Robert Bott's picture

Inter-urban Bicycle Infrastructure Connectivity

At the recent Bike Calgary Gala, I spoke briefly with Environment Minister Shannon Phillips about infrastructure connectivity, especially routes outside the major towns and cities. I followed up with a letter detailing my concerns (appended below) and today received the following reply--disappointing in some respects, possibly more hopeful in others. Not mentioned is the issue of trails also used by ATVs.

Sorry about all the HTML coding--couldn't figure out how to get rid of it. Just scroll down to read the correspondence. I'd be interested in hearing what others think:



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Dear Mr. Bott:


My colleague, the Honourable Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks, forwarded your email of October 2, 2017, regarding inter-urban bicycle infrastructure connectivity. As Minister of Culture and Tourism, the lead ministry supporting Alberta TrailNet Society’s development of the Great Trail (formerly the Trans Canada Trail), I appreciate the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Government of Alberta.


Safe and sustainable cycle routes are important assets in building our communities and helping people live physically active, healthy lives. Ultimately, the determination of policy, along with planning and implementation of bike routes as a community amenity, is a municipal responsibility. However, outside of municipalities, trail development within highway rights-of-way or use of highway shoulders as trails is not encouraged due to safety reasons. Alberta Transportation works with government departments and municipalities to consider opportunities for trails within and outside of highway rights-of-way when guidelines and standards can be met.


To support regional trails, the province invested in the development of the Great Trail. When complete, we will have approximately 2,200 kilometres of recreation land trail for cyclists, hikers, horseback enthusiasts, and cross-country skiers. A number of the routes you mentioned are part of the Great Trail alignment. In 2017, progress was made on the Calgary-Airdrie-Edmonton and Cochrane-Canmore connections. The Bragg Creek to Canmore to Banff section has only a 3.5‑kilometre span left to construct. The Calgary to Airdrie to Red Deer to Edmonton section is also progressing as it ties together existing trails and low-use road connections.


My department has also been facilitating the development of cycling as a tourism product. Last year, Alberta Culture and Tourism supported Alberta Bikes to host the Fourth Annual Alberta Bikes Conference. The conference attracted over 100 individuals from communities and organizations across Alberta.


Alberta TrailNet is a registered charity that is the umbrella organization for provincial, regional, and community-based trail groups. In addition to leading the development of the Great Trail, Alberta TrailNet works with communities and community groups, provincial trail user group associations, and other stakeholders in support of their efforts toward planning, design, development, operations and management of trails. You may wish to contact this organization if you would like further information on the Great Trail and its progress, or on Alberta trails in general.


Thank you for writing.


Best Regards,



Ricardo Miranda

Minister of Culture and Tourism


cc:      Honourable Brian Mason, Minister of Transportation

Honourable Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

Honourable Shaye Anderson, Minister of Municipal Affairs






Dear Minister Phillips,

It was a pleasure to meet and hear you Saturday night at the Bike Calgary Gala. I’d like to elaborate on something I raised in our brief chat.


As you are well aware, connectivity has become a big issue in our cities and towns as they expand cycling infrastructure. Too many pathways and designated routes end abruptly on busy thoroughfares, deterring many people (young, old, families, newbies) from getting on their bikes, whether for commuting, transportation, recreation, or tourism. It’s slowly being addressed, and I hope your government’s green funding can speed the process.


However, less attention has been paid to the issue of inter-urban infrastructure connectivity. This needs improvement at both the regional and provincial levels. At the regional level, we need safe routes from Calgary to Cochrane, Airdrie, Okotoks, and High River (similar to the routes connecting Edmonton to Sherwood Park and St. Albert). Provincially, the wide shoulders on many of our secondary roads make them very attractive to cyclists, but more could be done to eliminate bottlenecks and promote cycle tourism.


Two bottlenecks come to mind:

·         Calgary-Edmonton would be a very pleasant tour via Chestermere, Highways 9 and 21 (I did it about 15 years ago) but for about 20 km north of Delburne to the David Thompson Highway, the shoulder on Highway 21 is almost non-existent, and you are perilously close to traffic. The right-of-way is wide enough for a pathway if widening the shoulders is too expensive.

·         Cochrane-Canmore (i.e. Banff-Calgary) would also be a very popular tour on the 1A Highway if it were not for the 20 kilometres without shoulders through the Morley Reserve. I have heard that discussions are underway about widening, but I don’t know what progress has been made.


