Those who don’t commute in the area by car call it a ‘dead zone’ for transportation infrastructure.
The Manchester Industrial area and Highfield Park are criss-crossed by a network of roadways, specifically for the transportation of goods services into and out of the area, with nary a pathway in sight. There’s the occasional sidewalk in the area, unkempt, but functional nonetheless.
With the introduction of the city’s downtown Cycle Track and the growth in alternative modes of transportation in Calgary, people are exploring the city via bicycle in greater numbers – more than 29,000 cyclists were recorded in Calgary in 2016’s bicycle count, up from just over 25,000 in 2014’s count.
(NOTE: There were 90 locations in the count in 2016 and 71 in 2014.)
With that growth expected to continue and the cycle network pushing to keep pace, cyclists are increasingly riding in areas deficient of adequate infrastructure.
Cliff Bungalow resident and nearly full-time cycle commuter, Kevin Schlauch, rides daily to Highfield Park, travelling along the busy 42 Avenue SE through Manchester into Highfield Park.
According to a 2017 City of Calgary traffic volume count, between 20,000 and 26,000 cars travel 42 Avenue SE daily between Macleod Trail and Blackfoot Trail. In addition, Macleod Trail between 42 Avenue and 39 Avenue sees roughly 53,000 cars daily.
He says you need only look at the city’s pathway map to see that there’s nothing there for cyclists.
“Other than the airport, it’s the biggest infrastructure dead zone in Calgary,” said Schlauch, who’s been cycle commuting for nearly seven years.
“There’s nothing connecting Stanley Park basically to where the pathway picks up again in Ogden.”
Schlauch said it’s not only a problem for cyclists, but pedestrian infrastructure is lacking as well, with walkers forced to continually cross 42 Avenue to find the sidewalks.
“You’ve got to be in something seemingly motorized to get around safely in this area,” he said.
Recently, Schlauch had an encounter with a driver on 42 Avenue travelling westbound. Despite having an open lane to his left, a van nearly side-swiped him. When the pair caught up at a red light, the van driver got out of his vehicle and told Schlauch he was going to die if he kept biking in the middle of the road.
While regular commuters like Schlauch struggle with their daily commute, the growth of commercial business in Manchester has affected another burgeoning group of clientele.
With the rapid growth of the craft beer industry, especially in what’s known as the Barley Belt, primarily in the Manchester and Highfield Park areas, there’s a steady stream of beer swillers coming to the area for a pint of suds.
And most of them walk or come by bike.
Erica O’Gorman, co-owner of Annex Ale Project on 1 Street SE, just south of 42 Avenue, said she has a high volume of bike and foot traffic into her location, primarily due to the proximity of the 39 Avenue CTrain station.
“The breweries are kind of coming together and realizing that a lot of our customers are taking note that there’s no safe way to get here if they’re not arriving by car,” she said.
“As we’re becoming more entrenched in the community we’re finding our neighbours are having trouble with this as well.”
In previous LiveWire interviews on the Barley Belt, both Banded Peak owner Colin McLean and Village Brewery’s Eric Daponte brought up, unprompted, the infrastructure situation in the area as a challenge to sustained growth.
Tom Thivener, the City of Calgary’s cycling coordinator, said they’d examined the area three years ago and found that the only infrastructure was a 1.5 kilometre stretch of pathway along 11 Street SE. But it’s not connected to anything.
“It was the bike lane to nowhere,” said Thivener.
“It’s 1.5 kilometers long but doesn’t tie in to anywhere.”
Thivener said the area’s assessment showed obvious deficiencies.
“Most of these streets out here… it is a dead zone. Aside from 11 Street, there is no dedicated cycling infrastructure. Very few pathways and very few sidewalks,” Thivener said.
To make a dent in the infrastructure issues in Manchester and Highfield Park, Thivener and his team identified $13 million in improvements.
“We still have the plans. We need further funding to get the plans built though,” he said.
The city’s cycling boss was cagey when asked how the city might prioritize this project. He said he was confident the cycling program would continue to be funded, but they’d have to assess this area against the other areas of need in the city.
In the meantime, the breweries have banded together to make a pitch for more infrastructure. A petition was circulating at Annex two weeks ago and had several signatures in support.
They’d like a multi-use pathway along 42 Avenue to bridge that connection to other parts of the city.
“The multi-use pathway will allow people to go safely to and from work, but will also connect the breweries along 42 Avenue and create safe transportation for people on foot or on bike,” O’Gorman said.