Calgary Bicycle Transportation FAQs

Also check out our Connecting Communities webpages on the Comprehensive Cycling Strategy!

What are the benefits of bicycle transportation?

Bicycle transportation is good for the individual and good for our community:

Good for the individual:

    • Cycling provides people the freedom of mobility, regardless of their income, age, sex or social status.
    • People who bike to work or cycle frequently are more active and more productive. They are also less likely to be affected by obesity, heart problems, and cancer.
    • Cycling to work is not only less stressful than driving for many people, but also a stress reliever. Cycling is fun, friendly, and allows you to experience more of your community.

Good for the community:

    • Regional health costs decrease as citizens lead more active lifestyles. Cycling is a great way to become more active.
    • Encouraging people out of cars and on to bikes reduces traffic congestion for motorists -- in fact, it is demonstrated to be one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing congestion on roads.
    • Reductions in motor vehicle traffic mean less noise and air pollution for us all. And unlike motor vehicles, bicycles do not emit greenhouse gases or damage air quality.
    • Bicycle friendly streets increase personal mobility. Neighbourhood businesses benefit by increased consumer traffic, leading to positive benefits to our local economy.
    • Each of the above improve our overall quality of life and can increase property value.

Read more on our page on how making Calgary more bike friendly will benefit all Calgarians.

How many cyclists are there in Calgary?

It depends on what you mean by "cyclist".  There are several thousand Calgarians who ride their bicycle to work every day for the entire year. About 40,000 Calgarians ride their bicycle for transportation purposes regularly in the spring, summer, and fall.  140,000 Calgarians ride bicycles for recreation at least once a week.  And about 400,000 Calgarians ride at least occasionally. Here is a very detailed answer.

Who commutes by bike and how far do they go?

The vast majority of Calgary's commuter cyclists own a car but choose not to use it. Their commute is 10 km on average, while some people bike as far as 30 km to get to work. People of all working ages commute by bicycle, although currently the largest group is middle-aged males (however, in European cities with bicycle infrastructure the demographics of cyclists is similar to the general population).

Are cyclists legitimate road users?

Bicycles are recognized and regulated as vehicles, just like cars, trucks, and buses, under the Alberta Traffic Safety Act, and bicycles are permitted vehicles on nearly every roadway in Calgary. It is an unfortunate but common misconception that bicycles have no place on our roads. In fact, the Alberta Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation (Section 75) explicitly states that cyclists have all same rights to the road as a person operating a motor vehicle.

Is cycling a viable mode of transportation?

Lots of Calgarians demonstrate that it is every day, and many use bikes as our primary mode of transportation to work year-round. Community transportation priorities must focus on moving people, not vehicles. But even as a vehicle, bikes have some major advantages over cars: bike transportation infrastructure is relatively inexpensive to implement and maintain, bike infrastructure doesn’t require much space, bikes don’t contribute to noise or air pollution, and bikes encourage active and healthy lifestyles within our communities.

Calgary has 700 km of bicycle paths, what are you complaining about?

In reality, there is very little dedicated bike infrastructure in Calgary.  As of 2013, there are about 30 km of on-street marked bike lanes, about 0.1% of Calgary's over 19,000 lane kilometres of roadway.

It is true that Calgary has over 700 km of multiple-use pathways (MUP) that were designed for recreational users, particularly pedestrians, joggers, and recreational cyclists. Although the paths offer scenic routes through some parts of our city, they were not designed for transportation, and thus they are not well-suited for commuter cyclists. Commuter pathways need to be efficient (e.g., allow speeds beyond the 10 or 20 km/h limits on the MUP), provide a high level of connectivity throughout the city, must be cleared of snow and ice in the winter, must be well lit, and conform to accepted safety standards for cycle transportation. Unfortunately, our existing pathway system falls short in these areas and in some instances pose dangers to cyclists and non-cyclists alike. For instance, only 20% of pathways are snow cleared (compared to about 50% of roads), most pathways are not lit at night, and a large part of the 700 km network of pathways criss-crosses Calgary's large parks, e.g., Nose Hill.

Why should motorists subsidize bicyclists? Do bicyclists even pay their fair share of the road?

It is a common misconception that motorists alone pay for the cost of building and maintaining roads, e.g., through gas taxes and parking fees. The truth is that mainainance and operation of city roads is funded from general revenue, which is funded by residential property tax, but which does not include taxes on gas, licensing, or registration.  Construction of new roadways is financed by provincial and federal grants, the majority of which also comes from general revenue, e.g., income tax. Taxes on gas make up only a small portion of those grants.

According to the City of Calgary's Annual Report, operating expenses for roads, traffic, and parking amounted to over $362 million in 2011. The overall expenditures for transportation (transit included) were over $750 million. According to the City's Transportation business plan and budget, the capital budget for transportation amounts to $640 million for 2012. In 2011, when the West LRT was being built, that number was even higher at $1,167 million.