Alberta should learn from Quebec’s experience with Green Routes ( ), which have been become tourism destinations for cyclists from around the world, supporting a network of restaurants, motels, and B&Bs sporting “Bienvenue Cyclistes” signs. My cycle touring has taken me to 29 U.S. states and eight Canadian provinces, and I have seen the benefits that dedicated infrastructure and tourism promotion can bring. In addition to Quebec, other examples include Prince Edward Island’s rail trails and Missouri’s KATY Trail. The Iron Horse Trail from St. Paul to Cold Lake could be such a tourism draw if it were not torn up by ATVs; perhaps a “bike lane” could be added to it.


As we move towards a greener future, I hope the government will give due consideration to the potential benefits of connected inter-urban bike infrastructure and cycle tourism.



Bob Bott

(urban cyclist in Calgary since 1974, car-free since 2000)  





bclark's picture

Some Further Info

Robert, you may find the following helpful, or at least interesting.

It's Alberta Transportations' 2015 document on Trails in Highway Rights-of-Way. When I read it, I found that, though it provides some very good guidance elements on trail development, the overall tone is discouraging towards the development of such trails.

Bike Calgary is currently involved as a stakeholder in the development of the Alberta Bicycle Facility Design Guide and one of our objectives is to push for the Guide to take a much more positive approach towards encouraging cycling and proper cycling accommodations.

There's more info at if you are interested.


Robert Bott's picture

my response to the ministers


Dear Minister Miranda and colleagues,

Thank you for your Nov. 9 response to my Oct. 2 email. I have now had a chance to think about the issues, do some further research, and discuss with fellow cyclists.


First, I don’t think you should consider the “Great Trail” a bicycle amenity in those places, like the Iron Horse Trail, where ATVs are permitted. They wreck the surface by churning up sand and gravel. This was certainly the case in all such sections I’ve tried to ride in Ontario and Atlantic Canada and my one attempt on the Iron Horse some years ago. Not to mention the hazards created by high-speed users on ATVs and motorcycles. Even on a fat-tired mountain bike, it is an unfriendly environment that would definitely deter family cycling and timid riders. Only trails that ban motorized use (except maybe snowmobiles if there is no demand for XC skiing) can be considered as “bicycle trails.” I can’t even figure out from the Alberta TrailNet website which current or planned trails are non-motorized. You are not going to build a bicycle tourism industry like those in Quebec and Prince Edward Island with a discontinuous network where only some portions of routes are bike friendly.


As a touring cyclist, I’m happy with any road that has at least a metre of shoulder—though dedicated trails are obviously safer and more pleasant. Many such trails are less direct, however, and often begin or end inconveniently. I host touring cyclists when they come through Calgary (through an international organization called and meet others on my travels, so I know I’m not alone in this. My original point was that we have two very nice touring routes—Highway 21 and the 1A—that are interrupted by sections without shoulders. I was hoping something could be done about them. As mentioned, I have heard there may be progress regarding 1A. There are no jurisdictional issues for Highway 21 though, and a decent shoulder would also make those 20 km north of Delburne safer for motorists.


I had a look at the report on Trails in Highway Rights-of-Way, and I think Alberta Transportation is overly conservative and is trying to avoid responsibility for non-motorized transportation. If the federal government (in national parks) and Quebec (many Green Routes) can build pathways in rights-of-way, why can’t Alberta?  


This is the first I’ve heard about a complete Calgary-Airdrie-Red Deer-Edmonton pathway alignment. Will it be non-motorized? Will it be done in my lifetime (I’m 72)?


As to tourism promotion, I’ve ridden several times from Calgary to the U.S. border and the Crowsnest Pass as well as the mentioned Highway 21 route to Edmonton and the 1A between Calgary and Banff (and of course the federal Icefields Parkway, which has its bottlenecks too). We have some neat places that cyclists would enjoy. There is a growing interest in cycle touring in North America and internationally. That’s why I’d like to see us be more than merely a rather tedious section of people’s Trans-Canada rides. You’d be amazed how many riders are drawn to Quebec’s Green Routes and the PEI rail trail--and how much they spend there on food, accommodation, and other services.


In general, for both municipal and provincial infrastructure, I support the positions in Bike Calgary’s May 2016 submission to the Alberta Bicycle Facility Design Guide Steering Committee:


The Dutch have produced an excellent, comprehensive Handbook on Cycling-Inclusive Policy Development:

Regarding the secondary routes that I seek out on my tours (29 U.S. states and 8 provinces so far), the handbook notes:

Scenic Byway

Many countries designate specific roadways, typically secondary roads, with significant cultural, historic, scenic, geological, or natural features as “scenic byways” or some other term. These typically offer additional facilities (see Quebec’s Route Verte, for example) to encourage cyclists and other HPT users and form part of economic development and/or tourism policies. Ideally, these kinds of routes are integrated into train, subway and BRT systems to provide city residents and visitors with a seamless route for reaching access points with bicycles and/or other necessary equipment (strollers, wheelchairs, etc.).


