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Cycle track snow clearing question a matter of priorities: Farkas

Jeromy Farkas said he wouldn’t have put out a survey question on bike lane clearing if he wasn’t prepared to act on it.

The survey question, posted via the Jeromy Farkas for Mayor website, asked respondents to answer whether the downtown cycle track should be included in the city’s priority 1 snow clearing.

In the city’s seven-day snow plan, priority 1 routes include those that see more than 20,000 vehicles daily. It also includes business routes with more than 8,000 vehicle per day, the downtown cycle track, designated sections of the city’s pathway system, sidewalks bordering city property, and pedestrian overpasses, LRT platforms and other public properties with high foot traffic.

Snow removal begins right after the snowfall ends and within 24 hours, the priority 1 routes are addressed.

Farkas said he’s been fielding a lot of constituent calls after the Dec. 22 storm that saw 40 centimeters dumped on the city.

“Snow removal has obviously been a top issue for Calgarians,” Farkas said.

“The close of December 2020 saw a major snowfall event that disrupted our commutes and ability to navigate, even in and out of our communities, safely for the past two weeks.”

He wanted to solicit Calgarians for suggested improvements.

When asked about the singling out of downtown cycle tracks as an area of improvement, Farkas said this becomes an issue of priorities.

“If there are people out there who want the cycle tracks to remain priority one, they need to make the case for it,” he said.

“There are places in the city where the snow is so bad, it impedes vehicles.”

Bike lane clearing in Calgary

The equipment used for clearing cycle tracks isn’t the same as it is for clearing roads, said Chris McGeachy, spokesperson with Calgary Roads.

That same equipment is used to clear snow from underpasses, from bridge decks and overpasses, he said. There are different pieces used in various parts of the downtown core.

“The downtown core is a horse of a different colour because there are different needs down there,” McGeachy said.

There are 11.86 kilometres of cleared bike lane in the priority 1 schedule. In the priority 1 clearing, there are a total of 4,048 kilometres overall. The cycle track lanes make up .29 per cent of the priority 1 routes.

While the city couldn’t provide specific costs for downtown cycle track snow clearing, McGeachy said the city’s entire snow clearing budget is $40 million – or about $7 per month for the average Calgary taxpayer. A significant portion of that – because of the greater resources and materials put into it – goes to priority 1 clearing.

Overall, the city has 16,342 lane kilometres that need snow clearing during a weather event.

When asked if having the cycle tracks to clear made it less efficient for snow clearing crews, McGeachy couldn’t specifically answer without speaking further with folks in snow clearing operations.

“We’ve been given a directive by our council-approved, seven-day plan to clear infrastructure within the downtown core at certain intervals within that seven-day plan,” he said.

“And the cycle tracks are part of that infrastructure.”

Equal mobility options – even in the snow

Bike Calgary president Pete Spearing said he’s not sure where Farkas is going with this. Especially for someone hoping to be Calgary’s next mayor.

“The whole idea around transportation and the snow clearance areas is that it needs to be equitable for each user,” said Spearing.

“Just because someone doesn’t get in a car, or someone doesn’t get on a bus or an LRT, doesn’t mean to say that it should be penalized in terms of the way that they commute to work, or that they are allowed to transition between one space and another.”

He said a lot of these routes – including the pathway portions – are shared transport. That means pedestrians, cyclists, those in wheelchairs and other devices, that need access to different locations.

According to the city’s bike counters, Dec. 22 right after the snowstorm saw 29 users at the 12 Ave and 3 Street SE location. The average is about 100 daily. On Dec. 23, that number had recovered to 59.

Similarly, at 5 Street and 5 Avenue SW, 48 people used the cycle track Dec. 22 – down from an average of around 125. On Dec. 23, the use had doubled to 96.

The number of users, however, shouldn’t necessarily factor into it, Spearing said.

“Would you have the same opinion if this was someone in a wheelchair, for example?” Spearing asked.

Wedge deepening the car v. cyclist divide?

Spearing said he’s a car user, a cyclist, a pedestrian, and an LRT user. He’s hoping it’s doesn’t become a divisive issue.

“I don’t see it as cyclists versus cars. I see it as sharing our infrastructure, which should have the facility to be used by all modes of transport, not just a car driver,” he said.

Spearing pointed to the massive increase in pathway use over the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, people were looking to get out and exercise for mental health.

“And people that have all those bikes now want to use them,” he said.

Farkas said he doesn’t see it as a division issue. He said it’s about talking about priorities. There’s only so much money to go around and it needs to be used to the greatest advantage for the most citizens.

“Having that discussion about limited funds and how can the money be spent improving access for those that need it the most particularly pedestrians and commuters. I’m very happy to start that conversation,” he said.

Farkas, who currently represents Ward 11 as a councillor said that while he can’t amend an upcoming snow emergency notice of motion, he does intend to move forward pending survey results.

“Well, I wouldn’t be asking the question if I wasn’t intending to act on it,” he said.