Taxes on gas cover only a fraction of this cost.  According to the City's 2009-2011 Capital Analysis, it receives $283 million in federal gas tax funding, and $475 million in provincial fuel tax revenue sharing over the 2009-2013 period, or $56 million and $95 million respectively per year.  The federal Gas Tax Fund is earmarked for sustainable infrastructure projects, and cannot be used for road construction in Calgary. It is in fact mainly used to fund transit and waste/recycling projects, although a small fraction (5%) is used to fund active transportation projects such as pathways.  All of it is restricted to capital projects.  Overall, less than 25% of Calgary's capital expenses on transportation projects is covered by gas and fuel tax funding. 

Passenger vehicle registration and license fees are collected (and retained) by the province (and make up less than 7% of provincial spending on highways and transportation).  They are not used to fund city spending on roads at all.

The rest of the City's funding for new roads, and practically all of the City's funding for the upkeep of roads and transit comes from the general fund, i.e., mostly from property taxes (paid by everyone), developer levies (paid by future homeowners in new developments), and federal and provincial grants (funded from general taxes such as income tax).  Less than 7% of the City's operating expenses for roads and traffic are covered by profits from the Calgary Parking Authority.

Roads are a public good: just like the Police Service, they should not only be paid for by people who use them, but by everyone (including cyclists)—and in fact they are.

In fact, cyclists pay much more than their fair share of road costs. In recent years, the City has only spent about $2.5 million a year for cycling infrastructure, about 0.4% of the total capital expenses for transportation. The 2011 Cycling Strategy calls for capital spending of $5 million a year for the four years. That's about 0.8% of all transportation capital expenditures, less than cylists's "fair share" (1% of all trips and 2% of home-to-work trips according to CARTAS, 1.3% commute mode share according to the National Household Survey). In terms of operating expenses, expeditures for cyclists amount to less than 0.3% of the City's expenses for transportation. Taking into account transit fare revenue and parking fees, dividing the City's operating exenses by the number of daily commuters per mode would give about:

  • $2,500 per transit commuter
  • $800 per car commuter
  • $400 per bicycle commuter

(based on 2011 operating budget and 2006 commuter numbers).

None of this yet recognizes the public benefit bicycle commuters have. Not only do bikes not have the same impact on road wear and maintenance as cars. Cycling is also not burdened with the "hidden costs" of operating motor vehicles, such as air and noise pollution, traffic injury costs, cost of policing traffic regulations and investigating car collisions, congestion costs, and the health care costs of sedentary lifestyles.  The Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI) studied this question in detail and published their results in a study entitled Whose Roads? (PDF). See also this article (admittedly about Vancouver, but the situation in Calgary is similar.) Riding a bicycle instead of driving a car has a benefit to the public that justifies investment in bicycle facilities many times what the City is already planning to do.

Won’t it be really expensive for Calgary to build transportation infrastructure for cyclists?

Transportation infrastructure for cyclists is very inexpensive compared to infrastructure needs for motorists or public transit (e.g., roads, light rail). For instance, widening a road from 2 to 4 lanes costs about $8.5 million per kilometre; painting a bike lane only a few thousand dollars.  In fact, the mayor of Portland, Oregon—one of North America's most bicycle friendly cities—recently announced that their city’s entire bike infrastructure cost less than one mile of freeway. Specifically, the estimate was for a total cost of US$52m, or about the cost of a single freeway interchange in Calgary. Naturally, this cost would not be spent in a single year, nor would there be ongoing annual costs nearly as high as that.  Not only is cycling infrastructure relatively cheap to construct, it is also relatively cheap to maintain.

The City's 2011 Cycling Strategy has 50 specific recommendations for how to make Calgary more bike friendly.  This includes not just new bike lanes, but also education programs for cyclists and drivers, and other safety improvements. The estimated additional operational cost is $1.5 million per year (= 0.3% of the City's annual operating expenses for transit, road, traffic, and parking), and the additional capital cost is $12.2 million over three years (= $3 million a year, or 0.6% of the City's annual capital expenses for transportation).

The Victoria Transportation Policy Institute has estimated that the monetized benefits of encouraging more cycling can be very substantive, and more than justify increased investment in cycling infrastructure. Based on VTPI's research and very conservative assumptions, we've estimated the monetized benefits of a successful implementation of the Cycling Strategy to be at least $2m per year, but probably more than 10 times that.

Why do you want to force people to get out of their car?

It's clear that for many Calgarians giving up on their car is no option.  But for many Calgarians it is, and they would take up cycling more often is Calgary were more bike friendly.  If we had appropriate transportation infrastructure for cyclists, it would provide opportunity for some people to use their bike instead of their car. This represents a win-win situation for everyone, because it reduces roadway congestion, reduces our ecological footprint, encourages active and healthy lifestyles and improves the overall quality of life in our communities.

What do cyclists want anyways?

According to the City's Bicycle Policy, cyclists, like other road users, have a few basic needs:

  1. Space to ride
  2. A smooth surface, clear of obstacles
  3. A connected cycling system
  4. Ability to maintain speed
  5. Bicycle parking and amenities at destinations
  6. Character and to be safe and feel secure
  7. Education and enforcement

I’m a business owner. Won't more bikes on the road translate into less retail activity?

