City lags behind Calgary, Edmonton in cycling lane construction
Winnipeg stuck in slow lane
CIVIC leaders often compare our city’s progress to Calgary and Edmonton but
when it comes to building bike networks, the experts say Winnipeg has a lot
to learn from its western counterparts.
Calgary has been cited for the speed with which it built a world class,
6.6-kilometre bike lane network through its downtown — four months in the
spring of 2015 at a cost of $5.45 million. Edmonton is on pace to do an
even bigger network (7.1 km) in three months, with a price tag of $7.5
Meanwhile in Winnipeg, city officials are boasting about how they will
build 2.2 km of separated bike lanes in downtown over a three-year period.
Construction on the first leg, along Garry Street, is expected to start
later this month. Work is to be completed in 2019. A civic spokeswoman said
it was unable to provide the cost of the downtown network as it’s part of
an overall upgrade to several streets and water mains and separate costs
for the bike lanes are not available.
“I’m just really impressed with the Calgary network more so than almost
anywhere,” said Tom Bertulis, a Boston-area traffic engineering consultant
and an expert in multi-modal transportation design. “It’s one of the most
impressive projects in North America. Even when compared to places like
Amsterdam and Copenhagen — you look at Calgary and say ‘wow, this is really
amazing what they’ve done.’ “If there’s any model to follow for Winnipeg, I
recommend the Calgary model.”
Bertulis, manager of traffic engineering for Design Consultants Inc. of
Somerville, Mass., said the traditional approach to constructing bike
networks has been to do them piecemeal, a branch at a time, over several
years — an approach that Winnipeg is taking.
But the lighting speed with which Calgary built its network — and is now
being duplicated in Edmonton — has shown municipalities there is a more
cost-efficient and timely method.
Instead of digging up roads and pouring new concrete curbs to separate bike
lanes from vehicular traffic — a labour- and time-consuming process that
slows traffic flows during construction and leaves no room for design
errors — Calgary opted for a lighting quick approach: design the network on
paper, paint lanes on the streets, put down pre-cast concrete curbs inside
the painted lines, and then place green plastic bollards on top to
highlight the bike lane to motorists.
To make it look nice, add a few decorative planters at key locations and
intersections. Adjust traffic signal timing, where necessary, to lower the
chance of collisions between riders and motorists. Highlight troublesome
spots — intersections, driveways — with green road paint.
“You can do a lot of planning and design to estimate what the usage and
behaviour (of a bike network) might be but once it’s in place there might
need to be tweaks,” said Tyler Golly, a member of the Stantec consulting
team that designed the Calgary downtown network and the network now being
built in Edmonton. Golly dubbed it the “test and tweak” method.
“Using these adjustable materials allows municipalities to implement
something fairly quickly because it doesn’t take a lot of time to construct
and you can make adjustments by moving the barriers and changing signal
timing to make it operate better for everyone,” Golly said. “Ultimately,
when you’re rebuilding those roads, you can upgrade the network with
Calgary originally put its network in place in what was then an-unheardof-
record pace of four months in the spring of 2015 on a 18-month pilot basis,
arguing that since it used “adjustable materials” they could be taken out
if the public didn’t like it.
Bertulis said the disadvantage of building a network on the traditional
piece-meal basis is that it usually fails to connect to the rest of the
community, fails to attract the number of riders anticipated and then is
branded a failure unless there is a strong political will to maintain it.
Over the 18-month test period, ridership on all legs of the Calgary network
increased. There were 100 adjustments made to the layout of the corridor
based on feedback from riders, the public and adjacent property owners. The
network attracted more women cyclists and more children.
Some civic politicians who were initially opposed to the test program
switched their votes when Calgary council voted in December to make the
pilot permanent. The “adjustable” materials will remain for now and might
be upgraded in the future with permanent fixtures when the roadways or
underground infrastructure are upgraded.
“I was a person that didn’t support this in the beginning,” Calgary Coun.
Diane Colley-Urquhart told the Calgary Herald following the Dec. 19 council
vote. “I thought this was madness. But to see how it’s evolved, and how
it’s working and to see how people are starting to get the fact that this
is shared public space.”
After trying the traditional, one-legat- a-time approach, Edmonton hired
the Stantec team to design and implement its downtown bike network.
Work on a 7.1-km network started April 5 — of this year — and is scheduled
to be completed July 17.
“We are poised to be one of the fastest implemented bike networks in
Canada,” said Olga Messinis, Edmonton’s downtown bike network project
Messinis said Edmonton council had relied on the traditional approach to
building a bike network, installing permanent lanes when rebuilding or
upgrading roadways or underground infrastructure, but it was taking too
long and failing to attract the expected ridership increase.
“That failed for us miserably,” Messinis said, adding that Edmonton
politicians were convinced to follow the Calgary model and gave the goahead
in October 2016 and construction began in April.
Messinis said the $7.5 million price tag for Edmonton’s downtown bike
network is misleading, explaining that $4.2 million is being spent to
upgrade and modernize the city’s downtown traffic signal network — which
leaves the bike network cost at $3.3 million.
The success of what’s happened in Calgary and Edmonton is frustrating for
St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes, who was unsuccessful in convincing either
the public works department or her council colleagues on the public works
committee to simply study what those two communities have done and
determine if it can be done here.
Lukes said she was convinced Winnipeg could do better after safely riding
through downtown Vancouver on its elaborate bike network while attending a
conference in September. When she heard of what had been done in Calgary,
she proposed a similar approach be studied here.
Winnipeg adopted its cycling and pedestrian strategy in 2015, which
outlines a 30-year plan to construct cycling routes across the city.
Council approved the traditional, piece-meal approach for the bike network,
approving routes each year.
Lukes suggested following the Calgary model for the downtown segment,
pointing out the city’s own 2015 strategy had recommended something similar
— quickly building a complete downtown network — but public works staff
ignored that portion of the report and Lukes’ proposal.
Coun. Marty Morantz, chairman of the public works committee, earlier this
week defended the decision to ignore Lukes’ proposal, incorrectly stating
her idea is a breach of the city’s adopted strategy.
“I thought we were all about innovation and new ideas and adopting best
practices,” Lukes said. “It’s beyond frustrating.”