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Calgary’s 5A funding: How should that money be used?

Calgary city council approved millions in additional cash for the city’s mobility network, with no shortage of places to use it.

Still, a lingering question for many active transportation users is: Where will that extra money be deployed?  The short answer, at least right now, is the city is still planning that out.  The city said Tuesday that more information is expected in late March or early April.

You need only look at social media threads or cycling forums to learn there are a lot of opinions. Everything from minor (but major) links connecting pathways, to the addition of major on-street bikes lanes, are on people’s minds.

Calgary’s 5A (Always Available for All Ages and Abilities) network, simply put, connects the city by pathways and on-street bike lanes. It operates on a set of principles that attempt to ensure a safe, accessible and affordable way to move throughout Calgary year-round – sans car.  

In the recent 2023-2026 service plans and budget, $40 million in additional cash was pumped into the 5A network. At that time, there was no specific plan put forward outlining how the extra, council-initiated funding would be used.

When asked about the lack of a plan when the money was approved, Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said that Calgarians shouldn’t be concerned. The 5A network map acts as the basis for potential funding.  Further, she said that councillors work with the city’s mobility team to address high-need areas.

“We do have a list of projects across all wards that are unfunded or that could use funding,” she said.

“This is the way to go about it. We should start to see more projects happening quicker across the city.”

5A Network Map – Calgary by Darren Krause

What they heard during budget

During the public hearing portion of the budget deliberations in November, investment in the 5A network came up often.

Brett Bergie spoke in council about the need for greater investment in the system.

“This is a city built for private automobiles, composing [sic] car dependence on the many and creating an environment hostile to people walking and rolling,” Bergie said.

“We need to rapidly expand the 5A network to join more communities with destinations including places of work worship, schooling, retailing services and sport and leisure. Its expansion and active mobility infrastructure needs to be ambitious, separated and networked.”

Jonathan Van Heyst, who also spoke during budget deliberations, tied it to Calgary’s climate action.

“A big part of that is building out the 5A network so that Calgarians and visitors all over the city can choose sustainable moments to get around, especially for shorter trips,” he said.

Up until now, he said he felt the city hasn’t prioritized safer routes to school, missing links, or improving infrastructure outside the inner city.

“I want to live in a city where I don’t need to drive my kids to school and to every errand and playdate,” Van Heyst said.   

“I want them to learn and enjoy independence without risking their life every time they make one of those trips.”

City of Calgary Roads Director Troy McLeod said that 20 kilometres of 5A was planned for 2023. More investment means more 5A, he said. McLeod also noted that other funding – Main Streets, urban realm projects, major road reconstruction, community mobility investment initiative, and others – all employ 5A principles.

How should the $40M be used?

Coun. Penner said there are likely multiple factors that go into decisions on how this money will be applied. With the gaps that exist in the current 5A network, new money would likely piggyback on other infrastructure investments. That would mean the 5A changes could coincide with potential road repaving projects or intersection improvements.

She also said a geographic equity lens would be used to determine priorities.

“Recognizing when the budget was approved at the end of November, which means that mobility would have to go back and say, ‘OK, now we’ve got this $40 million, what projects are unfunded and what we need to prioritize, and how are we going to do that?’” Penner said.

“So, they’ve had some work to do there.”

Laura Shutiak, executive director for Youth En Route, an advocacy organization for safer active travel for students, said simple solutions such as lit crosswalks around schools at key links would have a big impact.

She said some schools have a 600 to 700-metre distance between crosswalks.

In an ideal world, however, Shutiak said filling in the gaps in the so-called ‘donut’ communities is a good place to start. She would like to see a separated on-road bike lane on the main collector route in those neighbourhoods built in the 1960s through the 90s.

“The new (communities) that are building, they’re building with bicycle paths and separated lanes and they’re thinking more about how kids are getting to school,” Shutiak said.

“They didn’t do that for those for four decades.”

From there, Shutiak said the city should overlay a grid that begins to connect all of the loops in these areas.

“From there, you just pick them off. Set your priorities and $50 million will do quite a bit,” she said.