Northmount bike lane workshop thoughts

Last night I attended one of the Northmount bike lane workshops put on by the City of Calgary. It was interesting to see what they have planned especially given that Northmount is such an important corridor for my bit of the NW. It was also interesting to see how the information was presented and how the city staff coached participants through the information.

Overall my table was very easy to deal with and mostly pro-cycling infrastructure. There were lots of interesting perspectives. The Northmount project itself is an interesting representation of the city’s cycling infrastructure ambitions. It will be nice for some cycling infrastructure to be added to the city and for a forward step to be taken. However, the project strikes me as half-assed and low quality. The style of bike lanes chosen are the lowest commitment and lowest quality option. They are the kind on 10th that provide minimal protection and safety. Priority is placed on maintaining parking, even when the design puts cyclists at risk of dooring. I would not let a child ride in this environment and will be reluctant to use it myself.

I knew this was the type of project going in and short of a big debate in front of council it’s the type of project that will be put forward as a stop gap while the city waits for opinions to shift. There is still the belief that eliminating some parking and making residents and visitors walk a couple of blocks to park in order to put in high quality cycling infrastructure isn’t worth it.

One of the other people at my table was from Brentwood and had some interesting comments to add on the TOD at Brentwood. The project has thus far been highly unsuccessful at creating a streetscape. This is one of the big challenges that the city will face going forward as they develop old malls. Parking lots are not streets. They do not have a grid or sidewalks or amenities. A whole new public realm must be created. It needs to be the foundation around which all the rest of the development is done otherwise you will get awful developments that achieve no objective other than high-rise density. A focus on mid-rise high density with a rich public realm would be preferable. Even if the cost is higher putting the streets in first and working around that or a masterplanning approach based on clearly defined street grids would produce much better results. The Bridgeland TOD has been much better and is much more liveable. I understand why residents of Brentwood are angry about the project and the city needs to do more to ensure future stages meet basic urban design principles. The project fails to apply basic things we covered in the first month of my degree.

I also chatted with an engineer about intersection design. He mentioned that under current standards it is difficult to do fully protected Dutch or Danish style intersections and that the city is trying to address this. The guidelines and standards we have for roads much like our zoning bylaws determine what is possible and what is the default option. Updating and changing these to be more ambitious and to reflect current best practices is much needed. Scotland has a number of these guidelines, which are helping to push forward road design that is focused on safety, cycling and pedestrians. Calgary can do it too.

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