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Cycling Facilities: Insights from Vancouver for the Calgary Context - 2018

I’ve shared my own impressions of some of the progress made for cycling in Calgary over the past few years (i.e. 2017 and 2014) and compiled commentary on behalf of Bike Calgary with respect various cycling projects, including the Cycling Strategy (i.e. 2018 update), with the goal if identifying concerns and offer ideas to address them. While some key areas have seen improvement, I continue to experience and hear concerns about both the pace of change and the function of some infrastructure. A chance this August to tour some of Vancouver’s newer cycling infrastructure, my final time before stepping aside from Bike Calgary and my role as Infrastructure TF Lead, gave me an opportunity to consider how Calgary stacks up and some ideas for where we may want to be aiming. If you are interested, I did some similar previous posts in 2012,  2013 and 2017.


Boulevard Pathways


In Calgary, we seem to have become very adept at inviting cyclists to use sidewalks and calling it “bicycle infrastructure”. In saying this, I’m referring to the many boulevard pathways scattered throughout the City. While some may be wide and asphalt, often striped with a yellow center line, and offer reasonable cycling accommodation between intersections...in the right context…, others leave something (much) to be desired.


Above: Sidewalk “pathway” along 14th Street NW, Calgary. Not the worst example I’ve seen, but not a great one if evaluated as “cycling accommodation”.


Irrespective of what’s going on between intersections, I often find that intersections are lacking in terms of design (awkward approach angles, visibility obstructions) or guidance (absent of signs, markings or signals to indicate a bicycle crossing) and this is an observation in both legacy facilities and even new ones (see Bowfort Road comments LINK).


Above: Boulevard pathway along Beddington Boulevard NE, Calgary. Absent markings or signage to guide cyclists through intersection or govern interaction between all travel modes.


In my view, it’s tough to consider such facilities true bicycle infrastructure as I think it fair to say that true bicycle infrastructure facilitates how cyclists move at all points along the facility, including at intersections. Further, in providing this type of infrastructure for cycling, it should come as no surprise to those responsible for the infrastructure that people will also want to cycle through intersections...and be provided adequate guidance to do so. Certainly people should not feel they are being encouraged to do something “wrong” or “unpredictable” (as I often do), nor should they feel that they are not legally protected in the event of a collision if riding through an intersection or even access crossing.


Can Calgary do better?


I believe we can and I also believe there are huge opportunities to leverage Calgary’s boulevard pathways to create comfortable and functional bicycle accommodations, in many cases without impacting existing road space and without heightening discomfort for pedestrians, as occurs when cyclists are simply pushed into the pedestrian realm. I found what I consider to be a really good example in Vancouver of how this might look.


Above: Boulevard Pathway, Great Northern Way, Vancouver, BC. Though portions are shared use, this section is separated and includes links to the cross street (right of photo).


Aside from robust pathway build, two key elements jump out; (1) separation of cyclists and pedestrians, so that each group can travel according to their own unique needs and expectations and (2) well-designed intersections, providing clear markings and signage to indicate right-of-way and raise awareness of the mutli-modal crossing.


In my view, this example also blurs the line between cycle track and pathway, but even coming back to Calgary there are examples with obvious parallels between the form and function of boulevard pathways and cycle tracks, at least between intersections.



Above: The boulevard pathway along 25th Street SW  in Mission (top) really does exemplify the similarity in look and feel to a cycle track along, in this case along 7th Street SW (bottom)


Drawing from the above example, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that; (1) for cyclists, a cycling-permitted pathway on the boulevard (whether bicycle-specific or multi-use) serves the exact same purpose as a cycle track on the street itself and (2) anywhere a cycling-permitted pathway joins or crosses a street, the demand for a multi-use crossing is created, whether the crossing is intended as such or not.


