News / Calgary

Calgary traffic flow: Some downtown streets less busy than in 1964

Drivers may fume about traffic in downtown Calgary today, but numerous core-area streets actually have lower traffic volumes in recent years than they did a half-century ago, according to data the city has compiled over decades.

Major entryways into the Beltline like 4th Street and 14th Street SW, for example, saw less traffic in 2012 than they did in 1964, when the city’s population was a quarter the size.

“It is a little bit surprising,” Ekke Kok, the city's manager of transportation data, said of the historical vehicle counts he and his predecessors have collected since Grant MacEwan was mayor.

Traffic on many centre-city routes peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with volumes tending to drop off in the latest five years of recorded data.

The stretch of Macleod Trail between 25th Avenue South and the Elbow River, for example, recorded its thickest traffic in 1998, when 63,000 vehicles were counted in a 24-hour period.

Annual counts from 2008 to 2012, by comparison, averaged at 49,800.

To William Hamilton, who spent years with TransitCamp YYC, a citizen advocacy group devoted to local transit issues, those numbers aren’t particularly surprising.

"If you look at the two main drivers, which are constraining downtown parking and building a mass transit spine through the city centre, it makes absolute sense that transit numbers and that pedestrian numbers would go way up, and that automotive traffic figures would be flat or even decline a little bit," he said.

Hamilton added that the drop in vehicle traffic on Macleod Trail can be connected to the expansion of the south leg of the C-Train line in the early 2000s.

“If you make mass transit such as the C-Train a viable option for more commuters, then absolutely more people are going to take it, and that’s going to take strain off the road infrastructure,” he said.

Kok said a number of factors are likely at play in the changing traffic patterns over the decades, including "a conscious decision" made by city planners "not to increase the capacity of some roads” in the downtown area while also constructing a variety of other major thoroughfares.

“We’ve built a whole bunch of new stuff like Deerfoot Trail and Blackfoot Trail that have really taken the traffic away,” Kok said. “So even though the city has built out further to the south ... I think that traffic has really shifted to other roads.”

“The other part, of course, is that mode-split difference,” Kok added, referring to the more recent shift in downtown travel choices.

The number of people riding Calgary Transit buses increased by 136 per cent between 1995 and 2013, he noted, while car traffic grew by just 1.2 per cent over the same period, according to the city’s annual “cordon counts” of traffic flowing in and out of the city's core.

Pedestrian numbers, meanwhile, grew by 102 per cent and bicycle traffic increased by 153 per cent, although they make up a much smaller proportion of the total traffic volume.

Traffic flow volumes by year and block:

Travel mode of people entering and exiting the downtown core:

* Note: The scale on the X-axis of the graphs is not linear because Calgary traffic flow data was not measured annually until 2005 and the city, on short notice, provided Metro with cordon count data for a sampling of years between 1976 and 2013.

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