I’m just saying that Alberta has a lot of unrealized potential for clean, healthy non-motorized recreation, travel, and transportation. Our major cities are making progress, but we still have a long way to go to catch up with other jurisdictions. The “Great Trail” shows some promise if it has good surfaces and is non-motorized, but from what I’ve seen here and elsewhere in Canada, outside Quebec and PEI, it remains a distant dream. Meanwhile, we have some great highway routes, and they would be a lot better with few sections of shoulder widening and/or right-of-way paths.


Thanks again for listening.

Bob Bott

(cycling in and around Calgary since 1974)

Robert Bott's picture

a hopeful resolution


AUMA 2017 Convention Resolution: Regional Trail Linkages between Urban Municipalities

  Clipped from the link on this page – ‘Resolutions Book’:, page 36, 2017 Resolutions Book, Updated October 27, 2017, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association. Convention occurring November 22-24, 2017 at the TELUS Convention Centre in Calgary AB. 




AUMA Resolution 2017.B12

Town of Blackfalds/Town of Sylvan Lake/Town of Penhold

Regional Trail Linkages between Urban Municipalities

WHEREAS there are opportunities for regional trail development which fall outside trail routes designated as Trans Canada Trail;


WHEREAS there is a need to connect trail systems already built in neighboring communities, thereby offering safe, economical alternative means of travel;


WHEREAS alternative modes of transportation such as walking and biking offer health benefits as well as benefit the environment; and


WHEREAS the growing number of bikers and walkers on highways and roadways designed strictly for vehicles increases the likelihood of catastrophic conflict with automobile traffic.


IT IS THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the Albertan Urban Municipalities urge the Government of Alberta to provide support and funding to complete non-motorized trail linkages between Urban Municipalities.




“Active Transportation” is any human powered transportation and people who use active transportation are most likely to achieve daily physical activity goals. The 2017 Alberta Survey on Physical Activity found that 43% of Albertans are not getting enough physical activity and active transportation provides numerous benefits including:


1.     Reduction in the risk of developing chronic health problems including heart disease, cancers, diabetes and mental health issues.

2.     Providing economic benefits through reduced personal costs, reduced infrastructure needs, and reduced healthcare spending and boosts to the local economy.

3.     Benefits to the Environment through reduced ecological footprint and lower energy consumption.

4.     Increased safety by reducing pedestrian and cyclists conflicts with motor vehicles.


Encouraging “Active Transportation” starts by providing safe active transportation infrastructure such as exclusive lanes and interconnected paths. Non-motorized trail linkages between urban municipalities will provide many long term benefits to the citizens and the communities in which they live in.


AUMA Comments:

·         This resolution is consistent with a 2011 resolution on regional trail linkages outside of the Trans Canada Trail Network, which has expired.


CPat's picture

Great read Rob, thanks.

Great read Rob, thanks.

Transformational things could be done when planning and designing this infrastructure (highways, canals).  It should be part of every right of way as expressway-style roads are huge barriers.  Calgary really feels like a moat has been built around it with a few drawbridges here and there.  Another obvious one is extending the MUP under the new SWRR on the north bank of the Elbow (coordinate with Tsuu Tina) and under the Hwy 8 bridge to connect to wider shoulders west of Calgary or access Springbank Rd north of Hwy 8.  Not in the project.  We'll supply the moat, but accommodate other transportation modes?  Also saw this on Old Banff Coach Rd in the SW where the sprawl road "improvements" did away with the shoulder when curbs were installed.  Paths/sidewalks don't really work very well since they're designed for pedestrians and not cyclists (especially at intersections).

North on Symons Valley Rd this happened too.  772 and 766 both feel much harder to get to with the Ring Road and the maze of sprawl - loss of shoulders combination in the last 10 years.  I'm much more likely to drive somewhere now like K-Country or Banff to ride due to life circumstances, but used to get out for training rides all around Calgary from the front door.  Still do-able, but doesn't feel as comfortable.

Robert Bott's picture

Crossing the Moat

Going south and east are fairly easy. The canal pathway to Chestermere gives access to 1, 9 and 21. Sometimes I have taken the LRT down to Somerset (or previously Fish Creek) and then headed down 2 or 22 or the back roads to Turner Valley. I haven't tried LRT to 69th or Tuscany, but will give them a try in the spring. One of these days we might finally get a route from Bowness through Glenbow Park to Cochrane.

We'll have to keep pressing Alberta Transportation. I remember similar struggles with the city's transportation folks not so long ago. It takes public and political pressure to build consensus and change their way of thinking.



