cycle tracks taught us about making cycling safer for women and families
The City’s final report on the Cycle Track Network pilot found that over the course of just 16 months the proportion of female riders jumped from 22% to 30%. Families also felt more comfortable riding in the protected space. As a result, the overall number of bike trips downtown increased significantly during the same period by roughly 40%.
Infographic from the City of Calgary’s Centre City Cycle Track Final Report.
City of Calgary Downtown Bicycle Trip Count Before (2015) and After the Cycle Tracks Opened (2016).
Anatomy of 2nd Street SW
2nd Street SW runs through residential neighbourhoods connecting the grade-separated Elbow River pathway to the barrier-protected lanes of the Cycle Track Network. Along the way, 2nd Street SW includes important destinations for seniors and families with children including multiple parks, Memorial Park Library, the Holy Cross Health Centre, and two schools: St. Monica (Grades K-12) and Our Lady of Lourdes (Grades 1-12).
Despite 2nd Street’s surrounding residential context, the City’s own data shows that as many as 9,000 vehicles per day use this road, the equivalent volume of traffic as 5 Street SW along the same stretch. This makes unprotected bike lanes particularly inadequate for 2nd Street SW.
Does 2nd Street SW need cycle tracks?
Not all roads require cycle tracks. Slower, quieter residential streets can often get away with an unprotected bike lane or no lane at all. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), an association of 62 major cities across the US and Canada formed to exchange transportation practices and cooperatively approach transportation issues, cycle tracks are recommended for roads with greater than 6,000 vehicles per day or speeds greater than 40 km/hr.
In other words, on both counts NACTO clearly advises that the volume of traffic (9,000 cars/day) and speed of vehicles (>40 km/hr) on 2nd Street SW should necessitate cycle tracks (aka protected bike lanes).
12 Avenue cycle track at 9 Street SW in the Beltline.
Does 2nd Street SW have enough space for cycle tracks?
Planners at the City have stated that 2nd Street SW does not have enough width for cycle tracks. The Beltline Neighbourhoods Association met with the City of Calgary to review their proposed design for the unprotected bike lanes on 2nd Street SW. Afterwards, we went away and crunched the numbers on a variety of different options for the street that complied with National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) guidelines.
While we cannot share the City’s plan publicly before it’s released we can share our own proposal for 2nd Street SW with cycle tracks that would provide better safety for female riders and children while still fitting within the exact same sidewalks, curbs, and maintaining the same configuration of parking and traffic lanes as the City's proposal.
BNA proposed design for cycle tracks on 2nd Street SW that supports safety for women and families with children.
Highlights of the BNA proposal for 2nd Street SW include:
- Overall street width including sidewalks: 16.4m
- One northbound and one southbound vehicle drive lane (3.0m each)
- One consolidated parking lane (2.3m) on the west side of the road
- One northbound (1.5m) and one southbound (1.8m) cycle track
So what’s different? Essentially, we reduced the drive lane width from the City’s proposed 3.3m to 3.0m, added physical protection for the bike lanes, and moved the southbound bike lane beside the curb for added protection.
Ultimately, the widths of the parking lane, bike lanes, and physical protection buffers can all be traded off with each other but what this proposal shows is that cycle tracks are possible with 3.0m vehicle lanes.
What’s a safe vehicle lane width for 2nd Street SW?
According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials' (NACTO) guidelines for lane width, “Lane widths of 10 feet [3.0m] are appropriate in urban areas and have a positive impact on a street’s safety without impacting traffic operations.” Additionally, NATCO advises that “Narrower streets help promote slower driving speeds which, in turn, reduce the severity of crashes.”
So why is the City proposing minimum 3.3m lane widths? According to a recent story in StarMetro Calgary, Calgary Transit is requiring City planners to keep a minimum 3.3m lane width for buses on 2nd Street SW. While the NACTO guide offers the option for wider lanes: “cities may choose to use 11-foot [3.3m] lanes on designated truck and bus routes” it's important to point out that there aren't actually any bus routes on 2nd Street SW. Zero.
Furthermore, the City is currently running major bus routes down lanes less than 3.0m just one block away from 2nd Street SW on the Mission Bridge over the Elbow River. So in the event that buses had to temporarily detour onto 2nd Street SW, they could do so just fine.
Trade-offs in road design and the cost of human safety
The decision to not build cycle tracks on 2nd Street SW boils down to a trade-off between a City department unwilling to compromise ease of moving buses down a street that has no bus routes and communities like the Beltline that are asking for safer streets for walking, biking, and driving for all users including women and families with children.
In the face of the ongoing needless deaths and pedestrian fatalities whose regular frequency owes much to dangerous road design as we saw last week on Acadia Drive, the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association is asking the City to evaluate the moral and societal cost of further perpetuating inadequate, unsafe street designs and reconsider this trade-off.
Help us deliver the message!
1) Get informed: attend one of the pop-up information sessions
Visit the City’s project website, learn more about their plans, and provide your feedback in person. Dates/times/locations as follows:
- June 9 (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) - 1221 2 St S.W. at Central Memorial Park
- June 12 (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) - 21 Avenue S.W. near the bridge toward Lindsay Park
2) Respond to the City’s brief online survey
Tell the City in your words what you think about their proposal to build unprotected bike lanes instead of cycle tracks. Link to survey here.
3) Share this post with your friends, family and neighbours
Help spread the word so we can make the City’s proposal safer for everyone, including women and families with children.
Riders on the 5 Street SW cycle track (Photo by Steve Coutts).