With respect to the above, something Bike Calgary has continued to emphasize is adherence to Complete Streets Policy for intersections (Section 3.7.1);



Green Space Pathways


Calgary has a fantastic network of pathways running along rivers and through linear parks that are, in many cases, sought-after travel corridors. There’s been welcome recent movement to provide unique space for cyclists and pedestrians, first in Riverwalk and more recently in West Eau Claire.


Above: Texturally defined travel space for pedestrians and cyclists along Riverwalk, Calgary.


Similar to boulevard pathways though, there remain many examples where guidance at intersections leaves much to be desired, such as cyclist dismount signs. Also problematic are instances where in-demand mid-block crossings are closed altogether, pushing cyclists along narrow sidewalks to pedestrian crosswalks at nearby intersections, where necessary bicycle turn and/or crossing movements may not be facilitated.


Above: Perpetually closed mid-block crossing at Dalhousie Drive NW, Calgary.


While Vancouver’s green space pathway network is much more limited in extent than Calgary’s, I found some gems in terms of intersection treatments along the Arbutus Corridor greenway.


Above: Signalized street crossing along the Arbutus Corridor gives cyclists an easy and direct crossing, even though there are nearby cross streets, while providing clear right-of-way guidance for all travel modes. The corridor itself is also signed on the cross street signals so that any cyclists on the roadway know they are crossing a cycling route.


Above: A minor street crossing along the Arbutus Corridor gives pathway users, including cyclists, right of way at the intersection, ensuring consistency of right-of-way for each corridor, irrespective of travel mode, with cross street travellers (motorists or cyclists) clearly expected to stop.


Bollards


Okay, so in some ways Vancouver (“Greater Vancouver”, as I believe I was in Burnaby at this point) is not that different than Calgary. Bollards is one way and I think I counted 15 within 500m along this portion of the Central Valley Greenway (hope I got that location right!).


Above: Bollards along the Central Valley Greenway (Still Creek Avenue), Burnaby.


If one looks at Calgary literature (see 1996 Cycle Plan), one reason given for bollards is to keep non-permitted vehicles off a pathway. As with many local examples, this begs the question, if that’s the purpose, but a motorist really wants to drive on the pathway, wouldn’t they just drive onto the curb between bollards?


In this respect, a follow-up question might be, given the volume of pathway traffic, compared to the times motorists may attempt to enter the pathway, are bollards creating more of a problem (in terms of safety) than they are solving?


I’ll leave it at that with bollards other than to say that, at least in Calgary, all the bollards are (generally) the same color and reasonably visible. I find grey sort of blends with the asphalt.


All Ages and Abilities - Cycle Tracks, Raised Cycle Tracks and Protected Intersections


While we do have some what could be considered all ages and abilities infrastructure with our limited cycle track network, much of Calgary’s on-street bike infrastructure remains painted lanes, often next to traffic. Depending on street context, such accommodations will offer variable appeal depending on comfort riding near traffic. Northmount Drive at 14th Street NW could be used as a recent example of an essential improvement for cycling, but one that is arguably tailored to more confident riders, as opposed to all ages and abilities, as the earlier presented cycle track option could have been (Cycling Strategy Update 2018).


Richards Street in Downtown Vancouver provided me an example of how switching the cycling and parking can make a big difference in comfort...as well as how comfort is impacted when switching back to a more “common” cross section.



Above: The parking protected bicycle lane on Richards Street felt more comfortable than riding adjacent to traffic, though paint only might be a challenge in terms of finding street lines in a Calgary-context when the snow flies.


Above: The switch back to a bicycle lane between parking and driving definitely results in what felt like a less-comfortable travel environment for cycling on a busy multi-lane street.


Even on quieter streets, I was able to find an example of a relatively simple looking one-way cycle track configuration.


Above: One-way cycle tracks on residential Cypress Street, Vancouver create comfortable space for all, even on a quieter street.


What I found really great to experience in Vancouver was the raised cycle tracks and associated protected intersections. The raised cycle tracks were extremely comfortable to ride and provide cycling space comfortably separated from motorists and not interfering with pedestrians (note that I did see some salmoning with cyclists riding into opposing bicycle traffic). The protected intersections were intuitive and allowed for all necessary turn movements.