CPat's picture

Letter to MLA

Just a note Rob, that I've added a letter to our mla's to my to do list, so I'll put some effort into continuing the conversation with them.  Really appreciate the AUMA link.

Hopefully some others do as well.  (Thanks Brent).

-I'd also like them to institute strict liability for vulnerable road users (especially important with autonomous vehicles that are already on the roads, even GM will have them in urban cities by 2019).

-cycle touring road routes

-accomodation in new construction

-off-road routes (like the TransCanada/Great Trail was originally envisioned, BC Rail Trails)

-urban fund(on-street and off-street) like BC's (notably started and expanded under BC Liberals, i.e. bipartisan) and Ontario's

-update MGA to change off site levies from just specifying "roads" to "transportation" to capture all modes' capital costs (There's a reason "road just happen automatically")

-active transportation school programs (cardiovascular disease prevention) for infrastructure, education/skills training, promotion




Robert Bott's picture

A further response from Minister Miranda


From: Minister Culture and Tourism []
Sent: December 11, 2017 1:13 PM
To: 'Robert Bott'
Cc: TRANS Minister; AEP Minister; MA Minister; Minister Culture and Tourism
Subject: AR 42521 - Bicycle Infrastructure Connectivity


Dear Mr. Bott:


Thank you for your November 20, 2017, email, re-enforcing your support for touring cyclists and outlining some of the needs to facilitate safe and enjoyable riding.


I agree with you on the potential for healthy non-motorized recreation and tourism opportunities here in the province. While it will take time, my ministry is continuing to work with municipal and community partners to help realize these opportunities. The resources you referenced in your email can help inform those considerations and I have forwarded them to my ministry staff. As you can appreciate, a variety of views and priorities have to be considered, not the least of which is the province’s fiscal situation.


As I mentioned in my previous email, safety is a priority of our government; we do not support placing families or youth at risk on busy provincial highways where the hazards you have mentioned exist. This is one of the reasons we have worked with partners on dedicated trails like the Great Trail (Trans Canada Trail). Except in rare instances where previous use existed, use of motorized vehicles is prohibited for the very reasons you outlined.


Regarding the expansion of road shoulders along Highways 21 and 1A, I am forwarding your letter to the Honourable Brian Mason, Minister of Transportation, for his consideration.


While there is work still to be done, we are working to make progress as our resources and available opportunities permit. I hope you will see signs of progress as you cycle the province.


Thank you again for writing. Your comments are appreciated.


Best Regards,



Ricardo Miranda

Minister of Culture and Tourism


cc:       Honourable Brian Mason, Minister of Transportation

Honourable Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

Honourable Shaye Anderson, Minister of Municipal Affairs

Robert Bott's picture

More info from Transportation Minister

Dec. 22, 2017


Dear Mr. Bott:


Honourable Ricardo Miranda, Minister of Culture and Tourism, forwarded your email regarding the shoulders on highways 21 and 1A. As Ministerial Assistant to Honourable Brian Mason, Minister of Alberta Transportation, I am able to provide the following information.


Alberta Transportation recognizes how cycling and other forms of active transportation can benefit communities and the wellbeing of Albertans. Our top priority is to ensure the safety of all road users, including drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.


The department has plans to realign parts of Highway 1A and widen it. This work will involve a land agreement with the federal government for First Nations land, and will also be contingent upon provincial priorities and funding.


You also noted concerns about the shoulders on Highway 21. Although Alberta Transportation does not have immediate plans to widen this highway, the department will consider this work alongside all other requests from across the province.


Again, thank you for advocating for active transportation in our province, and I hope this information is helpful.





Danielle Monroe

Ministerial Assistant

Phone: 780-427-2080


mikewarren's picture

Low hanging fruit: shoulders, and rumble-strips

All the talk about "trails" and so on is a little concerning in some sense: while nice, such projects are automatically longer-term. There is some VERY low-hangning fruit, though:

 - construct new highways with a proper shoulder (i.e. the "1m plus" that you mentioned). Realistically, ALL cycle-tourists are by definition "comfortable on the road" because there are very limited places you can "tour" without using roads.

 - do NOT build rumble-strips (especially "retrofit" ones that take away much of typically-limited shoulders)

If they absolutely insist on building rumble-strips, the ones that integrate into the white line are the least-crappy for cyclists. The ones Alberta builds currently are TERRIBLE. (A point to consider if discussing these is that the research I've seen on their usefulness for motorists seems "limited": they do decrease "run off the road" crashes but increase "over-correct" crashes .. so, their utility even ignoring cyclists isn't obvious).