Residents in northwest Calgary communities are frustrated the city isn’t upgrading infrastructure on an identified 5A connection during an ongoing repaving project this summer.
Road work is happening along a stretch of 5 Avenue and 6 Avenue NW this summer as a part of the City of Calgary’s annual pavement rehabilitation program.
James Murphy, who lives along 5 Avenue NW and is a member of the West Hillhurst Community Association’s Transportation and Mobility committee, has been involved in the project for the past two years.
He said it’s a stretch of road that connects West Hillhurst, Sunnyside and Parkdale along with a handful of schools, community centres and parks. Murphy said they’ve been asking for improvements to both the pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in the area for some time.
That link, along with several others, has been captured in the Kensington Area Improvements work from the City of Calgary.
Murphy said that community feedback going back to 2021 shows that the current cycling infrastructure, which consists of painted lanes, doesn’t meet the community’s needs. They’d like to see barriers to separate the cycling lanes, something that would be safer for riders.
The fact that work isn’t being done during a major repaving project is befuddling to the community.
“There’s a fair bit of frustration and surprise in the community when something we’ve been asking for, for a number of years, doesn’t seem to be reflected in what we’re seeing on the street,” Murphy told LWC.
The City’s page for Bikeway Projects states that “whenever possible” bikeway improvements would be scheduled with repaving to “cost-effectively improve the roadway design.”
“We know that when a street is repaved and resurfaced, and all that work has gone into it the city probably doesn’t want to look at it or think about it for a few years,” Murphy said.
“So, we know that if this is done, if this project has seen through without any 5A improvements, it’s probably going to be a while.”
Pedestrian improvements are being made: City
Jeff Baird, a senior transportation engineer with the City of Calgary, and Leader of Operational Improvements and Reconstruction for Public Spaces Delivery, said that initially concrete work including curbs and gutters will be done. This will include curb ramp upgrades to allow for better wheelchair access.
That work will be done in the next couple of weeks. After that, resurfacing of 5 Avenue / 6 Avenue NW will proceed. That involves removing the top layer of the roadway before repaving. The existing painted bike lanes will be put back when paving is done.
“The rehabilitation is very much a like-for-like, and identifying improvements that we can make, along with the work,” Baird said.
“With the priority again, being to bring that infrastructure up to a standard, which we would need to maintain to avoid the impacts down the line if that roadway were to deteriorate further.”
Baird said that this stretch was a high priority for resurfacing to avoid more costly and more disruptive construction down the road. According to May 2023 data, there were a total of 7,000 trips on the roadway (total, both directions) on the stretch directly west of 10 Street NW.
“It does take time to do engagement, and to move into design (for 5A improvements),” Baird said.
“With that timeframe, we’re just in the position, with the condition of that roadway, that we can’t wait any further.”
Jen Malzer, Leader of the Public Spaces Project Development with the City of Calgary, said they do try to have projects coincide to reduce the disruption. She pointed to a recent project along 24 Avenue NW where they were able to dovetail the road and 5A improvements.
She said they’ve been tasked with making investments with safety and equity needs across the whole city in mind.
“When we talk about investing… if we want to be really true to these values, it means in some cases we have to ask communities to wait. That’s what’s happening here,” she said.
“It doesn’t feel great, but we think that there are some other streets that have higher safety and equity needs.”
5A investments in the last budget
In the 2023-2026 four-year budget, Calgary city council allocated significant additional investment into the 5A network. There was an additional $40 million put into improving the walking and wheeling framework across Calgary.
Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said they’ve done the best they can given that the entire stretch of 5 and 6 Avenue from 10 Street NW to Crowchild needed repaving.
He said he’s had conversations with engineers about different permutations for the project, and there are wheelchair ramps and bump-outs on corners to help reduce speed in the area. Plus, Wong said, the pavement improvement in the area was an upgrade to the existing 5A network infrastructure.
Ultimately, budget and priorities were driving factors in the decision not to upgrade cycling facilities, he said.
“It’s not on the priority list to do the 5A… so given that, we’re doing the best we can,” Wong said.
Murphy said there’s a big demand for cycling infrastructure in their area, with a greater need for safety. He said painted lanes don’t offer any protection and reduce the desire for people to use alternate modes of transportation.
“It’s a value of people that live there. It’s part of the reason they choose to live in that part of the city where things are close by,” he said.
They aren’t even necessarily looking for permanent infrastructure, Murphy said. Residents just want to see upgrades from painted lanes. He said flex posts or pre-cast concrete barriers could suffice until a more permanent cycle track could be set up.
Malzer said while current 5A-dedicated funding is spoken for, there are other under-allocated funding programs that could be available depending on criteria.