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Urban Compass Calgary

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Calgary's pedestrian and bike infrastruture riddled with half-measures

While we're doing better than Edmonton, we're no Vancouver

Many of Calgary's bike lanes are only part of a pilot project, and could easily be removed if political will changes.

Metro File

Many of Calgary's bike lanes are only part of a pilot project, and could easily be removed if political will changes.

Let me say this from the outset: I don’t mean to complain or gloat.

But when it comes to building bike and pedestrian infrastructure—making streets for people, not just cars—it has been interesting to observe the boiling frustration in Edmonton.

Despite the election of a young, bike-friendly mayor, Don Iveson, in 2013, Edmonton has made no progress on bike infrastructure.

The City of Edmonton has actually removed painted lanes. They recently took one of their architectural and historical jewels, the High Level Bridge, and squeezed its already narrow pathways even tighter with a badly-designed suicide prevention fence.

A recent road rage incident, captured on video, in which a driver got out of his truck and shouted a racial slur at an Edmonton cyclist, further illustrated the tensions in that city.

Some Edmontonians frustrated by their city’s lack of progress have looked with begrudging envy toward Calgary, with our downtown cycle track network and pedestrian/bike bridges.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Calgary’s newest cycle track is on Edmonton Trail, the southernmost end of the historic route that connected the two cities in the frontier days.

The new cycle track doubles as a challenge to our northern neighbour: you can do better.

But Calgarians shouldn’t get too smug.

Edmonton may be Canada’s do-nothing city when it comes to making streets more people-friendly, but Calgary is still a city of half-measures.

Half-measures in the right direction, but half-measures nonetheless.

I was reminded of this last month when returning from vacation, entering the city after a long drive from Vancouver.

There we were, cruising along on Memorial Drive admiring the Peace Bridge, when a group of people strode out in front of us.

A car in the right lane had stopped, so we (in the left lane) had to stop too to avoid hitting the pedestrians.

This has become routine at this spot. In the absence of a proper crossing by the Peace Bridge, people just walk in front of traffic.

That’s Calgary for you: build an impressive $25-million bridge that everyone flocks to, but don’t build a proper crosswalk for it.

The Peace Bridge is a win for the city, but it’s a job half finished.

We install a network of downtown cycle tracks, but not permanent ones. It’s a pilot. It’s halfway there.

It doesn’t link up with some key pathways and routes out of the core, leaving weird and annoying gaps.

City council has approved a pedestrian strategy, but balked at a key element: reductions in residential speed limits, something that cities such as Seattle and New York City have embraced. (This is slated to come up at council again in the fall.)

Calgarians have much to be grateful for. The last decade, even the last five years, have seen big leaps toward better streets and public spaces.

But we haven’t arrived yet.

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