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Downtown Calgary cycling network could allow bikes on Stephen Avenue mall

Calgary’s latest proposal for a downtown network of cycling routes includes allowing cyclists to ride on the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall, an idea that is already raising concerns ahead of a series of public open houses due to begin Thursday.

“Our biggest concern is around even entertaining the idea of having cyclists on Stephen Avenue,” Calgary Downtown Association executive director Maggie Schofield said Wednesday, after seeing draft documents of the plan. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Schofield said, from her reading of the draft plan, it doesn’t include physically separated bike lanes – known as cycle tracks – on Stephen Avenue but would allow for pedestrians and cyclists to mix on the busy route which is currently closed to vehicle traffic during daytime hours.

Bicycles would still be prohibited between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m, Schofield added, but she noted Stephen Avenue is packed with pedestrians throughout the day and said it’s just not a safe or effective route for east-west bicycle traffic.

Aside from that, Schofield said the Downtown Association supports the cycle-track network idea in general, but she believes Stephen Avenue should remain a pedestrian-only route during the day.

“I’m not a supporter of taking away something that works very, very well in order to Band-Aid another strategy,” she said.

City transportation engineer Blanka Bracic said the Stephen Avenue proposal is just that - a proposal - at this point and nothing is set in stone.

"We're just starting the conversation about how could cycling work on Stephen Avenue," she said Wednesday. "What would it look like? What times? What days? What are the conditions? We haven't worked any of that out, yet."

Coun. Druh Farrell, whose ward includes the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall, said she's open to exploring ways to incorporate cyclists onto the route, potentially with requirements that they dismount during certain times of day, like the busy lunch-hour.

She said the biggest challenge for the downtown cycling network is finding an appropriate east-west connection but alternative routes such as 4 Avenue, 5 Avenue and 6 Avenue are just too busy with motor-vehicle traffic to take away a travel lane and add a separated cycle track.

"On Stephen Avenue, there's certainly the capacity for most times of the day, and I believe it can be managed," Farrell said. "For now, it seems like the most practical solution. But that doesn't mean we can't review it in the future."

Bracic said other components of the plan include converting the north lane of 12 Avenue into a two-way cycle track between 14 Street SW and 4 Street SE, as well as establishing a two-way cycle track on one side of 5 Street SW between the Bow River and 15 Avenue.

Cycle tracks typically cost about $1 million per kilometre to build, Bracic added, and the entire network could be built within the city's existing cycling-strategy budget of $22 million.

Coun. Evan Woolley, whose Beltline ward includes many of the proposed cycling routes, said the often contentious debate over replacing car lanes with bike lanes is sometimes framed – incorrectly in his view – as a motorists-versus-cyclists battle, when really many people use both modes of transport.

“We cannot get bogged down in ideology on this,” he said. “This is about building cities that serve everybody.”

The city is inviting the public to provide feedback on the draft plan at one of three open houses, starting this week. The locations and dates are:

  • Hotel Arts (119-12 Avenue S.W.); Thursday, Feb. 6, 5-8 p.m.
  • Suncor Energy Centre (111-5 Avenue S.W.); Tuesday, Feb. 11, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
  • CORE Shopping Centre, +15 level by Holt Renfrew (324-8 Avenue S.W.); Monday, Feb. 10, to Friday, Feb. 14. Staff will be onsite from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. daily.


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