Calgary's War On Cars 

August 1st, 2013 | R. Rados 

It might be slightly ironic for a city like Calgary to declare a war on cars. No one would suspect that a city with an economic backbone built on oil and gas would want to discourage driving in one of the most aggressive and arrogant ways ever witnessed in Canada. Looking around the city, you wouldn't immediately suspect that such a war has been declared. But, for residents who can only dream of living close enough to work to cycle or walk, Calgary has become a hostile and unsympathetic environment. For most Calgarians, cycling to work is a pipe dream. City council's ill conceived notion that punishing drivers is the answer to the city's growing traffic problems is disgraceful. Traffic won't be reduced by replacing car lanes with bike tracks and making drivers the enemy.

While Calgary's transit systems remain stuffed beyond capacity during rush hours, along with most of the city's main streets, councillors like Druh Farrell, Brian Pincott, Gord Lowe, and John Mar have continued to put faith in the city's failing cycling strategy. Rather than putting more resources toward upgrading Calgary's LRT system or building new lines to the Southern suburbs, a majority of city council has supported ripping out car lanes and replacing them with bicycle tracks. The new 7th Street SW bike track has seen little to no cycling traffic since it was officially opened on July 9th. Despite the continued opposition to such tracks, the city plans to build more at the expense of car lanes.

Every Calgarian wants to solve the city's traffic problems. Every Calgarian would like to see more bike-friendly infrastructure, but not at the expense of much needed car lanes. The new 8th Street SW plan continues the city's agenda to reduce car lanes by widening sidewalks, adding beautification, and bottlenecking traffic. The 8th Street plan reinforces evidence of Calgary's hostility and disregard for drivers. If the plan moves forward, traffic along 8th Street will be significantly exasperated. More bike tracks and lanes are also planned for some of Calgary's busiest thoroughfares, including MacLeod Trail – at the expense of car lanes and street width.

Most arguments in support of cycling tracks sound fair and reasonable, but they aren't. The arguments are presented with blatant slants and anyone who expresses opposition is painted as unsympathetic, intolerant, and hateful.

Most drivers have no problem with cyclists or cycling lanes. All of us would love to have the privilege of living close enough to work to ride our bikes. The facts, however, don't cater to our dreams. Over 70% of Calgarians live too far from work to be able to ride a bike. That's just a simple fact that city council has refused to accept. Let's not forget about our long, cold, wet winters. 

Supporters of the failed cycling strategy point to a poll commissioned by the city itself that shows the desire to cycle amongst 59% of Calgarians. More than half of those surveyed said they would like to cycle more often. Somehow, city planners and councillors translated that result into 59% of Calgarians supporting cycling tracks and the reduction of car lanes. This major distortion is touted and repeated by councillors, planners, and cyclists every time opponents try to make themselves heard.

What the results of the poll actually suggest is that we'd all love to have the luxury of riding our bikes more often. At no point did those results give anyone the impression that Calgarians want to have the city's notorious traffic problems exasperated with the reduction of car lanes. The poll does suggest that 80% of respondents would like to see bike-only lanes with barriers. However, at no point were respondents asked if they would support such tracks at the expense of car lanes, nor were they given many alternatives to that answer in the official questionaire that was designed by HarGroup Management Consultants.

The survey also separated respondents into groups like “Fearless Cyclist” and “Concerned Non-Cyclists”. It's also important to keep in mind that a strong majority of so-called daily cyclists, who actually make up a small minority of Calgarians, helped influence the outcome of the poll. 6.2% of the respondents claimed to cycle daily. This slanted representation within the poll (as seen in Fig 2.1 of the official results) suggests that there are over 60,000 daily cyclists in Calgary (from an estimated population of 1,000,000), making up 6.2% of the city's population.

According to the 2006 Federal Census, only 1.4% of Calgarians use a bike as a main mode of daily transportation. According to Calgary's 2011 civic census, the numbers are even lower – below 1%. These census numbers, which survey a much larger segment of the population, should be considered more accurate than the HarGroup Managemet survey that was endorsed by the city and reflects a 6% over-representation of Calgary's “daily cyclists”.

Bike lanes and tracks not only make it difficult for drivers, they make it more difficult for parking and businesses along major streets where lanes are converted to favour cyclists. Certain councillors, like Brian Pincott, refuse to accept the obvious logic that dictates how such lanes do, in fact, harm businesses. “I don't see a single business suffering at lunchtime on Stephen Avenue because there are no cars and no parking on Stephen Avenue,” the out-of-touch councillor told media before the construction of the 7th Street track. Pincott doesn't understand that the concern isn't about business loss from the downtown lunch crowd, the concern is about business loss on weekends and evenings when potential customers from across the city have nowhere to park. One of the reasons Mr. Pincott doesn't understand such a simple concept is because he has been on the public payroll for too long. He doesn't know the importance of relying on customers for an income.

Introducing bike tracks and lanes is far cheaper than introducing new car lanes and wider streets. There's no question about it. However, spending exorbitant amounts of money on beautification projects can't be justified while Calgary commuters suffer. Out-of-touch councillors like Druh Farrell would disagree. Farrell has been responsible for spearheading several expensive beautification projects across the city. The funds used for these projects has exceeded 30 million in some cases. These resources could have been used to fund the expansion and widening of some busy thoroughfares.

Calgary's city council has yet to make a move towards constructing a Southeast LRT. Expanding Calgary's C-Train to the deep southern suburbs could significantly improve life for commuters as well as reduce much of the city's traffic. Instead council has pondered building yet another Northern LRT. 

There are several solutions to Calgary's traffic problems, but few councillors have taken the necessary steps to reasonably reduce traffic without kicking every driver in the gut. There are alternatives to reducing car lanes. There are very few reasons why Calgary's city council would choose to make decisions that have proven ineffective and hostile to Calgary drivers. Misleading residents using faulty poll results and defiantly ignoring complaints and suggestions from the city's driving community is nothing short of arrogant. 

This is a war and it was declared by the city of Calgary. It's just that simple. The only real opportunity Calgarians will have to win this war will come in October.