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Skateboarders, cyclists likely to co-exist on Calgary bike lanes

Calgary skateboarders could have the freedom to hit the deck on downtown sidewalks and dedicated cycle tracks, should city councillors approve changes to the city’s traffic bylaw.

A dozen changes to the city’s traffic bylaw will come before the city’s Transportation and Transit committee Wednesday, and among them are recognized cyclist hand signals, back-in angle parking, the safe passing bylaw, and the use of skateboards, inline skates and scooters on downtown sidewalks in the Central Traffic Zone (CTZ) and the cycle track.

The CTZ is the only area where these modes aren’t allowed to be operated on sidewalks.

Tom Nelson, chair of the Calgary Association of Skateboarding Enthusiasts (CASE), said the city’s already done a great job of building skateboarding infrastructure, with six skate parks erected in recent years and another two on the way. He sees this as just another step forward in the widespread acceptance of skateboard as an active transportation mode.

“If (the city) wants to encourage an active lifestyle, more recreation, sense of community – this shows the commitment to those kinds of values,” Nelson said.

“I think it means a lot to the (skateboarding) community.”

In the administration document, it states that one of the city’s primary goals is for all transportation modes to be safe and accessible. They said specifically, they’d like to: “Encourage citizens to take advantage of more transportation modes by allowing the broader use of non-motorized personal mobility devices (skateboards, inline skates and scooters) on our existing cycle tracks and in public spaces in the downtown core,” the report read.

Nelson said he believes more than 45,000 people are regular skaters in Calgary, and with the recent addition of skateboarding to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, he said it’s an ideal time for this to come forward, especially from an economic perspective.

“There’s now a national (skateboarding) body. They’ve asked if we want to host contests here to get people Olympic ranked,” Nelson said.

“It’s a great time to show that Calgary’s inclusive for skateboarding and want to be skateboarding friendly in general.”

Back in 2015, Vancouver made the decision to pilot skateboards on that city’s protected bike lanes. While there was some initial concern over bicycle / skateboard conflicts, a follow up report in 2017 showed there were no concerns logged by the public, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) or the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.

At the time the pilot first launched, the VPD expressed concern there would be conflicts over the variation in speeds, the handling and the braking of the two modes of transportation.

Vancouver eventually made the pilot project permanent.

Gary Millard, president of Bike Calgary, said they believe cycle tracks have opened up space for a variety of transportation options, including scooters, inline skating and skateboards.

“If vehicle users can interact safely in the cycle tracks, we think they should be able to use the cycle tracks as a safe and convenient option,” he said.

“The City needs to make sure the bylaw is written to avoid creating new conflicts, but there’s no reason people with differently-shaped vehicles shouldn’t be able to interact safely in the bike lanes and cycle tracks.”

Vancouver’s initial recommendation to council suggested that the city modify the protective equipment requirements, to protect users in the event of collisions with cyclists or vehicles.

Nelson said most people who use the cycle track are already a part of a community of people who commute downtown without vehicles – and he doesn’t anticipate any of the traffic conflicts.

“There’s people who bike slowly in the lanes already, so I don’t think that conflict is going to be there the same way people think there will be,” he said.

Further, he anticipates there will be some resistance from the public over allowing skaters on sidewalks, with the fear it will become their new playground.

“Until we see the evidence of that being an issue… Even if it does, there’s way to deal with it. Put up signs, skate proof obstacles – if it does become an issue, there’s ways to handle it,” he said.

If the measures are approved at the city’s transportation committee meeting, it still needs final approval from city council.