Above: One-way raised cycle track (bicycle pathway) along W 1st Avenue, Vancouver approaching Quebec Street protected intersection.



Above: Closer look at the protected intersection of W 1st Avenue and Quebec Street, Vancouver. Very well marked and easy to use.



Above: Another example of raised cycle tracks (bicycle pathways) along W 10th Avenue Greenway, Vancouver.


While we don’t have similar in Calgary, elements have appeared conceptually in the currently ?suspended? Northmount Drive Complete Street Project (protected intersection proposed at Northmount Drive and Northland Drive NW; raised cycle tracks initially proposed as one option at Northmount Drive and 14th Street NW...LINK) and the 17th Avenue SE Corridor Study (raised cycle tracks proposed along 17th Avenue SE, east of Stoney Trail...info LINK).

In terms of why we haven’t actually seen these implemented in Calgary, a message it's felt like Bike Calgary is getting is that the “tools” (design guidance, legislation) to build such facilities are not available to Calgary, but that the completion of the Alberta Bicycle Facilities Design Guide should resolve this, my caveat being provided that such facilities are included in the Guide and planners and engineers have a willingness to use them.


I’ve found this deferral unfortunate as, in my view, such infrastructure could create a safer and easier to understand streetscape for a wide demographic of users and for all travel modes. Interestingly, similar facilities have been built in other Alberta communities, including Canmore (LINK), arguably edging them ahead of Calgary. One thing I’d put ahead of Canmore on the Vancouver examples is that the use of asphalt seems to resonate better in defining space for cycling, something we’ve seen locally with Riverwalk.


Above: Cyclist space defined texturally in asphalt along Riverwalk, Calgary.


It seems to me that a raised cycle track treatment could be considered for 8th Avenue SW or even any potential future improvements on 3rd Avenue SW, as both are fairly wide. Some of the wider main streets could also be considered as it would promote allow anyone to feel safe and comfortable accessing amenities along the street.


Detours (Just the Signage)


Detours have been a big topic of discussion this year and part of the dialogue has been around signage. Bike Calgary had communicated to City staff that signage should give clear direction, specific to cyclists, and be easy to read at bicycle speeds. While I can’t speak to the overall quality of bicycle detours in Vancouver, I can highlight this sign as an example of one that specifically identifies the impacted route, clearly identifies the detour as a “bicycle detour”, visually directs cyclists along the detour and succinctly states the streets comprising the alternative route.


Above: Example detour sign, Vancouver.


On top of that, the sign is simple corrugated plastic, so I’m assuming relatively inexpensive to produce and customize (hopefully recyclable?), and is secured so that can’t be knocked over or placed facing the wrong direction. About the only thing I thought of as being nice to have for additional information is the start and end dates of the detour, though knowing that projects can drag on, I can see how this might be something a municipality may not want to include.


Going Forward


I think there is some value in these examples, in terms of helping to chart a course to where Calgary can go in ensuring equitable access to our streets, meeting the specific mobility needs of each travel mode and promoting clarity of operation between all street users. I do also think we’ve made some progress in some areas, for example, the approval of the South Shaganappi Study included specific amendments including;


“Direct Administration, at the detailed design stages, to give particular attention to reduced crossing distances, greater use of multi-use crossings, tightened turn radii, channelized turn removal, minimized lane widths, and general intersection safety improvements, where appropriate to Bowness Road…” (19-JUL-2019 SPC T&T MEETING MINUTES ITEM 7.2)


Whether City staff show a willingness to actually implement such treatments, even after approval of the Alberta Bicycle Facilities Design Guide, remains to be seen.


I certainly hope Bike Calgary will continue to keep these issues at the forefront of the infrastructure dialogue with the City and other stakeholders.

 

Definitely happy for any comments.

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