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Planned removal of popular 3 Avenue downtown Calgary detour prompts petition

The petition has 533 of a posted 1,000-person goal as of Tuesday afternoon.

Plans to remove a popular temporary cycle track detour along 3 Avenue South in downtown Calgary is the subject of a growing petition from a local civic advocacy group.

Project Calgary has launched a petition and information page to “Save 3rd Ave South Downtown Cycle Track,” and organizers are questioning why the City of Calgary would remove portions of a successful mobility project, much of which they believe the city indicated would be permanent. The track, being used as a detour, runs from Centre Street to 8 Street SW.

Peter Oliver with Project Calgary said if you review all of the information they’ve compiled – much of it through Freedom of Information and Privacy (FOIP) requests – it doesn’t make sense that the city would uproot some of the 3 Avenue walking and wheeling upgrades.

“I mean, the decision to put these in in the first place is completely backed up by all the city policy that has anything to do about the downtown,” Oliver said.

He notes it’s in the Downtown Strategy, cited as a strategic investment in the Chinatown ARP, it’s aligned with the climate emergency declaration and the climate strategy, and the Calgary Transportation Plan. Many of these documents are or have been included on project pages and the engagement page.

“This is all policy that has been created by both past and present city councils, so the direction to administration is there to be doing this work. Yet, here we have them sort of pursuing some other, like, alternative agenda,” Oliver said.

The Project Calgary page includes unreleased city reports showing an increase in the number of cyclists in the area, plus post-installation survey results showing users feeling safer user the streets.

It also includes another as-yet-unreleased report on the impact to parkades, including recommendations to deal with potential issues.  Finally, it also has 17 letters of support from community associations, local organizations and both Shaw and Rogers, who have offices on 3 Avenue.

According to the City, however, the detour was just a temporary rerouting of traffic while work was done on Eau Claire Area Improvements that forced the closure of sections of the Bow River Pathway. The cycle track portion wasn’t permanent.

Oliver said that the reference to the walking and wheeling infrastructure being long-term – or even permanent – is included in several city documents. It’s also referred to in the What We Heard stakeholder report from October 2020.

3 Avenue detour ‘functioning very well’

Dennis Hoffart, project manager with urban and community systems at the City of Calgary said once work on the Bow River Pathway through Eau Claire and under Centre Street Bridge is complete, they will remove the detour.

That’s expected to happen later this summer or early fall.

The FAQ on the project page for the 3 Avenue detour shows that once there’s “full, uninterrupted public access” to the Eau Claire Promenade and associated river pathways, the detour would be removed.

Hoffart said the city is pleased with the success of the detour.

“It does go to highlight the amount of work that was put into the project and the successful outcome there,” he said.

When asked about the success in the number of riders, the local support and the fact there’s a long-term plan for mobility infrastructure in the area, Hoffart said the data only shows it’s been successful as a detour.

“The river pathway is very successful as well in its own right,” he said.

“There are thousands of users of that pathway system. Directing all of those specifically to Third Avenue may create a false representation of success of a permanent project.”

The project was designed to be temporary, too. Hoffart said that some of the elements put in place were made from materials best suited to be temporary and are nearing the end of their life cycle.

Further, some of the pedestrian infrastructure in the area, including traffic signal additions and ramp and sidewalk improvements will be permanent, Hoffart said.

Future plans for 3 Avenue mobility infrastructure

Hoffart said that a cycle track, or other mobility improvements, have been identified as a future permanent upgrade for the 3 Avenue corridor. 

The Engage page for the project had a line that indicated that 3 Avenue South was “one of the busiest roads for cycling in Calgary (at the west end).” It also connects cycling infrastructure on 5 and 7 Street SW.

For now, Hoffart said the nearest east-west mobility corridor aside from the pathway system is 8 Avenue S.

Upgrades for 3 Avenue weren’t included in the city’s most recent four-year budget. They would also require functional planning and business cases to support before they could move ahead, Hoffart said.

Oliver said the other element in play is that 3 Avenue is a prime drag for city conversion projects. He questioned the idea of trying to create a community without safe places to walk or bike.

The fact people have to go down to 8 Avenue or to the river pathway system lacks convenience, Oliver said.

“They’re saying is that if you would like to cycle in the downtown, you can do so by exiting the downtown and cycling around the downtown, and then maybe walking or driving in,” he said.

“It completely flies in the face of the downtown strategy and all this policy that we’ve cited in the petition.”

At the very least, Oliver said they want more participation in the decision-making process on the future of the 3 Avenue detour. He said these things have always been an iterative process, one that includes public engagement.

“I think it’s clear here that the city has some explaining to do and probably needs to have a close re-evaluation of this decision,” he said.