Bikers peddle idea for a permanent cycle path on University Drive

Bike lane along University Drive is in the city's unfunded, long-term infrastructure plan

Martin Olszynski, an associate professor in the University of Calgary's faculty of law, posed with his bike along University Drive in Calgary on Wednesday, December 15, 2021. Olszynski has called on the City of Calgary to improve that section of the city for bike users travelling to the University. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Bike commuters using University Drive in Calgary’s northwest will have to wait for a dedicated cycle lane.

Members of the Calgary’s bike community have called on the city to improve bike access to the University of Calgary.

“How awesome would it be to have a dedicated bike lane from the river, easily accessible from downtown all the way up to the university? I think it just makes sense,” said Martin Olszynski, an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s faculty of law.

Olszynski commutes to the university from his home in the southwest.

He said that for the majority of his ride, the city has dedicated bike pathways or lanes for use.

The final stretch of his commute is along the University Drive multi-use pathway adjacent to McMahon Stadium. Olszynski said that commuters are forced to either contend with biking through large groups of people walking to the university, or through traffic. Neither of which makes pedestrians or cyclists feel safe.

“We have less winter cycling because individuals don’t feel like it’s safe,” he said

“They’re worried about icy conditions and that kind of thing. Knowing that you’re in the same traffic lane as a bus or a car—I think has a real discouraging effect.”

What the data shows

The City of Calgary doesn’t track the number of cyclists using University Drive. They do have a traffic monitoring program for pathways and bike lanes in the city.

Memorial Drive and 19 Street NW is one of those tracking locations. In 2020, the last year that a full 12 months of data is available, more than 380,000 bike trips were counted.

Data from Strava shows that this location is a major hub spot for cyclists transitioning onto local community roads and paths going north, and continuing west along Memorial Drive.

The data from Strava also shows bike trips fall off sharply where Crowchild Trail meets University Drive. It shows that cyclists use 29 Street NW instead. Then they feed back on to University Drive to enter the University of Calgary via Unwin Road NW.

Data from the City of Calgary, and from Strava, both show that thousands of cyclists are using city transportation infrastructure year round. This includes members of the UCalgary community.

“Certainly on the faculty side, I’ve got tons of colleagues who are doing it. The thing is we also want to encourage it more,” said Olszynski.

City has long term plans for University Drive

The City of Calgary recommended upgrades to the pathway along University Drive in 2020 as part of the Always Available for All Ages and Abilities (5A) Network. That plan indicated that University Drive from Crowchild Trail to 24 Avenue NW would be an 5A multi-use pathway.

The 5A network is an unfunded, long-term plan for the city.

Going back to 2007, the City of Calgary identified 2036 as a target date for a 200 per cent increase in the number of on-street bikeways. They wanted a 100 per cent increase in the number of pathways.

“I think that that’s something that in this current context, where the City actually has declared a climate emergency, and our university seems to be embracing sustainability, this seems like an easy win to just put in some dedicated bike lanes,” said Olszynski.

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said that he’s heard about the issues on University Drive. He said would be willing to meet with members of the bike community to discuss their concerns.

“I would like to hear their perspective,” he said.

Coun. Wong said that in general, he favours looking at creating bike lanes at the same time as doing infrastructure improvements.

“If the city is doing any type of infrastructure improvement—let’s say water and water main replacement—then we should be looking at doing coincidental infrastructure,” he said.

“After we do the underground work, and we have to repave it anyways, we should take a look at doing bike lanes at the same time.”

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