Good cycling infrastructure makes it easier for people to access businesses, and cyclists and pedestrians have similar spending habits. Because bikes are easy to park and take up less space than cars, more cyclists can reach your business. Again, the idea is to move people, not cars. In many European cities that have seen a rise in cyclists, this has translated to increased business (e.g., see this article on “Cyclists are Better Shoppers than Motorists”).

Just because cycling works elsewhere, why should it here? Isn't Calgary different from NYC, Vancouver, Montreal or Copenhagen?

Certainly cities differ from each other, but Calgarians have similar needs to people living elsewhere: we have to get to work, we need clean air for ourselves and our children, we are concerned about our health and that of our loved ones, and we rely on a  thriving local economy. Many other cities are thinking ahead and making significant investments in cycling infrastructure to obtain such benefits, and those cities that have done so have seen hughe increases in cycling. Even northern cities like Edmonton, Montreal, Winnipeg and Saskatoon are moving forward with infrastructure development for cyclists – and their snowy, inclement winters are not deterring them! Montreal gets twice as much snow as Calgary and has roughly the same winter temperatures; yet it is one of North America's most bike firendly cities.  Calgary already has a fair number of winter bicycle commuters, so cold and snow do not make riding in the winter impossible. Even if improved cycling infrastructure would double the number of people cycling only in the dry Summer months, the investment would pay for itself. 

It's also sometimes thought that cycling is not feasibly as a mode of transportation in Calgary, because Calgary is so large and the commute would take too long.  As a matter of fact, a 30% of Calgary's commuters travel less than 5km to work (15 mins by bicycle), and 60% less than 10km (or up to 30 mins by bicycle).  Encouraging bike transportation is an investment in our future, and even cities such as Los Angeles (which has not been considered an archetypical bike-friendly city in the past) recently voted an ambitious plan to build 1,680 miles (2,600 km) of bikeways. We encourage Calgarians to think to the future!

Is cycling dangerous in Calgary?

We are not aware of statistics to suggest that cycling is a particularly ‘dangerous’ form of transportation in our city compared to, say, walking or compared to other cities. But there is a common perception that cycling in traffic is dangerous. The latest Calgary cycling survey reveals that 59% of people would like to bike more often, but most (64%) Calgarians do not feel safe riding on our roadways. International comparisons reveal that cycling injuries are up to 27 times higher (on a per km basis) in US cities that lack proper cycling infrastructure than in places like the Netherlands where cities have substantial infrastructure. Thus, safety concerns are real and they represent a major barrier to increasing cyclists in our city. Improving cycling infrastructure has been demonstrated to increase safety (e.g., New York’s experience) and it certainly boosts the confidence of new cyclists. So, failing to provide Calgarians with appropriate cycling infrastructure represents a huge loss of opportunity for our citizens to engage in a safe, healthy and fun mode of transportation

Does more bike lanes = more bikes = more accidents?

Actually, more bike lanes means fewer accidents. For example, according to a memorandum published by NYC's Office of the Mayor, “When protected bike lanes are installed, injury crashes for all road users (drivers, pedestrians, cyclists), typically drop by 40 percent and by more than 50 percent in some locations.“

Why aren't you just riding on the sidewalk?

Not only is it illegal to ride on the sidewalk in Calgary, but it is also dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. Studies conducted in Ottawa, Toronto, and elsewhere have concluded that the sidewalk is the most dangerous place to ride, and fewer injuries occur on roadways.

Aren't cyclists reckless law-breakers? Do all cyclists ride like couriers?

Just like motorists, most cyclists follow the rules of the road and drive their vehicles in a respectful and appropriate manner. Perhaps some cyclists are unclear about the rules of the road, or they choose to ignore the rules, but the same can be said of motorists as well.  What is clearly needed is better education for cyclists and motorists alike on how to behave in traffic, and how to use cycling infrastructure such as bike lanes properly.

One often hears people claiming that the majority of cyclists run red lights and stop signs.  If that were true, it would be borne out in the accident statistics: you'd expect far more cyclists involved in collisions having just run a red or a stop sign.  In fact, about the same number of cyclists as drivers are recorded as having committed such an error.  In collisions leading to a fatality, more drivers than cyclists are recorded as having committed a driver error.

Do cyclists take up too much space on the road?

One car takes up as much space as 8 bicycles. Recall how nice it is to drive around town in the summer when a mere 10% of Calgarians are away on vacation. Imagine what it would look like if we had the infrastructure to encourage just 5% of our motorists to leave their cars at home and cycle to work instead!

Are cyclists too slow?

In typical traffic, the average speed of a bicycle is roughly the same as a city bus. In some cases (e.g., congested traffic) cyclists can be much faster than cars, particularly if they have their own bikeways. Appropriate bicycle infrastructure also attracts many cyclists away from roadways, particularly new cyclists or more leisurely bikers, thereby reducing traffic congestion for motorists.

See also:

Cycling Health and Safety: A Review